Flimsy Sanity: November 2004

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Shrinking Middle Class

The Republican Party wants to dismantle the New Deal. Conservative activist Grover Norquist says he wants to shrink the government until it can be drowned in the bathtub. And the best way to do that is just to strangle the source of money by lowering taxes. But unlike the public oratory, the Republican government keeps growing.

President Bush has expanded the federal budget by 30 percent. Republicans
expand the government much more than Democrats do. If you look at the Reagan
administration, the Nixon administration, both Bush administrations, they’re all
big government operation. The smallest government guy in recent times was Jimmy Carter. Even Clinton was a smaller government guy than George Bush.” Bill Moyers
NOW program interviewing Lew Rockwell, conservative libertarian.

It is not big government per se they want to strangle, but social programs like health, education, social security and social welfare. Despite their self-identification as the party of entrepreneurial, competitive small business, the Bush crowd has shown itself to be a relentless advocate for non-entrepreneurial, competition-averse large businesses. They expand monies for military and corporate welfare but instead of paying for it, they increase the national debt. Everything favorable to production like cheap labor and cheap raw products like grain or oil are to be controlled at government expense for the benefit of large businesses.

The Republicans repeat the dogma that free enterprise will keep this country great. The famous writer (and observer of common Americans who wrote the classic Working) Studs Terkel says, “We have national Alzheimer’s disease.” He says that when the stock market crashed in 1929 (due to “free market economics”) nearly everyone was knocked down. It was the New Deal and all of its regulatory agencies that saved Americans from being cold, jobless and hungry. It was the New Deal and programs like the GI bill that gave us a middle class of blue-collar manufacturing workers and professionals that could own a home, educate their children through college, own a car and consume on a grand scale. Now, the children and grandchildren of the people that “big government” saved, including our President, use that phrase as if it is a dirty word. Free enterprise and global trading are the shimmering waters that will raise all boats. The 1920’s, with every idiot investing in the stock market and no one with a savings accounts is being repeated with a vengeance. Everyone with a 401K feels they are in the driver’s seat, ignoring the fact that all investments can be risky and they have absolutely no market control. People have bought the fable that the corporations do the things they do because they are concerned about the personal investor. People feel they can become rich through the market and although it occasionally happens and a little trickles down to the individual investor, it is also very possible their investments will disappear in a poof of malfeasance.

It is another common fable that, in America, you can become rich if you work hard. I personally know of four people who are rich. One inherited it, one got there through hard work and aggressively buying up all the land he could and the other two are accidentally rich because oil was found on their land. Most white people I know who work hard can still afford a house, but it has a mortgage on it. They cannot afford to send their children to college without loans or government aid. They make payments on their cars. Most Mexican people who work really hard on farms and butchering facilities in the US can afford few of these benefits nor can their brethren factory workers south of the border. Chinese factory workers who work really, really hard can afford maybe food and poor shelter.

I just read an article that I recommend highly. Paul Krugman explains in very simple language how and why the middle class is disappearing.

The following was an interesting observation, I thought. In a Slate article, Soren Nilsson attributes the decline of Sears to the shrinking middle class:

Fifty years ago, American consumers fell into three general categories: high-,
middle- and low-end shoppers. The low ender shopped at various discount stores
(before the ubiquitous Wal Mart empire.) High enders shopped at Saks, Neiman
Marcus and Bloomingdales. The middle class went to Sears and Montgomery Ward.Now
the middle market consumers are being squeezed by stagnant wages and increased
costs for largely non-discretionary items, such as home heating, food and health
insurance. Increasingly, they are turning to Wal Mart and others discount
outlets to stretch their dollars…

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Red State Bumpkin

I am from a red state made up of many small business retailers and farmers who would vote Republican no matter who runs. I hate to see the rural pitted against the urban for “dumb farmers” was a painful insult to me as a child. Although I am a Ralph Nader supporter, I live amongst these Republicans and have been able to observe them for many years. Like many people, they are nice individually although they may be hard to fathom as a group. The urban archipelago has given one definition of the mentality of the red states and on some observations he is right, but I don’t agree that Midwest people are vicious and stupid. They are just uninformed and most get their news from Republican papers and from the corporate run television news and they believe in the principles of the Republican party of 40 years ago. Granted, there are some really dumb ones who listen to Limbaugh and religious zealots and don’t bother to check facts, but most don’t pay attention to politics or religion. Like in that old John Prine tune they “voted for Eisenhower ‘cause Lincoln won the war.”

I grew up in a farm family. City people hate that farmers get subsidies, but unlike minimum wage that has risen somewhat through the years, farm prices are still at 1930 levels. Even with subsidies, most small farmers are struggling to exist. It is only a matter of time before small farmers and subsidies are gone - absorbed into large megafarms that can dictate prices. And yes, it is unfair for farmers to get subsidies when small independent businesses do not, for they too are under pressure from unfair competition. Farm products are one of the few things we export because they are the only things cheap enough to compete on a world market. Unfortunately our balance of trade is not balanced at all, but grain sales are essential to the US economy.

