Monday, September 29, 2008

Government is Not the Problem

And who can view this mess
And pray for success
With Wall Street tycoons
Using us buffoons
With fundamentals strong
Yet bread lines long
And finances so dire
Who is the biggest liar?
Bush/Paulson hints at Fate
But is it deliberate?

Let me shed some light on the questions posed in the verse above to those of you who may not be keeping up with the financial and political theater currently playing in venues near you. The crisis is deliberate. The fear being injected by the White House is exactly parallel to the fear generated by GW Bush just prior to invading “sovereign” Iraq. I was struck by the 25 September 2008 John Stewart parallel running of video clips of the Bush drumbeat of fear not only repeated, but that it was virtually word for word from his “warnings” about Iraq. For those of you who see government as a purposeful instrument to create commonwealth, this will be heart-breaking news, but some far right-wingers want to destroy government. Their patron saint, Grover Norquist has finally seen his dream within reach. He sees government as the “beast” that must be starved until it can be drowned in the bathtub. What better way to starve the beast than to create debt so huge that none of the usual services of government can be provided? If New Orleans and Galveston did not provide a sufficient bathtub, then Wall Street has exceeded expectations. Victory for the plutocrats can now be achieved by destroying all the usual government services and firmly establishing the rule of money. All services, including human services, and even our national defense services have been badly maimed by profligate spending, outsourcing of key activities, elimination and diminution of oversight and regulation, and damaging labor and the agencies supporting it. When the Bush Administration was forced to recognize some of the agencies such as the USDA or FDA, it deliberately chose to reduce the number of inspectors and, worse, indicated that the purpose of those remaining was to help the companies providing goods and services rather than the public at large. To be fair, this began before GW Bush. He simply perfected the assault techniques.
Bush has simultaneously presided over the largest increase in government while reducing critical government services in areas such as food inspection, drug testing (remember VIOXX?), OSHA, Mine Safety, EPA, etc. Further, he has done it through a simple premise that the market knows better than government and that his clients are the corporations in the marketplace rather than the citizens paying the taxes. He uses clever names such as the “Clear Sky Initiative” while fouling the air. His Neocon tactics include the following:
1. Where possible, eliminate government agencies that now provide services to oversee corporations. Deregulate.
2. Where that cannot be done, under-staff or do not staff the agencies at all.
3. Where that cannot be done, then staff the agencies with incompetent and/or antagonistic managers.
4. In any event, outsource key activities including oversight to corporations loyal to the administration. Use no-bid contracts and executive discretion in assigning contracts.
5. Where these measures fail, support corporations through judicial review by sympathetic judges. The “free” market needs a boost to ensure the right corporations thrive.
Time was when caveat emptor might have been sufficient for most circumstances. If nobody added chemicals to milk and you could smell that it was not sour, then perhaps it was safe for your children to drink. In today’s marketplace, we need testing for listeria, for melamine, for E. coli, etc., in our food products; we need to know about lead contamination in toys and we need to be able to compare complex products. People get hurt when we do not set rules, test and enforce. We, as a commonwealth, need to protect one another and to nurture life rather than corporations. Again, corporations do not have colonoscopies. People do. It seems ironic to me that the very politicians who scream to protect the unborn deliberately ignore safety and health after that moment of birth as they champion the interests of corporations over the common man.
