Conspiracy: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

I think it’s fair to say that in the wake of the government shutdown and the laughable antics of the Tea Party, the GOP had their asses effectively handed to them in this latest election. Tea partier Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia was summarily defeated. So too Dean Young of Alabama. New York City elected its first democratic mayor since the early nineties. Democracy reigned across the land, despite voter ID laws designed to keep minorities and Democrats from voting.

All of it: the shutdown, Ted Cruz’s filibuster, the obstruction led by Tea Party wing-nuts has badly shaken the President. Except – it hasn’t. Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye. As it stands, this fringe element of the GOP shouldn’t have nearly the voice or the power to sabotage the US government. Yet, thanks to redistricting and gerrymandering, they have infiltrated congress to wield their strange and horrible revenge.

obama-coolBut something about it doesn’t sit right in my stomach. I suspect the story goes deeper than we’ve all been led to believe and that maybe Obama’s calm exterior is the clue we need to put it all together. Remember Syria? That country somewhere across the water from us, in the middle of a whole bunch of other countries that I can’t pronounce/know who they are? Remember how they were going to throw us into a third foreign conflict that had conservatives beating the drum wars (have the ever stopped?) and liberals picketing, recycling our fathers’ protest-wear of the 1960s?

In short, it was a chess game, the likes of which none of us saw clearly until the hand was dealt in John Kerry’s “slip” that if Syria was willing to give up their chemical weaponry, we were going to launch the missiles that were aimed at Syrian targets. It sounded to the world like an offhand comment, an impossibility, and an excuse to pacify the itchy fingers at the helm. But Syria, with Russia’s support, surprised us. They agreed. And most of us let out a sigh of relief.

And it was only after the smoke cleared that the public was able to see why Obama was able to keep his cool in the face of another bloody war: he knew what he was doing. He saw three steps ahead of any of us and played it out. Nothing to get all nervous about folks. I got this.

And so when I see that coolness in the face of domestic conflict in Congress that has organized opposition to every single thing he has ever proposed, I wonder how he doesn’t snap. Just once. Just a bit. An eye-roll. A bitten lip. A shouted obscenity.

But no.

So let’s look deeper at the actual result of the Tea Party’s invasion of the GOP. They have hijacked a powerful political party and taken away their credo of fiscal responsibility and small government and replaced it with a religious dogma that would stump Jesus. Conspiracy theorists have only grown more staunch in their assertions that Obama is really a Muslim socialist intent on waging war against the very country he purports to love. They’re waiting for the axe to drop. They think it might have something to do with his healthcare reform, that there has to be a sinister element to his attempt to revamp a disastrous and corrupt system and put affordable provisions in for the less fortunate among us.

Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman haven’t stopped to take a breath in their campaigns to enlighten the people to his evil doings. Fox News, in their fair and balanced efforts, pauses naught in their anti-Obama “news,” and Mitch McConnell has vowed to never stop his wave of obstruction. It’s enough to make a leader flip the eff out.

But not this guy.

Consider for a moment how his calm exterior has been a Teflon cover to which none of their vitriol sticks. Consider how the Tea Party-led GOP has succeeded in defeating food stamps for the very poor in hard economic times while clinging to tax breaks for the very wealthy, how redistricting has made their racist motives apparent to the masses, and how they shut down the entire government just to stage a temper tantrum that served only to illustrate how contemptible their positions have grown. Finally, consider how the Tea Party has succeeded where no Democrat ever could: in dividing a once-powerful club whose power was unmatched by anything the world had ever seen. Consider Obama’s ability to play a long game. Consider his chess-playing acumen.

Then tell me that Obama isn’t the biggest sponsor of the Tea Party “patriots.”

(Slow clap, Mr. President. And don’t worry – I’ll keep this between you and me.)

Lean In, Breathe Out

Two women have reached the forefront of womanly consciousness and have thrown upheaval into the feminist movement. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayers have pitted feminist against feminist in an ugly battle that asks the age old question, “Can Women Have it All?”