Rural people value independence and they don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They dislike interference in their use of the land by environmentalists, who they hate. They think unions and environmentalists are who are driving business overseas, and I guess that is true. If those damn city folks would work for less than subsistence levels in polluted corporate factories, the farmers could buy cheaper machinery and help that bottom line that just keeps getting smaller.

I was saddened when I saw my niece in a anti-environmentalist T-shirt that said miners, farmers and foresters were endangered species so that useless animals can exist. She’s right about the end of independents (not because the environmentalists want to save endangered animals) because the independents will go the way of manufacturing as more of the middle class disappears. It is just a matter of time and if we fight amongst ourselves, the real enemies of democracy can walk away with the store.

Those Yellow Ribbons

Wikipedia defines patriotism as:

“Generally, any selfless act that directly benefits the nation is considered
patriotic. Perhaps the clearest example is the act of risking death in
battle…..In addition, symbolic acts are also often considered to be patriotic. Such acts would include displaying the national flag, singing the national anthem, placing a patriotic bumper sticker on one’s vehicle, or any other way of publicly proclaiming one’s allegiance to the nation.”

Let’s be practical and admit that to be selfish is a human characteristic and patriotism and tribal allegiance need to be learned. Greed and corporate goals are natural enemies of patriotism. Many years ago there was a campaign to “Buy American” with little flag labels sewn into clothes and stamped onto products. It is gone now replaced by a government that gives money to corporations who ship jobs overseas. Should we get all our products at the cheapest price or should we support American manufacturing? Are manufacturing and a large middle class even essential for a healthy society? Supporting all things American used to be patriotic, now your patriotism is measured by whether you support war – a war instrumental in gaining control over oil production .

I watched Frontline last night and it discussed the ethics of Walmart, a company originally founded on buying American but a corporation that has now replaced free enterprise by a dictatorship role towards manufacturers. It seems so ironic that most of my neighbors bought their yellow magnetic signs and lapel flags at this predatory behemoth that puts profit over patriotism (and it would be REALLY ironic if those ribbons and flags were made in China).

Is Halliburton patriotic? According to the site Citizen Works “under Cheney's tenure, the number of Halliburton subsidiaries in offshore tax havens increased from 9 to 44. Meanwhile, Halliburton went from paying $302 million in company taxes in 1998 to getting an $85 million tax refund in 1999.”

Is Bush patriotic? Was it patriotic that Bush and his fellow investors attempted to blackmail the city of Arlington (home of the Texas Rangers) into paying for a new stadium through a sales tax increase by threatening to take the team elsewhere then reneged on his debt to the city when he sold the team? Anyone with a smidgeon of curiosity can check up on Bush’s insider trading – the antithesis of free enterprise.

The corporations do not want free enterprise with competition. What they're really want is deregulation so big corporations like Walmart, Microsoft, Clear Channels and Enron can kill off their competition.

I would add that a patriotic person would work to make his country a better place for the next generation. The patriotic person would not leave his children in debt or on an unlivable planet. A patriotic citizen not only slaps a token magnetic yellow ribbon on his car, he pays his share of taxes, lives an ethical life, and puts his country before discount shopping.

Theodore Roosevelt said,
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the
president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he
himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he
efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact
extent that by inefficiently or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the
country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about
the president or anyone else.”

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Flip Flopping

I see more and more “Jesus Freak” t-shirts around. I remember when the phrase first came out it was a derogatory term for the nuts who were “reborn”. People avoided them at all costs, because each was preachy in that quiet singsong voice and they were boring as hell. Many were addictive personalities who had just redirected their excesses to religion. They had been big drug users or nymphomaniacs before their conversion and now they threw themselves into worrying about the afterlife. But lately, I see what was once an accurate insult has been turned into a statement uttered with pride.

So too, the term “vast right wing conspiracy” has been turned into a badge of honor by similar folks. Just google the term and you can see all the right wing pundits who are proud as peacocks to be identified with that term.

I cannot believe that Kerry didn’t co-opt the term flip flopper and use it to his advantage. He should have emphasized his ability to be reasoned with and to change his opinion. The bravest thing he ever did besides going to Vietnam was contributing to the effort to get the country out of it when he saw it was a quagmire. Like all politicians, in time he sold out to contributors with special requests. It was impossible to speak his mind and still please everyone he was beholden to so he adopted the politician's technique of not saying anything that could be pinned down. The Democrats that did well in the election were those that took a stand against the war. According to Peter Phillips, Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored, “November 2 gave us a choice between war and more war, corporate globalization and more corporate globalization; the continuation of gifting billions of dollars to Israel, the Patriot Act and an expanded Patriot Act; a police state and a seriously growing police state, media monopoly and even bigger media monopolies; and wealth inequality or an even greater wealth divide. With the only alternative to these issues being minor candidates without a snowball's chance, for many voting seemed meaningless.”