The complexity of our food and other products we use daily extends to the financial world. We use general terms to describe some of these products, but it takes experts to distinguish one derivative from another. Some products were so complex that valuation escaped the experts. The upshot of all this…the only conclusion that we can draw is that Reagan was incorrect. Government is not the problem. Bad government is the problem. Medicare is one of the best programs ever developed by our government, yet the Neocons seek to destroy it and replace it with commercial systems. Social Security has protected the dignity and financial security of our citizens from the 1930s, but Neocons would have replaced it with individual commercial accounts using the mantra of an “ownership society.” Exactly where would we be if the Bush plan had been adopted given our current financial meltdown? We would have bread lines without bread, that’s what. We need to fix Social Security, not destroy it. We need to remember that the federal drug plan was written by drug companies for drug companies, just as our energy plan was written by energy companies. It put the government in the position of, again, protecting corporations rather than people, especially those on fixed incomes. It forbid the government from getting low bids for drugs and is far more expensive than it needs to be. That is not due to government. That is due to bad government. There is a clear difference. Government must serve the people first; not corporations, except as they help our commonwealth.
Just think calmly about the tactics. Bush and McCain accuse Democrats of being the “Tax and Spend” party while they borrow and spend and reduce taxes on the most wealthy among us. If they borrow enough, then the government cannot function and they win by default and by de-funding programs that are needed in a complex new world. This borrowing is now at a record high and about to rocket higher. In the interim, prior to collapse, Neocons can give out contracts to friends and appoint “agency assassins” to head up government departments they want to shut down. Examples abound. Bush insisted on appointing John Bolton to the UN despite his hatred of the institution. But long before GW Bush, Nixon appointed Howard Phillips, a virulent right winger, to lead the Office of Equal Opportunity that Phillips antagonistically described as a “Marxist concept.” He systematically fired moderate Republicans; hired YAF extremists, and withheld budget. Katrina has cost taxpayers about $100 Billion and yet few victims have returned to New Orleans. Contracts went to cronies and work simply did not get done much as in Iraq. The ice for Katrina victims continued to avoid refugee centers and was shipped willy-nilly to “earn” money by favored shippers. Until this latest financial crisis and with the painful exception of the questionable but costly war in Iraq, Katrina provided the single largest boondoggle of any in our history. FEMA was led by a man who had failed at arranging horse shows. Brown was a byproduct of Joe Allbough who had no FEMA experience either, but was a close friend of GW Bush and a major contributor to Bush campaigns. After recommending Brown to Bush, then Joe Allbough set up his lobby and was able to garner millions in Katrina contracts. That’s what friends are for.
Please read The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank. Most of the examples provided in this essay are from his well-documented book. It is scary, but you need to read it to understand why things do not appear to make sense and why people now trust government less today than at any time in history. We need moderates to gain control of government. Good Republicans and Democrats who understand the common good, the commonwealth. We need quality employees and a vibrant Civil Service dedicated to citizens instead of corporations. We need to insist on good government to earn the trust of America.