While I hate to be the harbinger of good news on the Republican side, there have been some moments of clarity on the right that need mentioning. The instances where several key Republicans have come forward in support of gay marriage, the dinner meeting with the President to speak actual words that might result in actual progress, and the culmination of Rand Paul’s filibuster that sought to ask an important question about President Obama’s drone policy, all deserve credit. And while I hate to pause my disdain for anything Rand Paul, and I could pick up the gauntlet laid by the left in mocking him with the two sentence answer Paul received (in a word, nope, won’t attack Americans here) or focus on the potty break that stopped him from coming close to Strom Thurmond’s epic filibuster (“In the end, Rand Paul did not hate U.S.-citizen-targeted drone strikes as much as Strom Thurmond hated the idea of black people voting.”) I won’t. Because pointed questions, from anyone, are a good thing. And sometimes more important than the answers themselves.

So while the Republicans regroup and do some soul searching, I turn my eyes to the feminist movement, which has gained momentum after a rabid election year that saw attacks on Roe. v. Wade, too many disparaging definitions of the word “rape,” the vote of 138 Republicans against the Violence Against Women Act, and the ERA coming back into the conversation.  It seemed that women put the “Mommy Wars” on hold to unite under a shared cause that was strong, smart, and timely.

Yet, two women have reached the forefront of womanly consciousness and have thrown upheaval into the movement. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayers have pitted feminist against feminist in an ugly battle that asks the age old question, “Can Women Have it All?” According to Sandberg, in her memoir/advice book that answer is yes, if they are willing to “Lean In.” Where women juggle the emotional minefield of childrearing and career management, Sandberg advises confidence above all, and the stretching of one’s belief in herself to know that she can accomplish what the men before and beside her have. There are sacrifices and weak moments of self-doubt, but nothing that can’t be worked through. As the COO of Facebook, she know from what she speaks.

At the same time, another high profile woman executive has made headlines by banning telecommuting in her company. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, issued what some women are interpreting as a stunning blow to mothers. By limiting her own maternity leave to a harsh two weeks post partum, Mayer has invited scathing criticism from women.  Yet Mayer brings up an important topic: if women want to be treated the same as men, should they be subject to the same limitations?  I could bring up the fact that women and men bring different, albeit equal, qualifications to the table and that historically men have unfairly benefitted from this patriarchal system. To take away the things that make possible women to balance work and family life moves the progress of women in the workforce backwards, not forward. This isn’t an equalizer as much as a destabilizer.

But I won’t.

What I will discuss is the way in which thoughtful, savvy women have brought insightful critique to these two women and have felt the result of a backlash of their very own. This backlash against those who are taking up pens to defend Mayer and Sandberg is creating a splintered movement much like the shattered remains of the GOP. Which begs the question: Are women the new Republican party?  Where once there was a cohesive group of thinking women, there is a degeneration into intolerance and  obstructionist douche-baggery normally reserved for the GOP.

Time Magazine gives prime placement to the debate, featuring Sandberg on the cover framed by the headline, “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful.”  The New York Times Book Review this Sunday gave “Lean In” the cover treatment as well, fanning the flames of conflict by assigning Anne-Marie Slaughter to write the review. Slaughter earned her own place in the (patronizingly termed) Mommy Wars with her Atlantic piece in 2012 entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” placing her at opposing ends of Sandberg, leading to gossip that the two were enemies.  The enemy trope turns out to be a bit hyperbolic, however, as Slaughter concedes many points to Sandberg. While she still maintains that women might not necessarily be able to overcome work/life obstacles just by sheer ambition, she’s thoughtful. Respectful. Calm.

Would that I could say the same for Anna Holmes, whose New Yorker piece summarily finds and rips apart critiques of Sandberg’s book one by one, accusing most of the writers of pieces critical of Sandberg of “not having cracked open the book.” She takes Jodi Kantor and Maureen Dowd to task for publishing an unfinished quote by Sandberg that made her seem arrogant.  The partial quote, taken from a PBS documentary “Makers: Women who make America” provided the fodder from which column inches were inked: “I always thought I would run a social movement,” she was reported to have said. The rest “-which basically meant work at a non-profit. I never thought I’d work in the corporate sector” – provides a context that makes Sandberg sound less self-important and more likable. The damage, according to Holmes, had already been done, by causing women to take up their pens as swords to tear down Sandberg. As such, Holmes responds in kind, calling out every mainstream critique of Sandberg, as a “galling” “pile-on.”

