Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Can Trust Sunspot Johnson

(My latest Letter to the Editor of the Eau Claire paper:)

I’m glad to see that Senator Ron Johnson is proving himself trustworthy.

The oil industry poured $89,600 into his campaign coffers, and he did exactly what they paid him to do. He voted to continue the $21 billion in subsidies that our government hands out to the oil companies every year.

In a time of great concern over our Federal deficits, this was a truly courageous act. Not every senator could be trusted to push aside the interests of the people who elected him in order to keep faith with the ultra-rich oil companies who bought him.

I’m sure Ron’s willingness to impose cuts to services that benefit ordinary people in order to shift even more wealth to the giant corporations will continue to be well-rewarded.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Wisconsin has Taught Me This Spring

The American political scene is very much in flux. It is not Schroedinger's Cat, but Schroedinger's Litter. There are so many variables in play, so many potential ways for each of the players to jump, so many unforeseeable influences, that one cannot predict with any accuracy just what might happen. That said, I think that we are entering the End Times--of capitalism, at least. Whether they manage to take the rest of us with them through environmental destruction is the pin upon which the hinge of destiny swings. One path leads to Mordor, the other leads to the healing of the earth and our species. We must either recognize the great evil of unfettered "free markets" and take steps to curb them, or we perish. When framed in specific terms, these propositions have the sympathy of the general public. Most of them know who is destroying them, but they see few options.

The problem is that our current mechanisms for choosing leaders are proving totally susceptible to tampering from massively moneyed interests. Much of this tampering is entirely legal. Fox News can provide free air time and favorable coverage to their pool of indoctrinated teabaggers; corporations can pour unrestricted amounts of cash into negative ads in any race; the “liberal mainstream media” sit poised to take out any “far-left” candidate--anyone who scares the Masters of the Universe. Dean’s scream. Kucinich’s UFO. Earthtone Al.

What I learned in Wisconsin is that there is a way to circumvent the death grasp that the Right has on the collective throat of the media.

Last November Wisconsin fell under the evil spell of psychologically sophisticated propaganda developed and financed by the usual big-money suspects on the national scene. Beguiled by this smooth propaganda, some independents and weak Democrats stayed home and others went off to the polls to “throw ‘em all out, dammit.” “Sunspot” Johnson, a moneyed plastic-factory lunatic and adherent to crackpot notions about global warming, defeated Russ Feingold, and Walker ascended to the throne.

Then came the events of February 2011, and a significant portion of the state suddenly awoke from the trance. And, once awake, we started taking action, unlike other places that were comparably threatened by the corporatist agenda.

What made the difference? Well, first, we had the example of Egypt. But so did Americans in other parts of the country who were also under seige from the Masters.

I think the difference was that we had Democrats who behaved like Democrats. Where in other places there were no solid public figures around which to organize, and in whom one could have faith, we had our heroes. And soon we had many more heroes. The cops and firemen who joined us; the farmers who paraded their tractors around the square; the whole damn world got into the act, as so poignantly memorialized by the chalkboard at Ian’s Pizza on which they recorded all the states and countries who ordered food for the protestors.

The Fab 14 headed out of state and bought time. Now, I will tell you that some of those Dems were a little blue-doggish in my previous judgment, but when it all hit the fan, they stayed together and supported each other.

Our Secretary of State (last of the La Follettes) refused to certify and publish the bill after the Republicans had “passed” it under questionable circumstances. This bought more time.

The lines were clear. The Democrats did not waver, did not hedge, did not compromise with an illegal process. People by the tens and hundreds of thousands united. I just heard that more than half a million Cheeseheads participated in the Madison demonstrations at some time or another. I can believe it. Two nights ago at a Democratic fund-raiser dinner in Chippewa falls, guest speaker and Fab-14 Senator John Erpenback asked the crowd how many had been in Madison. More than half the crowd raised their hands. Chippewa falls is nearly 200 miles from Madison, by the way.

Our politicians did not stand behind us. They stood with us. And they are going out with us to collect signatures. They are showing up all over the state with their sleeves rolled up, making personal contact with people. They appear ready to go anywhere and talk to any group. Literally thousands of signature-gatherers are going around door-to-door, talking to people and educating them. People who didn’t know how to use Facebook and Twitter are now suddenly fully plugged in to the worldwide cerebral cortex. The state is alive, awake, and about to cast off the foul disease that crept upon it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little reality-based minds.

Give up consistency, give up rationality, give up the shackles of logic, and all things become possible to you.

You can balance the Federal budget by cutting taxes on the rich and create jobs by busting unions.

You can deny the poor the basic necessities of life, secure in your knowledge that you are doing the work of the Lord.

You can run an oil-based economy forever because oil is a renewable resource and there are no harmful consequences to burning it.

You can call your opponents “enemies” and “traitors” and advocate their assassination and rest assured that you have no responsibility when someone acts on your word.

You can take from others whatever it pleases you to take, and do to them whatever it pleases you to do, knowing that you are merely helping the Lord to carry out His will on those who deserve no better.

You can subject your enemies to pain, torture and death, knowing full well that you have the Lord’s blessing because they are also His enemies.

And finally, if you have any mild twinges of fear for your soul, at the end of your days you can utter certain magical phrases and all will be forgiven--if, indeed, there is actually anything to be forgiven in one who has lived such an exemplary life as yours has been.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The notion that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs is total nonsense.

The notion that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs is total nonsense.

First, if reducing taxes in the top brackets is such a great employment stimulus, why didn’t it work in the years since the Republicans initiated it, in the beginning days of the Bush Administration?