George Giacoppe
28 September 2008

The “Inexperience” Code

You’ve all heard it endlessly by now, the Republican attack on Barack Obama which maintains that he has no experience in running a government or a business, and thus is too inexperienced to be President. Now aside from the inanity of this argument, especially when considering the opposite argument employed for Sarah Palin—CEO of Alaska, with a population (around 600,000) smaller than most cities, and Mayor of Wasilla, with a population (6,000) smaller than most colleges—there is a coded message here that is necessary for Americans to understand.
            “Inexperience,” when applied to Barack Obama, is code for “race.”
            Let me explain with an example. Prior to World War II, the United States Navy was desperately searching for boats to supplement its vastly under-equipped Navy. It began to inspect fishing boats, among them the large purse seiners used by hundreds of Sicilian fishermen along the west coast. The Navy would eventually requisition hundreds of such boats and outfit them as mine sweepers, but before it did, it considered whether it would, like England, induct not just the boats but their crews as well. A February 1939 memo from Admiral Hepburn, commandant of the 12th Naval District, summarizes the Navy’s findings, including its assessment of the Sicilian fishermen it might wish to induct. Here is part of what it said:
            “The majority of Italians are not good seamen, good fishermen, nor good navigators. They are not over-intelligent, do not know the Rules of the Road, and, in general, appear to have the characteristics of big, overgrown children….” (see my “Fish Story,” in Lawrence DiStasi, UNA STORIA SEGRETA [2001],  for more details.)
Based on such assessments, the Navy decided that it would requisition the boats alright, but not these “child-like” Sicilians, a group that was, at that very time, presiding over the most efficient and opulent sardine fishing industry the world has ever seen.
            This type of more subtle racism has been thoroughly analyzed by David A.J. Richards in his 1999 book, “Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Group.” In that book, Richards argued that phrases like “big, overgrown children” really represent a judgment that a group is developmentally inferior, even genetically incomplete. This means that its members never quite reach the full mental and moral development that would make them truly adult, i.e. truly human. African Americans, Native Americans, and, in their turn, many immigrant groups like Italians and Latin Americans have been judged in exactly this way.
            Now we come back to the code for Obama. The term “inexperienced,” I would maintain, when applied to Obama, means not just that he has never been a CEO. It cuts deeper, cuts to a place that most Americans understand, if not consciously, then subliminally. And what it is meant to signify is that this man, Harvard-educated or not, U.S. Senator or not, lacks the full development that one finds most ideally in white people—Sarah Palin, for instance. No matter what he does, no matter how eloquently he can speak, therefore, he can never quite rise to the level of full humanity signified by whiteness. That’s because as a black man, by (America’s) definition, he is lacking in those adult qualities of mind and morality that America must have in its president.
            Of course, not John McCain nor Sarah Palin nor even the vicious conservative shock jocks could say this outright. That would be racism, and so toxic is this label that even Obama’s comment about not being the right “type” elicited a “reverse racism” accusation from the outraged McCain. No, the Republican slime machine is too canny for that. So it uses code. This year the code word is “inexperienced.” During the Reagan campaign, it was “welfare queens.” George H.W. Bush employed the now-infamous Willie Horton commercial, suggesting that his opponent, Michael Dukakis, would free black rapists. And our dear George, G.W., not only spread racial slurs in the Carolinas to sink McCain’s surging campaign for the nomination (McCain was said to have a black child), but then employed several techniques to disenfranchise mostly black urban voters in Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere in order to steal one, and probably two elections. These slimy tactics are still going on, the latest being the Republican ploy of requiring all voters to display photo IDs allegedly to “ensure against election fraud” (though hardly a single case of election fraud has ever been demonstrated in states with these requirements, like Indiana.) But in reality the tactic is meant to discourage as many inner-city black voters (who almost universally vote Democratic) as possible from attempting to vote. More generally, it is no secret that the Republican Party’s southern strategy—to incite the racial animosity and fear still prevalent in southern and Midwestern states—has been the key to its ability to win elections since Nixon first employed it in 1968.
            So count on it. You will hear the “inexperienced” slur against Obama repeatedly, daily, without letup. And to the increasingly fearful white populace of the heartland it will signify what it has always signified: in the United States of America, a black man simply does not have the mental, moral, or emotional heft to be fully human, much less to be the highest official in the land.
Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Pit Bull