All this makes me yearn for a time that seemed almost quaint, when Hilary Rosen’s glib comment last April that Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life,” opened up the proverbial can of worms, causing countless moms everywhere to look up from Fifty Shades of Grey on their iPhones to consider, again, just how to quantify the work of the stay-at-home mother. What makes these debates endless and unresolved is simply because they are unresolvable. With women making up the majority of the population, stretching across the socio-economic stratosphere, with roots laid down in the North or the South, in urban sprawls or flat country, there will be more differences among us than similarities. There will be language gaps, and ideological gaps, physical gaps, and yes, little overlapping where ambition is concerned, even in defining just what ambition is and how it manifests itself in the interests and abilities of different women all across this land.

But what pushes the progression and evolution of all of us as human beings are the questions we raise. Often more important than whatever the answers might be. We’d do well to remember that, and to take a cue from the indignant scrambling and infighting of the Republican party: that divided, we fail. We have far bigger threats than each other.

Grand Old Pogrom

The rationale behind their approach is simple and time-tested. Over time repetitious lies begin to have the resonance of truth, no matter how far fetched.

The Republican Convention was going rather poorly. The crowd was homogenous, the speakers were flat and the enthusiasm in the room was manufactured at best. And Clint Eastwood hadn’t even begun a rambling conversation with a chair. The Republican Party’s best hope for the convention was for its candidate to appear “human.”

Although “Eastwooding” would eventually enter the American lexicon and Willard Romney would do his best to connect with his fellow Homo sapiens, it was a quiet delegate from New York who captured the essence of the modern GOP.

Wading in among his fellow delegates, billionaire industrialist David Koch smugly took in the proceedings. Though the convention offered little in the way of celebration, he told a group of supporters at a nearby reception later that he and his brother, Charles, were “in this for the long haul.” Indeed they are. The Koch brothers are part of a well-established movement designed to vilify liberalism and many of the core tenets of democracy.

They are hardly original. But they are unique in that they have elevated their insidious brand of propaganda to a high art form. Groups such as the nativist Know Nothings of the 1850s or the John Birch Society of the 1950s espoused similar hate-filled political messages as today’s GOP but they flamed out as quickly as their stars rose. In terms of longevity, the Kochs and their inspired think tanks such as Americans for Prosperity—busy these days attempting to deny Hurricane Sandy relief funds to our region—have succeeded where their predecessors have failed. For the first time in American history, a small band of angry white men has galvanized a vast number of Americans and irrevocably turned public policy on its ear. The modern American conservative movement has finally arrived. 

Much of this has been accomplished through the elaborate and coordinated messaging emanating from the right-wing propaganda machine. Theirs is a two-part strategy. The first is to consistently contend that the media have a liberal bias when the opposite is true. Talk radio is virtually owned by the right wing. Fox News has become an insanely biased juggernaut and the print media, with few exceptions, has essentially fallen in line with the conservative agenda. Even the majority of the New York newspapers—The Daily News, Wall Street Journal, Newsday and New York Post—endorsed Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. But to hear conservative pundits talk about media bias, one would think the New York Times is the only newspaper on the planet.

The second part of the strategy is to plant false information from seemingly credible sources with patriotic names such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the American Enterprise Institute. Representatives from these organizations, which are funded by billionaires such as the Koch brothers, routinely appear on right wing talk shows spouting bogus statistics. These sources are then quoted in newspaper articles that are again mentioned in on-air reports. This is what is known as “the echo chamber.”

The rationale behind their approach is simple and time-tested. Over time repetitious lies begin to have the resonance of truth, no matter how far fetched. Selling an idea as its exact opposite, a mirrored reality, via the continual amplification of such lies has been an effective strategy employed by tyrannical regimes since time immemorial. For example, Adolf Hitler extolled the virtues of physicality, and gushed over the domineering blond-haired, fair-skinned Aryan, who was tall, reasoned and even-tempered. But Hitler himself possessed none of these traits. He was short, pudgy, greasy, and ill tempered.

Likewise, the right-wing echo chamber has been successful in instilling a backward self-loathing belief system among its followers who blithely campaign on behalf of billionaires.

Witness the retired worker receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits carrying a sign bashing entitlements at a Tea Party rally. Or the middle-income wage earner resisting tax increases on the wealthiest Americans because they’ve been told it smacks of socialism. Or perhaps the enraged grandmother who believes “Obamacare” is a Communist plot, even though the concept was hatched in a conservative think tank and first passed into law by a Republican governor.

Brilliantly, there is no single face of modern conservatism, only a secret cabal of dangerous men such as Charles and David Koch, who work behind the scenes to pull the last remaining threads from our democracy. In another stroke of genius, the GOP has joined forces with Christian Fundamentalists to misappropriate scripture while wrapped in the flag to sell the American people on perverted interpretations of the teachings of Christ.

