Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Beat Goes On

As the Senate votes today to ratify the so-called debt compromise that permits this country to divert financial annihilation, at least for now, there are numerous elements that have arisen over the past few weeks that should be alarming to anyone that values the notions of democracy including liberty, equality, and the basic tenants of fairness that are inherent to republican forms of governance. While the debt deal guarantees the furtherance of corporate welfare, while stripping away much-needed support to middle and lower income Americans, I fear that this is the least of our concerns at this point in time. The idea that corporate oligarchs who caused the financial meltdown of 2008 not only walk free, but continue to be rewarded for their behavior in the form of bailouts and absurd tax cuts, could cause one's eyebrows to raise in and of itself, but it is far from our only problem. The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow and be codified into policy at an alarming rate never before witnessed in U.S. history, and as multinational oil conglomerates, to name a top offender, reap tax benefits to the tune of $4 billion dollars per year, according to stats from the Congressional Budget Office, while programs such as federally subsidized graduate student loans fall by the wayside in the current budget plan. So, in summation, we have enough money to throw billions at big oil, which by the way, they are never expected to pay back, but we don't have enough to lower the costs of higher education so that millions of our citizens can compete in the future.

The fact that we are now cutting federal spending as the recession still looms large in the rear-view mirror is as idiotic as it is illogical. We cut debt when debt is not our crisis; unemployment and the anemic housing market hold that banner quite well. This deal does nothing to address the real crisis, and in fact, in the face of an unbelievable Democratic retreat on extended unemployment benefits that was supposed to be tied to any debt deficit reduction agreement, the debt deal stands to make the real problem much worse. Republican claims that you can't raise taxes in a recession and that federal debt undermines the nascent economic recovery are, go figure, asinine and not based in any sort of factual information. I still wonder where in the hell these people were during the binge drinking sessions of federal spending under the Bush II years, but I have yet to hear an answer to that one. One needs only look at the history of the Great Depression to see how FDR's deficit spending policies in the early 1930'a resulted in an astonishing 5.2% growth rate, a rate that crashed in 1937 when, you guessed it, pressure from Republicans and business groups forced FDR to cut federal spending in order to attempt to balance the budget. This move caused the recovering economy to spiral back into a near cataclysmic recession, all so some rich asshole could jack off to their fantasies about limited government and free markets. Newsflash: the free market is a sweltering heap of bullshit, and the only thing that has been done policy-wise in the wake of the 2008 crash is to reinforce the pile of bullshit with nothing more than popsicle sticks to make it appear as though it is all the more stable.

Yet at some point this leaning tower of bullshit, as it were, will inevitably come crashing down upon everyone in a shit storm for the ages. In essence, the debt settlement reached by the geniuses on Capitol Hill buys time, and punts our day of reckoning into the near future, but does nothing more as the stinking pile of bullshit looms ominously in the background baking in the record-setting July sun. A sun that comically, according to Rush Limbaugh and the morons at Fox News anyway, was simply, and I quote, "A bunch of lies to advance a political agenda of liberalism"[1] You really can't make this shit up. As Texas bakes in a record-setting drought, and cities as far north as Chicago swelter under triple digit heat, conservative radio and television sticks there collective fingers in their ears, closes their eyes, and in their best impression of a insolent kindergartener chants "lalalalala, this isn’t happening." When you are dealing with folks whose ideas are so extreme that they equate daily temperatures with a political agenda, even though it was so fucking hot out in July that John Boehner only needed to walk outside of his office to gain his orangish tan, you know we are in a world of hurt.

Still, John Boehner's fake bake notwithstanding, income inequality, the feebleness of capitalism, and corporate cronyism push the good old red, white, and blue, further down the tubes towards the title of banana republic, without the nice beaches and decent weather of course, but frighteningly enough the most disturbing development from the debt fight is none of the above. If one examines the course of events that unfolded as the self-inflicted crisis came to pass, the one thing that sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb is the hijacking of a portion of the political process by extremists. In their overzealous reach to throw their weight around, members of the ultra-right Tea Party held the entire country hostage in order to drive home a point. Make no mistake about it, the implications of a default on federal debt would have been immediate and enormous. The fact that there is no historical precedent for the activity suggests just how dumb of an idea it really is. Every president, from Reagan to Bush II enjoyed unfettered extensions of the debt ceiling without any partisan wrangling. This is because of the fact that the debt ceiling is nothing more than an accounting trick used to balance the books and pay for things that Congress has already appropriated for by law. To not raise it calls into question the solvency of not only the economic system, but also the efficacy of our Constitution. Yet that is where we were, at the cliff staring down at an abyss, being led along by the tongue by extreme political factions that do not represent the demographics of the country as a whole. Negotiation is not necessary, succumb to our demands… or else. Osama bin Laden would truly be proud.