Second, if prosperous business owners want to squirrel away some money where the IRS can't get it, they can always reinvest it in their businesses and claim the tax deduction. In this case, HIGHER taxes, not lower ones, would provide incentive for business growth.

Third, jobs don't just appear because the rich have a few more millions lying around. They already do. Not just millions, but hundreds of billions that they're sitting on because the economy is too weak to invest in.

Jobs appear when there is work to be done. There is work to be done when demand increases. Demand increases when the common people have something to spend. Common people have something to spend when they get either paychecks or unemployment checks.

Extending unemployment benefits will therefore ultimately increase employment by increasing demand.

Extending tax cuts for the rich will do nothing but make the rich richer while slowing down the economy and pushing up the deficit for no good reason.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Price Security?

And, really, is it even security?

On September 11, 2001 the United States suffered a terrorist attack that cost about 3,000 lives.

In that same year, 42,000 Americans died in traffic accidents. 3200 were killed in motorcycle accidents alone.

We have now expended more than a trillion dollars and 5800 American military lives (4400 in Iraq and 1400 in Afghanistan) in the two wars we are fighting on the pretext of preventing another 9-11. This number, about twice the number lost in the WTC tragedy, does not count the perhaps one million civilian lives we have destroyed in the countries we invaded.

On the home front, we are now twisting ourselves into knots and surrendering our freedoms at an alarming rate in order to prevent people from smuggling small amounts of explosives onto airplanes.

However, anybody who really wants to take down an airplane can do so without smuggling anything on board in a body cavity. For example, a small, easily-smuggled ground-launched missile would do the job pretty well. If you want a sitting duck situation, shoot the missile at a plane that is just landing or taking off. 300 people might die, and that would be a great tragedy, of course, but it would also be comparable to the number of traffic fatalities in America in any random 3-day period. So, in the grand scale of things, we are putting more extreme strains on our democracy every day, and expending irreplaceable resources, on futile but highly intrusive procedures aimed at preventing relatively unlikely and relatively small-scale attacks.

If all this TSA irradiating and gropery at the airports is totally ineffectual in preventing planes from being blown up then it must have some other purpose. Cranking up fear and rage in the public might be such a purpose. Or maybe it’s just a test of our docility.

The worst possible terrorist attack on America might involve setting off a nuclear device in a major city. It could kill millions of people. Any coastal city would be totally vulnerable to a nuclear device in the hold of a tramp steamer from anywhere. But we aren’t at all thorough about searching bulk cargos.

If we were really serious about preventing a truly disastrous terrorist attack, we would remove all those TSA people from the airports and put them to work searching the big ships and the cargo planes coming into the country.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dammit, some days it's just hard not to imagine a huge conspiracy is controlling the course of events in the world.

The US is now facing the greatest concentration of wealth at the top that we have seen since 1929, and we seem to have a Forever War going on. Even during the Clinton years, between the two Iraq wars, we continued a program of "low-intensity" warfare against Saddam. We have now shifted our focus to Afghanistan--that eternal sink of imperial ambitions--and will likely take on Pakistan next, followed by Iran.

The New Democrats in the US seem to be imperialist Republicans minus the hoods and burning crosses. The nation is being swept by anti-intellectualism: fundamentalist religion, climate change denial, writing Thomas Jefferson out of the history books, and the like. The public schools are being reduced to serf academies where students learn the minimal literacy and numeracy skills required to make them useful for their masters, while those parts of the curriculum having to do with critical thinking, artistic expression, and general understanding of the world are being subverted by various strategems.

A large portion of this country seems to think they live in a universe equipped with different physical laws than the one I believe myself to inhabit. Somehow, I think this is no accident. People who are willing to believe that humans coexisted with dinosaurs are also likely to accept the notion that their interests will best be served by deregulating the corporations and predatory investment banks, and that their true enemies are the trade unions, the Muslims, the socialists, and the brown-skinned unfortunates who pick their crops under brutal conditions for desperately little pay.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I think we will look back on the BP disaster as a tipping point.

Its impact on national and world consciousness will rival and perhaps ultimately exceed that of 9-11.

In a corporate calamity like this one, the most important thing from the corporate perspective is to first, minimize the significance of the disaster and second, to shift blame.

The corporate overlords seem to have lost control of the message entirely on this one.

It's hard to minimize the impending destruction of that heavily populated, economically significant, favored fantasy land of everyone's imagination that is the Gulf. And everyone seems to know who to blame. For example, Rush's meme about "eco-terrorism" crashed on takeoff. Contrast this situation with the Exxon Valdez. In that case, they were able to cover up much of the extent of the damage, at least from the view of the general public, largely because it happened in such a remote area. Nobody really much cared about Alaska. They didn't have fantasies about retiring there on a yacht. Also, Exxon was pretty much able to pin the whole rap on a drunken sea captain. No such luck in the Gulf. Everyone knows that it was deliberate corporate malfeasance, aided and abetted by deregulating politicians, that lay at the core of the tragedy.

As for the effects of this disaster on world consciousness, this could be the blow that ends the public's "abuse cycle" with Big Oil. After this beating, we're maybe finally gonna leave that sonuvabitch for good. We really mean it this time.

And it may be a wake-up call on the environment. The problem with "global warming" as a mobilizing cause is that it's slowly incremental (boiling the proverbial frog), erratic, and taking place in a complex, chaotic, and unpredictable system, the global climate. It's a lot easier to get the point of an oil-drenched bird than it is of a half-degree rise in mean temperature (even though the latter is part of a far more lethal process in the long run).

In short, global warming is pretty abstract. Oil on the beaches is concrete. 9-11 was concrete. People mobilize to concrete threats far more readily than to abstract ones.