The GOP has wed itself to fundamentalist leaders such as Douglas Coe who, since 1969, as the head of a secret society known as “The Family,” has presided over several Washington “prayer cells” that have been linked to some of the most deadly despots in modern times such as Indonesia’s General Suharto, Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Not only have Coe’s associates been linked to some of the most heinous genocidal acts in history, they were all at one time members of Family-sponsored prayer cells. Genocide, it seems, is easily overlooked in Coe’s movement so long as lip service is paid to Christ and oil and other natural resources are provided to well-heeled Family members. 

Beyond warping the Bible to suit the Republican ideology, there are secular issues that have been upended by its truth-twisting dogma. The vilification of labor in this country, for one, is sickening and self-defeating. To wit, only 12 percent of the American workforce is unionized, but conservative pundits would have the public believe that unions are wholly responsible for our employment woes and lack of competitiveness. They would also have us believe that Social Security is collapsing under its own weight even though it is, by design, self sustaining and fully funded.

Equally as disturbing is the malicious stance toward immigrants in the United States. The extent of Republican soul-searching post election was to examine strategies going forward that would deal with the problem of changing demographics: how to woo more Latinos into the fold instead of actually adopting more progressive policies.

In fact, Republicans were anything but contrite in the wake of electoral defeat. Forgotten were the insults to women, equating nearly half of America with system-sucking leeches, and the notion of self deportation. The GOP has built a platform based upon misogyny, fervent nationalism, elaborate propaganda, and suppression of intellectualism—each one a hallmark of fascism. Others include high levels of incarceration, secrecy, militarism, and anti-union rhetoric.

These are the enduring legacies of a party gone horribly wrong. The problem we face is that the men behind the curtain believe this past election was a momentary setback, a bump in the road. But this stands to reason. They are, after all, in this for the “long haul.” 

 

Illustration: Jon Moreno
Book Cover: The Family by Jeff Sharlet. The Family offers an in-depth and never-before seen look at the Christian Fundamentalist movement in America.

Iran From 10,000 Feet

Simultaneously clutching his Nobel Peace Prize in one hand and George W. Bush’s preemptive strike doctrine in the other, Obama has straddled this no-man’s land about as well as any president possibly could.

This column appears in the February 2nd, 2012 edition of the Long Island Press.

Trunk to tail the elephants circle the ring while the four remaining clowns in the circus vamp, weep and honk their noses to the delight of the audience. The train travels from Iowa to New Hampshire, and then makes its way down the coast to Florida where the most recent performance went off without a hitch. With dozens more appearances planned for the upcoming weeks, the greatest show on Earth promises to keep the masses entertained for months to come.

Outside the alternate reality that is the American election season, however, a gathering storm is rapidly approaching, threatening to rip the stakes from the ground and bring the tent down upon all of us.

The deadliest game of chicken in history is being played in dark alleys with no headlights. Two cars careen toward each other, Iran in one and Israel in the other, while the world huddles close to see which one of them blinks first. But we are all more than spectators in this deadly contest, we are participants. The ever-expanding concentric circles of conflict that began with the Mossad and Hezbollah, extended to neighboring nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Syria, now encapsulate the United States, Europe, Russia and China.

In short, the stage is set for World War III. Damn, those Mayans were good!

Because the economy is still in the center ring, however, it’s the primary show the audience focuses on. We can see shadowy figures moving about in the periphery. We know they’re there, but our attention is diverted for the moment. Humanity be damned, it’s still the economy, stupid. It’s why every pronouncement of war, every threat to prevent a nuclear Iran, includes references to the disruption of the global oil supply.

But exactly how do you quantify the potential ramifications of a complete breakdown in both production and supply of oil in the Middle East, and more specifically Iran? The second oil shock of the 1970s, beginning with an Iranian oil-workers’ strike in 1978 and continuing through the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, is a useful portent of financial catastrophe. This two-year flare-up resulted in skyrocketing oil prices that reached $38 per barrel in 1980. Adjusted for today’s dollars, that’s around $90 per barrel.

Think about that for a moment. If the equivalent figure of $90 today thrust the global markets into utter chaos and drove the world deeper into recession in 1980, what effect would a new shock today have on the global economy, considering oil is consistently trading around $100 per barrel today? Obama doesn’t need to ask Jimmy Carter how that would work out.