I am meditating on violence this morning, the violence endemic to the United States--especially after enduring the acceptance speech of Sarah Palin, the VP choice of John McCain at last night’s  Republican Convention. What a white devil she is turning out to be; a mocking devil cloaking herself in her wonderful, Christian, family-based American values. All of which might have worked save for a few lapses, the main one being the quote whereby she characterizes herself as a “hockey mom,” and how she defines that update of the once-influential “soccer mom.” Here’s how she did it: 
            “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?” She asked, pausing with her white-devil, mocking grin, and then giving the punchline: “Lipstick.” And she smiled again. Ho ho.
            Naturally, that hall full of desperate Republicans eager to cheer every line, went wild over this one. We’ve got a winner, they were cheering, we’ve got a tough one. No foreigners or journalists or liberals are going to push our Sarah around!
            But let’s look carefully at this self-characterization, one of the most alarming things I’ve ever heard from a political figure. This aspirant for the Vice Presidency, this person who could be one stroke by an aging McCain away from the Presidency, compares herself to a PIT BULL. That is, this allegedly Brady Bunch mom compares herself to the most aggressive, vicious, killing machine ever bred by dog fanciers. No, not dog fanciers, fanciers of illegal dog-fights. You know, those lovely little matches where two dogs are dumped into a ring and urged to tear each other apart to satisfy the blood lust of adoring dog-fight fans. And pit bulls have been bred specifically for this, for their “gameness,” which is to say, for their insane aggressiveness and refusal to quit even when mortally wounded and bleeding to death. All of which Americans nominally condemn, for it wasn’t all that long ago that football star Michael Vick was arrested and jailed for raising just these fighting dogs on his estate. Pilloried for his association with such cruelty. Forced to forfeit a brilliant career.
            Of course, Michael Vick is a black man. Sarah Palin, by contrast, is a lily-white, “pro-life” super-woman. So from her, the comparison to a pit bull is funny. Haha. But is it? Consider. This Republican convention has already made clear that, with its adoption of the McCain demand for “victory in Iraq” (nevermind that an occupation, by its very nature, cannot end in “victory”), and its criticism of Democrats for “not once mentioning the word “victory,” these people have portrayed themselves as the quintessential, jingoistic American killers D.H. Lawrence long ago wrote about (see his Studies in Classic American Literature). They have made clear that they embody that long tradition in America, which has made not baseball but killing the national pastime. Thus, when, at their convention, they have chanted after every red meat line, “USA! USA!” like some hysterical crowd of American supporters at the Olympics, they are not just being embarrassing, jingoistic yahoos. They are harking back to the entire history of this country, conceived in liberty, perhaps, but steeped in violence and killing even earlier—first, against its original inhabitants, hunted down and exterminated and penned into reservations; second against its imported slaves, where the mere act of keeping and trading in slaves requires the constant threat of violence and death, as does keeping the “freed” slaves powerless, exploited, and trapped in ghettos until this very day; and third and throughout, against the environment itself, the land itself, which from the first has been denuded of its forests, plundered for its riches, plowed, leveled, and flattened in every corner of this continent, and now, in Alaska. And the position of Palin to drill for oil in one of the last wildlife preserves in Anwr is just the latest manifestation of this environmental violence, of which we were constantly reminded by that other bloodlust chant of the Republicans last night, “Drill, baby, Drill.”           
            So just think about what we have here: a woman—casting herself as this compassionate nurturing mother, so compassionate for life that she opted to bear her Down’s Syndrome fifth child—whose chief metaphor to characterize herself is the pit bull. So that she seems not only to be saying that she’s vicious and relentless and willing to fight to the death; she’s also saying she LIKES blood, enjoys blood sport, thrives on the vicious tearing to pieces of her adversaries—and by extension everyone in the world who might think to oppose the US of A. Because she has compared herself to an animal that loves to kill. And her hunting background—hunting from the safety of an airplane where no life form has a chance—perhaps confirms this.
            Is this what we want in the White House? Yet another vice president who’s an avowed killer, (our current one having shot his best friend in the face), another Cheney to turn the White House into the center and source of unbridled horror, including the torturing and killing of anyone who MIGHT be an adversary? Nevermind the law?  Nevermind sparing the innocent? Nevermind sissy negotiations?
            It seems. Because Palin mocked Obama last night as someone who would “want to read terrorists their rights;” omitting, of course, the important point, that it is detainees whose innocence or guilt has never been even considered, much less proven, who deserve the rights of habeas corpus. Because that’s what the Republican chant about “victory,” McCain’s victory, really means: Full spectrum dominance over the entire world, law and/or innocence be damned. Anyone who resists such U.S. dominance, any nation that refuses to bow down to United States demands for its resources or its fealty, that nation will be threatened and attacked and nothing will do but victory. And victory means precisely that: giving up, bowing down, agreeing that the United States, the victor, and its victorious corporations (especially those run by the likes of Cheney and company) is dominant over that nation and calls the shots.
            All of which comes to this: if you like pit bulls—and Sarah Palin seems to—if you’re proud of the American history that honors enslavement and violence and extermination and exploitation, then the McCain-Palin team are your guys.
            And that brings to mind what the Republicans might do this season: instead of the elephant as their symbol, perhaps they ought to be honest and change it to a snarling, slavering, blood-spattered pit bull, rampant. That would be ‘straight talk’ indeed.
Lawrence DiStasi