I too have flip flopped on many issues. Things that I never questioned as a youth no longer seemed fair to me later. Education has a way of doing that so it is no wonder the Religious Right wants to strangle public education. In all cases, listening to and reading different opinions changed my mind. Does that make me weak and a flip flopper? Had I listened to my parents and adopted their ideas, I would still believe Edward R. Murrow was a Communist, blacks and women were inferior to white males, unions are Communist, Martin Luther King was Communist, Hollywood is Communist (actually the more I think about this, my parents were paranoid about Communism). I have no doubt that soon the term “terrorist” or “un-american” or “unpatriotic” will be used to silence dissent – oh, look, it already is.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Bush's Audience

Bush speaks like he is talking to a fourth grade class. He enunciates clearly and interjects long pauses so slow people can grasp the concept. He carefully explains things in black and white models that even children could understand. Who is he talking to anyway? He is talking to his base - the religious right. In 2001 George Bush said, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”

Strict interpretation of the Bible attracts the gullible. They are the people who can believe the impossible no matter how much contrary evidence is presented. They not only believe past impossible events (i.e. parting the Red Sea or Noah’s Ark) they believe in future impossible events (i.e. rapture).

The status quo of the wealthy can be maintained if these gullible, simpleminded folks promote the corporation's agenda of privatization, deregulation, and non-interference. Believing they are stopping the licentious liberals, these goofy people do the dirty work of the greedy. The rich hate the environmentalists because they interfere with production and these religious types expound on how global warming is a fraud dreamed up by liberals and alarmists while the second coming is a fact. Privatization means access to public funds so these Bible thumpers repeat that education of the masses is a disaster left to the government but would become wonderful if left to religious groups and of course private corporations, except in bad neighborhoods (which is left to government). The less dangerous aspects of military life have already been handed to private corporations as they look at every foothold to absorb tax money for the easy tasks while the distasteful ones like actual fighting are left to the government.

Who are these rich puppet masters? According to Federal Reserve numbers in 1979 20% of the wealth was in the hands of the top 1%. Thanks to the feats of the Dow, the country's richest 1 percent found themselves happily holding an estimated 40.1 percent of the country's wealth in 1997, up from 35.7 percent in 1989 and the country's next richest 9 percent were the proud owners of 33.3 percent of the nation's wealth. According to Business Week magazine, CEO compensation during the decade went from 85 times more than what average blue-collar employees received in 1990 to some four hundred and seventy-five times what blue collar workers received in 1999. Stock markets, now enthroned as the judge of all economic value, massively rewarded those companies and those CEOs most ruthlessly committed to laying off great swathes of their workforce. Some chief executives did far better: In 1997, Jack Welch, the much-revered CEO of General Electric, was paid some 1,400 times the average wage earned by his blue-collar workers in the US--and 9,571 times the average wage earned by Mexican industrial workers, who made up an increasing percentage of the GE workforce as production was moved to the region just across the border. The Republicans and the Democrats are both in bed with these fat cats. “You can fool half of the people all of the time and that's enough to make a good living.” W. C. Fields

Let them eat cake

When I lived in Shelby Mt., the local supermarket was robbed. To divert attention from the forklift driven through the window the criminal's friend started a fire across town, and it worked to an extent. They never figured that the safe would be so heavy it would blow the tires of their pickup or that blowing up the safe would also blow up the money but all these details are extraneous to my point. It is important to create a diversion while you are robbing the store.

Politicians need hot button issues to divert attention from the real intent of current policies to place the most money in the pockets of the richest 1 % of the nation. Nothing enrages the multitudes quite as much as issues of sex. The very rich truly don’t care if your daughter has an abortion or marries her sorority sister or prays at night. They do care if she unionizes or demands a minimum wage tied to inflation. Thank God Almighty for rapid transportation and technology so jobs can be outsourced to places without pesky worker or environmental protections.

Another hot button issue is crime. The "haves and the have mores" (to quote Bush) don’t really care about crime, only crime by poor people. The FBI estimates, for example, that burglary and robbery -- street crimes -- costs the nation $3.8 billion a year. Compare this to the hundreds of billions of dollars stolen from Americans as a result of corporate and white-collar fraud. Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year. The savings and loan fraud cost us anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion.