This is why Europe and America have been rallying support to increase economic sanctions on Iran while Israel continues its effective covert assault on the power structure in Tehran. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently visited China to ask for their participation in a global embargo on trading with Iran. The problem there, of course, is that China receives approximately 10 percent of its oil from Iran—a figure projected to grow steadily over the next couple of decades as China attempts to break the coal habit. Geithner’s reception was as chilly as it was when he asked the Chinese to adjust their undervalued currency in an effort to stabilize the balance of trade between our nations. Add to the mix that China has no moral or political allegiance to Israel, and it’s easy to understand why Geithner would have had better luck talking to the Great Wall of China than its ruling class.

The political calculus in Washington is as complicated as ever. Obama has been able to walk the tightrope between America’s hawks and isolationists by surging our forces in Afghanistan while withdrawing them from Iraq, and allegedly killing Osama bin Laden while entertaining the possibility of dialogue with Tehran. Simultaneously clutching his Nobel Peace Prize in one hand and George W. Bush’s preemptive strike doctrine in the other, Obama has straddled this no-man’s land about as well as any president possibly could. But time is running out as the election draws ever nearer, which is why the war rhetoric is beginning to intensify. This diplomatic squeeze is lost only on mouth-breathing Americans whose eyes are glued to the spectacle in the center ring, as they await the outcome of each GOP primary as if it matters. The rest of the planet has adjusted to the darkness as it watches these war preparations very, very closely.

Here’s the current score. Europe has taken a decidedly aggressive stance by leading the way with harsh economic sanctions on Iran forcing the United States to follow suit perhaps more than it might have otherwise. China and Russia have little to gain by punishing Iran as they trade openly. Israel is not above taking matters into its own hands and striking Iran’s nuclear facilities but it requires more assurance from the United States that we will back its play. The less-than-cozy relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thwarts Israel’s next move, because acting unilaterally without U.S. support is as suicidal as doing nothing may someday prove to be.

 Saudi Arabia, which shares access to the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, also has little patience for Iran’s shenanigans; but it, like Iran’s allies in the area, has its own political and economic issues, and can hardly afford a conflict with any of the region’s stakeholders.

We are witnessing one of the greatest standstills of all time. The deciding vote, however, will likely come from none of the nations mentioned here because a new, more powerful force has emerged in the global landscape with the ability to tip the scales: the people.

From Occupy to the Arab Spring, the past year has shown that the most influential voice in world politics is that of the people. In this new interconnected world, the Iranian government’s clandestine policies and shadowy behavior are anachronistic. That’s not to say Israel and the United States don’t understand this potential, as both admit to stoking tensions within Iran to mobilize its youth in the hopes that they will lead to yet another revolution. If a fruit vendor in Tunisia can set off a series of events that changed the Arab world forever, the same can even happen in a nation as mysterious and closed-off as Iran. Dictators can be ousted and regimes can be toppled without deploying the U.S. military.

It’s why an untimely show of force against Iran would undermine the Iranian people’s naturally occurring dissatisfaction, shown by their willingness to protest the regime’s fraudulent elections and its hard-line stances that have wrought such economic hardship. This phenomenon has been occurring even before the most recent round of rigorous sanctions. In practice, imposing more stringent sanctions or military action may have the opposite of the desired effect by coalescing support for the Iranian government from within. Given the Iranians’ already poor economic circumstances, they may in fact see little distinction between enduring harsh sanctions and a blistering show of force.

Critics of the Obama administration have likened his stance on Iran as akin to that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler with the Munich Pact in 1938. They claim that the United States is being hoodwinked by Iran’s leadership who will immediately use nuclear weapons against Israel once they possess the capability to do so. Most who have written about the subject, however, believe this is folly, but that it’s better to have an Iran without nukes than one with them. In the meantime, the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction might take a backseat to the mutually assured production of oil. In my mind, the specter of nuclear warfare is a singular endgame issue, not an ongoing strategic battle that dismisses the Chamberlain/Hitler analogy in favor of Kennedy/Kruschev. When both men drew their lines in the sand and realized the lines were in exactly the same spot, everyone knew where they stood during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Because the current leaders of Iran have publicly stated that they are committed to annihilating the state of Israel, they have legitimized the world’s fear of a nuclear Iran. But I would submit that the world doesn’t have an Iran problem, it has an Ahmadinejad problem. Were the U.S. to declare unequivocally that we will use force if Iran’s president denies UN inspectors in Iran or we discover that they have developed the capacity to use nuclear technology beyond domestic energy production, we would hardly be blamed for being the aggressor. But perhaps we should re-examine the role of sanctions and look at things differently because a free and prosperous people have a much greater ability to dictate policy in Iran than we outsiders ever will.