 Though I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entire interview, I did see a tiny segment of Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin’s interview with Charles Gibson last night. And it finally struck me: all those grins, all those talking points glibly delivered, all that salesman-like addressing of the interviewer by his first name, “Charlie,” all raise one question.
            Is this a real flesh-and-blood woman, or a robot?
            Think about it. She has this piled up hair, all in place. She dresses in perfectly fitted suits (not Hillary-type feminist pantsuits either) that fit her perfectly. She has this perfect smile and this near-perfect delivery of her perfectly crafted lines. I mean if the Republicans had designed a candidate to their exacting specifications—hockey mom with five kids, small town mayor, governor of the most Republican state in the Union, rabid supporter of the NRA, Christian Fundamentalist in the most extreme segment of the most extreme end-times sect in the nation, pro-lifer who not only talks the talk but walked the walk to bear a child she knew would emerge with Down’s Syndrome—they couldn’t have come up with a better model. She even talks about the Iraq war as divinely inspired. And while she was at it, last night, suggested that in order to assure Georgia’s entry into NATO, it would be worth risking a war with Russia.
            I mean, is there no doubt in the woman? Not a tic or a pause to reflect on what her blithely optimistic words might mean? It seems not. Robots have no doubts. Robots do not reflect. Robots simply move straight ahead to their programmed ends. God wants war—we go straight ahead. God wants my firstborn to serve in that war (apparently with a little help from a drug bust to be fixed by enlisting)—praise be. God gifts me a child with Down’s Syndrome—have it and be thankful. No doubts. Not a worry line in sight.
            It’s something that has kept gnawing at me since that convention night when she gave her speech. All I could think of was that Down’s baby. The dominant impression was that he, like the rest of the family, only more so, was on display. He kept being handed back and forth, first to Cindy McCain, then to the 8-year-old daughter, then another daughter, then the father, then on stage to Mom for a few seconds, then back and forth and to and fro. An exhibit—a human exhibit to prove his pro-life Mother’s humanity. Only that humanity was nowhere on display, then, or since. I mean having a child with Down’s cannot be a picnic. One knows the difficulties that are coming. The heartache. The constant questioning of the decision. But none of that ever seems at issue with Sarah Palin. Her smooth brow remains smooth, her smile fixed, her cheeks rosy, her upbeat aggressive confidence ever undimmed. Is there a heart there to ache at all?
            This is why the robot answer comes to mind. A robot doesn’t have heartache. A robot doesn’t fret about the future. A robot simply rolls straight to the target. All systems go, like a drone swooping to launch its rockets into a suspected enemy hideout. And if there happen to be a few collaterals damaged, no problem. We’ll just tinker with the targeting system and do better next time.
            What is most alarming about all this is that, increasingly, it appears that our politicians are all becoming more robotic. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the prototype—the original robot who gloried in his past role as the Terminator. A killing machine. Perfect candidate to be governor, where he became known as the Governator. McCain too; since the Convention repeating without letup the same lines, the same expressions, the same fake emotions. A robot. It almost seems to come with the political territory these days: you want to win public office, you become a robot.
            The trouble is, these robots get into office and make decisions that affect our lives. Reading about Bush and his robotic response to 9/11 makes the blood run cold. He wanted blood. The man had to prove how tough he was, and his programmers, Cheney et al, knew just which buttons to push to get him to “man up” and agree to the most cruel and inhuman measures. Kill the bastards. That was really the program the CIA initially came up with: we’re going to go into Afghanistan and kill ‘em all; there’ll be flies walking across their eyeballs. Nevermind trials; nevermind habeas corpus; never mind Geneva; nevermind the law; just kill ‘em. And the cold eyes of the robot president sparkled with anticipation, his robotic response being the one all robots employ: “do whatever it takes.”
            Robots. The entire nation, more often than not, seems robotized. Seems to WANT to be robotized. Robots that don’t feel. Robots that don’t worry or have fears. Robots who live their lives out on computer screens or TV screens where robots like Sarah Palin look perfectly cool for the perfectly scripted parts they play. And if there are some malcontents who yearn for the days when real humans displayed real concerns about real human problems, why never fear. The luddites you will have always with you—until, of course, the robotic End Times sort out the us’s from the them’s, once and for all.
Lawrence DiStasi