They don’t care about the casualties in their wars. In the 30’s Gen. Smedley Butler’s book War is a Racket gave examples of how corporate interests manipulate patriotic sentiment, socializing the risks of overseas investments and pocketing the profits. To quote his speech, “War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

The rich don’t believe in equality any more than in days of old Divine Right of Kings. The masses are invisible to them unless they become an inconvenience. I am reminded of the time my friend and I went to a Picasso exhibit in Minneapolis. All these rich buffalos were there for their afternoon teas and my friend and I were moved to conduct a little experiment. We would walk up and down the steps and aim for the more snooty types. Upon reaching them, we would take a half step to the right so that they could not pass without also taking a half step to their right. The looks of utter disdain we got and the number who refused to sidestep was astounding. Try it sometime if you believe all men are created equal.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Iraq election

One time long ago, I was on an extended flight and seated next to an international fish broker. I asked him how the world’s people are alike. He said, “people all want a better life for their children and they want to be left alone.” When was life good in Iraq? Before sanctions? Is life better in Iraq since our intervention? I’ve read that the desertion rate in the Iraq police and army is around 80%. It doesn’t matter what form of government you have if your children are starving and the only job available is as a policeman or a soldier. The rebuilding of Iraq should go to Iraqi citizens rather than American corporations. Give them a taste of capitalism rather than a dose of imperialism so they may make the choice between religious fundamentalism or a puppet democracy.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Is government or private industry worse?

Some of my friends and family are republicans. I feel the same about them as I feel about a family member that is a Jehovah Witness. It’s their choice and although I am baffled by what I consider a tragic, wrong decision, it is useless for me to argue against something they feel strongly about. A good number of them are Republicans because they believe that the basic difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is that the Republicans believe in less government and more private industry and the Democrats believe in social programs and more taxation. Dems may tax and spend, but Republicans spend more but don’t tax . (Reagan and this Bush added the hugest deficits in history, but why care as long as they cut our taxes?)

What I am questioning is the very core of the Republican philosophy. That is the belief that private industry is better than government and left unregulated, will do the right thing. My grandfather said everything is about money and I’m sure he was right. Enron is just one example of unregulated business. A better approach is to look at private industry before regulation. Can you say, “Robber Baron”? Do decisions of million-dollar CEO’s to use cheap foreign labor sound like a familiar tune? Do child labor laws sound reasonable to you or just “politically correct”? Few industries care about people. They are a commodity like the electricity or the cost of a new parking lot. We might hate government regulation, but regulation has come about because our leaders recognize that people are basically greedy. Although the right wing radio hosts sneer at the word “Politically Correct” what are the chances private business would have ended slavery while it was still economically viable or given women equal pay for equal work, or just handed money to doctors for Medicare without paperwork when it is estimated that even with regulation medicare fraud consumes 10% of funds?

Lobbyists for businesses have whittled away at regulations until they are almost nonexistent but unregulated abuse is not enough for greedy people, they are after our tax dollar. The bill, passed by Congress last year, marks a significant step toward privatizing and ultimately dismantling Medicare. It places prescription drug coverage for senior citizens entirely in the hands of private insurance companies and health care plans, forbids the government from negotiating drug prices, blocks the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada, and subsidizes private health plans and insurers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. Now Bush is going to give our taxes directly to business – and call it Social Security reform.

The majority of the Republican vote comes from white males especially poorly educated men. We understand the haves and the have-mores wanting to perpetuate their largesse. But why would poor people vote against their better interests? I can only surmise that abortion, school prayer and homosexual rights cloud their judgment. And no, Bush will not have to institute a draft. The military is the only one hiring in my town.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Election defines Morality

So the election is over and the world is made aware that the people of America actually support Bush. I’m sure international citizens assumed that Bush remained in power only because he was an unknown at the first election, but now the rest of humanity realizes we know who he actually is and we approve. I am just sick at heart.

The newscasters say this election was a referendum on morality. By morality, they mean sex. Evil sex not conducted for procreation should have lifelong consequences. Evil sex between same sex people should be stopped at all costs. Even test tube sex is sacred. Never mind that 50% of heterosexual marriages end in divorce – homosexuals should not be encouraged to promise lifelong commitment – it is a sacred institution whereby vows are never broken. Morality is defined by how and who you screw.

Ethics is defined by how you conduct your life at home, not how you conduct your life in society. Morality does not mean truthfulness, the value of human life that is already here (be it death penalties for poor people or soldier deaths – the two government sanctioned killings), or foreign humans slaving at polluted factories, the economic windfall for cronies by wars, manipulation of the news by corporations who own the “free” press, willful disregard for the planet we live on, it all is nothing compared to where peckers are put.

Fundamentalist religion is the only guide to how we should live. The stricter control of sex the more “moral” we are. The Taliban is an example of fundamentalist religion mixed with politics. So here we are in Iraq, two religious factions each thinking the other is evil. And a leader who is simple–minded. It can only lead to disaster.