A desperate population with nothing to lose alters the equation of Mutually Assured Destruction and interrupts the natural evolution of the Arab Spring. It’s time to reverse the antiquated notion that a forcibly impoverished nation is ultimately obsequious to those nations that suppress it. President Obama should call upon the Congress and the world to lift all economic sanctions on Iran because sanctions starve the people, not the government. Moreover, the people have proven they know how to seize the opportunity for self determination.

Then we can all go back to watching the circus.

 

Main Photo: Associated Press

Capitalism and Regulation Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Deregulation became the mantra of free market capitalists who view all government intervention into the markets as a complete affront to our democratic principles, as though the two are somehow connected. It sounded sexy and even seemed to be working for a while until our speculative chickens came home to roost and laid rotten eggs in all of our coops.

John Boehner NY Economic Club
House Speaker John Boehner speaking in New York

Osama bin Laden’s body has barely come to rest on the ocean floor and the Republicans are back in attack mode against the Obama administration. Speaker of the House John Boehner is taking his spending-cut crusade on parade again in the run-up to the vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. In doing so the Ohio Republican is not only acquiescing to the clamorous Tea Party faction of the GOP but to the special interests that define their politics.

The debt ceiling debate is the ultimate diversion from the more genuine debate that should be taking place in Congress. This is not to say it is without merit. But like so many political disputes, our politicians are intent on examining the symptoms of a crisis instead of deconstructing the root causes. The fact is our enormous national debt is a result of fighting two costly, protracted wars abroad and bailing out hooligans on Wall Street who engineered the greatest heist in American history. The problem is the GOP wants to fix everything else they deem to be wrong with the system without addressing these two key components of our indebtedness. 

Boehner and company are continuing the charade begun when Ronald Reagan was king and Alan Greenspan was God. Deregulation became the mantra of free market capitalists who view all government intervention into the markets as a complete affront to our democratic principles, as though the two are somehow connected. It sounded sexy and even seemed to be working for a while until our speculative chickens came home to roost and laid rotten eggs in all of our coops.

In a speech earlier this week to the Economic Club of New York, Boehner returned to the key conservative talking points, excoriating Washington for pandering to banks that are too big to fail without addressing the deregulatory fever in the Beltway that created this situation. He criticizes instead the government’s bailout response, saying that our “debt mostly borrowed from foreign investors caused a further erosion in the economic confidence of America and increased uncertainty for millions of private sector job creators.” If you asked these so-called job creators why they aren’t adding more people to the payroll or taking on more capital projects, I highly doubt the resounding answer would be America’s debt. Under President Reagan our debt skyrocketed but these same job creators doubled-down and invested in America, making the logical question: Why not now? Boehner went on to claim that the “massive borrowing and spending by the Treasury Department crowded out private investment by American business of all sizes.” That’s funny. I could have sworn that by keeping interest rates at practically zero, business owners would have been encouraged to borrow and invest in their companies with alacrity. 

This is where the GOP message gets into funky territory. You would be hard-pressed to find an economist who would deny that pumping bailout funds through the financial sector prevented a total collapse of our economic system. Everyone won in the short run. But because Congress was too cowardly to fix the structural regulatory issues in the banking industry, the big winner overall was Wall Street. The bailout allowed the banks to partake in riskless arbitrage (borrowing money at no cost and investing it in guaranteed government bonds for example) and bypass the private sector and individuals in desperate need of lending support. It’s one of the primary reasons the Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to rise despite a still-flagging economy; the dollars are flowing at the top with very little pulsing through the rest of the economy. But the concept of arbitrage is largely lost on Americans and our politicians are reluctant to talk about it in a meaningful way, instead choosing to focus on the national debt.