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Republican Hypocrites

Don’t you just love the Republicans? Here we have the party of pure selfishness and self-enrichment and every man for himself (they characterize it as self-reliance), the party that gave us the Reagan years of “trickle-down” economics (where just about everything trickled UP), the party that has saddled us and the world with privatization (i.e., the crippling of every government program save corporate welfare), the party that presided over the greatest destruction via neglect of a large American city in history—and they are now preaching the gospel of togetherness, of “Country first,” of “we must devote all our efforts to helping the unfortunate victims of Hurricane Gustav.” Suddenly, all these Gucci-clad conventioneers eager to indulge in the caviar and fine wine at fat corporation parties, have found the religion of restraint, of “we’re all in this together.” For it would be unseemly to be seen scarfing up fancy hors d’oeuvres while New Orleanians were once again drowning in their impoverished soup. So nominee McCain announces he might not ever make it to the convention—but rather might have to pipe in his acceptance speech from ground zero, with ‘the people.’ And George W. Bush makes a show of rolling up his shirtsleeves and posing with emergency managers in Texas—allowing all Republicans to breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t, after all, have to pretend to cheer him after he inevitably reminds America of his last hurricane fiasco.

            And we, the American public, are supposed to buy it. ‘See,’ we’re supposed to opine, ‘Republicans are big-hearted Americans after all, concerned over their fellow men, and even women. Even dark skinned ones.’ That first storm, that Katrina, was just an aberration. Like Iraq. Like torture. Like the greatest debt in American history.

            And who knows, it might work. Just as the other massive hypocrisy of this convention season—the selection of a woman, no less, to be McCain’s vice-presidential running mate—might work to paper over the years of Republican contempt for women’s rights. Why just look—the party of macho really does have its gentler side. And what a feminine side it is, she is. A beauty queen. A gun-toting Alaskan mama. A mother of five—including one she insisted on birthing despite the negative of Down’s Syndrome. A woman who challenges the establishment at the same time she caters to Big Oil, a no-nonsense, pro-life Palin’ woman who isn’t afraid to thumb her nose at environmentalists (much less those over-population fear-mongers), and campaigns for oil drilling in the Anwar wildlife refuge. Wildlife hell, is her motto: I hunt and fish and will have no truck with polar bears as an endangered species. Or, most of all, sex education in the schools. Abstinence is the only teaching we need. Teach your young ones abstinence, and all will be well.

            Except, of course, when it’s one of OUR young ones. Isn’t this always the Republican way? It’s always, with Republicans, “You people”—you ghetto people, you welfare moms, you oversexed over-proliferating dark-skinned peoples. But when it comes to “our” people, our good Christian people, why then it’s a different story. We’re human, after all. No one’s perfect, say our preachers. And surely not little 17-year-old Bristol, 5 months pregnant and unmarried, yes, but isn’t she a woman after all? A natural, human woman? Human like us all, after all. And determined to keep the baby. And marry the baby’s father. What’s the problem?

            The problem is your bottomless hypocrisy. The problem is your abstinence-only program masquerading as sex education. Which, as your own daughter proves, is no program at all. The problem is that here, in the United States in the 21st Century, we can’t risk a vice-President so retrograde, so out of touch, so hypocritical that she can’t even see a problem when it hits her own family. That’s the problem. The only question being this: can enough Americans summon enough common sense, enough outrage to send this party of hypocrites packing, once and for all?

Larry DiStasi