The notion that serious observers were actually calling on the president to circumvent Congress and raise the ceiling through executive order is equally troubling, but desperate times call for desperate measures, notwithstanding that pesky little document called the Constitution. As an aside, another one of my favorite questions that I pose to conservatives that never receives a straight answer is that why is it the case that for people who supposedly love the Constitution and the foundations of our democracy so much, why are they always trying to change it? Whether it be balanced budget amendments, flag burning amendments, or homophobic anti-gay marriage amendments, the extremists always want to change the document to meet the needs of their particular crisis du jour.. This time the heavy-handed tactics were quite different though as deal after deal was rejected over the beliefs of a small minority forced the country closer to default.

To be sure, as an equal opportunity offender, I am just as pissed at the behavior of the Democrats and the president in particular in regards to this matter. President Obama has time and again allowed extremists to call his bluff, resulting in an epic cave-in on core principles every time. The lopsided debt deal, the Bush tax cuts, and the near government shutdown represent a troubling trend where the executive branch not only negotiates with terrorists, but capitulates to their full set of demands. The bully pulpit has been shattered, and we are left with a fool's game where sand has been thrown into the gears of democratic government. The precedent set by this, and the broader implications for executive power that accompany these developments, are chilling in their own right because they call into question the ability of the most powerful branch of government to lead at a time when a strong president is desperately needed. The Tea Party played chicken and the most powerful man in the world blinked, plain and simple. And while the main thrust of the blame should be placed firmy at the doorstep of the GOP, and the Tea Party to be more precise, the continued capitulations of the Democratic Caucus and the president are not without guilt.  Meanwhile, as DC politics becomes more strained and fractured, the corporatocracy grows and the new Koch Brother-style oligarchs, backed by their slobbering Tea Party minions, continue their war against the middle class and the poor, dividing the country in the process, and slowly destabilizing and eroding our political system.

Unfortunately, using history as a guide, the endgame is as uncertain as the lead up to the debt crisis. Given the vitriol and hatred that is spewed forth daily on talk radio and television, where untruths and lies are peddled without fear or reprisal or remorse, I continue to fear that this country has a very rocky road ahead. The similarities between our current predicament and the Depression years are way too similar to ignore. During the 1930's, in a relatively unknown episode of history known as the Business Plot, corporate financiers including the J.P Morgan and Dupont empires schemed to overthrow President Roosevelt in a coup d' etat that was to be lead by General Smedley Butler, who fortunately ratted out the plot before it could bear fruit. All of this was done in the name of profit as FDR's plan of Depression-era wealth redistribution was thought to be an assault on corporate bottom lines. Yes, you read that right, American corporate power has attempted a coup on a sitting U.S. president, and I am quite certain that given the right circumstances, they would do it again.

The game of hard ball being played by the far right shows that the machinations of the Koch Brothers, the Club for Growth, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to name but a few of the key players, equate to nothing less than another version of the Business Plot, just without the single assassin. As Tea Party zealots march under the banner of these corporate giants, the clandestine attacks from the oligarchs against the government and against the president continue, which erodes public trust and confidence in these institutions, thus weakening their power. In the name of their holy trinity wet dream of low corporate taxes, minimal oversight of industry, and gutted social services, the oligarchs, and their foot soldier cronies of the Tea Party who continue to deep throat the cocks of their corporate handlers, even though many have much to lose as a direct result of the policies they champion, are now behind the wheel as this country continues to pull itself out of its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Yet these trials will only get worse as peak oil and limited resources drive the market economy further into the toilet, thus shaking up the already unstable pile of bullshit that has been thrust upon us. As such, it is time to learn to make do for ourselves as our government and our economy is and will continue to fail miserably at protecting us and our way of life. More on that point next week….

Until then I remain,

The Heirloom Troubadour

[1] http://mediamatters.org/blog/201107260010#.Ti7QQYTOAWQ.facebook