What’s worse is that the banks have presumably used a good portion of this money to invest in opaque investments that have artificially created crises in the agriculture and energy sectors. I say “presumably” because no one can really be sure where some of this money is being invested because the regulatory environment is still so broken and corrupt that the funds are impossible to track directly. It’s the pricing and behavior of these markets that gives them away. Energy supply is at an all-time high, demand is still perilously low yet the markets are soaring because unknown companies are pouring billions of dollars through small commodities exchanges and wildly impacting the prices of these investments. This phenomenon translates directly into high gasoline prices and rising food costs, thereby suppressing the recovery and obliterating household savings. Here again Boehner changes the subject, suggesting that the Obama administration is somehow keeping “energy resources under lock and key.” Further, he accuses Democrats in Congress of “creating more uncertainty for those who create American jobs” by raising “the specter of higher taxes.” Another direct attempt to divert the conversation from reality. After all, didn’t we just extend the Bush-era tax cuts? And weren’t these the same tax cuts that were in place prior to and during the economic meltdown?

This year Forbes added 214 new billionaires to its list of the world’s richest people. That’s up from 97 new billionaires last year. In perusing the list of the richest Americans, it’s interesting to note where the wealth of those whom Boehner touts as “job creators” is derived. Hedge funds, investing, oil, pipelines, retail, chemicals and pharmaceuticals are the industries that dominate the roster. Most of these companies employ relatively few people compared to the billionaire industrialists of old. No infrastructure companies, few manufacturing companies, and a handful of high-tech companies appear on this list. And of the ones that do appear, most of them manufacture overseas. I guess in Boehner’s world a job created in Bangalore is equal to one created in Scranton. What many of these industries do have in common is that they represent the vast majority of campaign contributors to people like John Boehner.

So it begs the question: Who is Boehner trying to protect? In his New York address he repeatedly refers to the “arrogance of Washington” even though that’s where he’s been working since 1990. Arrogance is not trying to pay for past transgressions by taxing those who devastated the economy. Arrogance is cutting the government’s primary funding source via an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and attacking entitlement programs instead of the regulatory issues that brought down America’s entire economic system.

Where the White House fails is by indulging in debates over the debt ceiling and releasing oil reserves while bickering over entitlements. Our economy cannot, will not, improve until our elected officials have the courage to restore sanity to the marketplace by re-implementing the regulations that properly governed debt, equity and commodities trading for decades.

In recent testimony to the Congressional Oversight Panel on the impact of the TARP, Columbia University professor and former Clinton advisor and chief economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz argued that “we have not repaired our banking system, and indeed, with the enhanced moral hazard and concentration in the financial sector, the economy remains very much at risk.”

Joseph Stiglitz

These arguments are nothing new to the Nobel Prize-winning economist, who in 2008 warned of the enduring negative consequences of deregulation. At a hearing held back then by the House Committee on Financial Services, Stiglitz invoked Adam Smith, saying that “even he recognized that unregulated markets will try to restrict competition, and without strong competition markets will not be efficient.” One of Stiglitz’s solutions to this is to restore transparency to investments and the markets themselves by restricting “banks’ dealing with criminals, unregulated and non-transparent hedge funds, and off-shore banks that do not conform to regulatory and accounting standard of our highly regulation financial entities.” For emphasis, he notes that “we have shown that we can do this when we want, when terrorism is the issue.”

He’s right in every aspect. This is economic terrorism that Americans are unwittingly enabling by allowing politicians in Washington to skirt the issue of financial reform and to skip tighter regulations in favor of continuing tax breaks, cutting spending on infrastructure and demonizing programs that provide security for the sick, the aged and the unemployed.

Yet no matter how often people of Stiglitz’s ilk provide testimony, no one on these committees either understands or cares what is being offered. I suppose that just because we call them “hearings” doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily listening.

Republican Party (1856 – 2010)

There is nothing grand about this old party that preys only on the enmity of the populous. There is nothing admirable or principled about fear mongering. Where are the inspired solutions that made this party great?

GOP Pelosi Image
Here you go, kids: Thinking about becoming a Young Republican? Log onto www.gop.com today to find out more about hate mongering and propaganda!

I don’t care much for the health care bill or the process it went through, but I applaud the intent. Rather than dissecting the bill I would like to offer a quick message to the Democratic Party. Then, if you don’t mind, I would like to speak privately with my party, the Republican Party.

Democrats—please refrain from referring to this bill as an “overhaul” of the system. While it is indeed reform, it doesn’t cure the inherent flaws in the system. No, I haven’t read all 2,500 pages of the bill yet, but cutting Medicare reimbursements and treatment options, while increasing public access to pharmaceuticals, goes against my beliefs. I’m also incredulous at the Congressional Budget Office’s suggestion that this will reduce the deficit. Please don’t insult American intelligence. Having said that, providing the opportunity for 32 million Americans to visit a doctor for the first time outweighs any issues I have with this bill. Just call it a start, not an overhaul.

Now onto my dear fellow Republicans. (And to the guy who clips out my column and scribbles ironically, “Hey Asshole, don’t you know any better words?” whenever I curse, the answer is yes. But today I just can’t seem to find them.)

Republicans are shouting and spitting like a bunch of fucking hyenas as they clamor for face time in the media. They’re filling our inboxes, vandalizing our social networking profiles and polluting the airwaves with venomous messages rebuking the Obama Administration over health care. HEALTH CARE! My fellow Republicans are tearing this nation apart over providing medical care for those less fortunate. Not bank bailouts, war, or wasteful pork spending— Health care. Really?

The behavior among elected Republicans and the dimwitted TV pundits who are whipping America into an absolute frenzy is the worst thing about this bill and has led me to question my long-standing affiliation with the Republican Party. For a moment, I thought it was me; that maybe I had changed and lost touch with Republicanism. So, in seeking to refresh my recollection of what this party stands for, I logged onto the GOP home page.

What I found was as pathetic as it was cartoonish. A complete embarrassment. The site opens to a fiery red screen with Nancy Pelosi, fists and teeth clenched in a fit of rage against a backdrop of flames, with the words “Fire Pelosi” in bold letters emblazoned on the screen. This buffoonery doesn’t torch Nancy Pelosi—it’s Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln who are torched by the flames of dissent and hatred that now embody this once-great party.

Going deeper in the site only serves to highlight the confusion within the GOP. It lists the accomplishments of the Republican Party since its inception and its own core values of today. It proudly claims responsibility for freeing the slaves, establishing Howard University and outlawing the Ku Klux Klan. It touts Republican leadership in writing the 19th Amendment, passing two civil rights acts and ending racial segregation in Little Rock. The list spans two centuries of achievements such as these and others that today seem more in alignment with the Democratic Party, like establishing Yellowstone National Park, building the federal highway system and authoring welfare reform.

This is the party I belong to.

But the current “platform”—if you can call it that—lists only six ideals. The power of the individual, voluntary giving, limited government, low taxes, less regulation and national strength. That’s what it says, but what it practices is hate, because hate sells when the chips are down. Well, here’s the newsflash: The strong Republican individual who enjoyed low taxes, limited government and less regulation didn’t voluntarily give a hand to the 32 million people under eight years of Bush Jr., four under Bush Sr. and eight under Reagan. And the eight under Clinton? We Republicans killed health care then too. So, no. The “voluntary giving” portion of the agenda hasn’t worked.

This bill is what we get for not doing something sooner. Now the Republican Party is calling for true health care reform and vowing to still kill this bill? NOW? Too bad, so sad. Too little, too late. Everything that is wrong with this bill is the fault of every loser in office with an (R) next to his or her name.

From the realm of beyond ridiculous comes the conservative movement. The growing number of so-called “Tea Party” activists are hunting their own, outing those they call Republicans In Name Only, or “RINOs.” They have taken their vituperative agenda to the streets, hurling racial epithets at democratic lawmakers and preaching angry messages to Fox’s ravenous cameras. Television ratings and voter ire are feeding off one another and creating a vortex of hatred that has gone viral and beyond.

There is nothing grand about this old party that preys only on the enmity of the populous. There is nothing admirable or principled about fear mongering. Where are the inspired solutions that made this party great?

I’m calling it. I hereby officially pronounce the Republican Party dead. The GOP died suddenly on March 23, 2010 from a diseased mind and heart. It was 154 years old. The son of Ronald Reagan, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln is survived only by bastard stepchildren who have squandered the family fortune and sullied its good name.

 A plague on all of your tents, I say. I renounce my allegiance to those who cloak themselves in the shroud of Republicanism without understanding what it means to be so. I stand firmly by the glorious list of accomplishments from which these whores have divorced themselves and await the day a new breed of Republicans rediscovers the true meaning behind the core values of this party. Until then you have lost my vote of confidence and, more importantly, my vote. When you do return to your collective senses and stand for something other than hatred and dissent, I will be there, because a real elephant never forgets.