Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Who put us in this damn handbasket, anyway?

Should the worst happen tomorrow and the Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress, there will be plenty of blame to go around.  There isn't a single doubt in my mind that we'll be in for the ride of our lives into the absolute depths of political malevolence should this come to pass.  The reasons for this certainty are too numerous to mention, but let's just start by saying I believe that the Presidency of George W. Bush will seem an idyllic dream compared to the chaos and destruction the Republicans will wreak should they get control of Congress.

But I, for one, didn't start this to outline the possible horrors we might have to face.  No, this is a look backwards rather than a look forward.  Any number of people can look forward at this juncture at least as well as I can, and I think this is precisely the time to play "the blame game."

Let me start out by saying this is in no particular order, and the exact nature and level of each target's responsibility for the calamity to come will be explained in more than adequate detail for my purposes.

We'll start with the corporatists and their Republican minions, those who are happily selling America down the river for a bigger piece of what they obviously perceive as an infinitely large pie.  They see the emerging markets and cheap workforces of the third world as an opportunity to cash in on the future, but, in the meantime, are like carrion crows feasting on the dying remains of the very nation they claim to idolize and revere.  They don't give a damn about us, and why should they?  They abandoned faith in the god they claim while still in their mother's womb, turning instead to the love of the great and terrible Mammon.

Which brings us to the media, the slavish lackeys and lapdogs of the corporatists.  Not just the FOX News pundits, but the whole damn media corps.  The American media has long since abandoned any pretense of being a journalistic enterprise--of giving the "facts" and allowing us to decide what they mean.  Not that they're to blame for our collective inability to do so.  They've certainly helped with that bit of damnation, but they're not the instigators.

In this case the finger is aimed at parents, politicians, teachers, and administrators operating under the delusion that learning actually consists of absorbing great amounts of information to vomit them out on command days, weeks, or even years later.  Parents who will do anything to protect their little darlings, teachers for whom the possibility of a little disruption is worth quashing individuality, politicians who see no profit in supporting education, but think that standardized tests are a viable benchmark, and administrators who believe that "zero tolerance" policies are in any way helpful.  This isn't a complete list of the crimes committed against our young in the name of education that isn't, but they're a starting point.

Add to that the anti-science ideologues, who think it's A-OK to tell kids that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and that evolution is the theory that man evolved from monkeys.  To be fair, this is because they themselves never grasped the concepts of natural selection and incremental change, but that's not really an excuse.  These folks can accept the notion that an active deity chose to reveal himself and his "plan" to a bunch of illiterate, desert dwelling savages in one of the most inhospitable regions of the Earth--with the command to "go forth and multiply, and while you're at it, slaughter everyone who won't conform to worshiping the way I tell you."

Religion and science actually could have something in common... but really don't.  The asking of questions.  "How did we get here?  Why are we here?"  Intriguing notions to ponder... but worthless if we already assume we have the answers before we ask.

So our kids are forced to swallow gallons of information they may never need in order to repeat it back, all under the mistaken assumption that this is "learning," when real learning is the ability to take information and use it to reveal larger amounts of information associated with it.  Like the fact that, for example, the first world war was caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian separatist, after which, due to a complex weave of treaties and mutual assistance pacts, most of the world was forced to participate.  And that the groundwork for the second world war was created in part by the truly vicious reparations laid upon Germany by the allies that utterly destroyed them as a working society.  A society in such dire straits that a charismatic madman could find a convenient scapegoat and work the people into a frenzy due to the desire to retain some sense of control over their lives.

For example.

Education and critical thinking are the manipulation of information to create a workable whole, a place from which to make other connections.  History is vital because it explains the world in which we live.  Language is vital because it allow us to communicate with one another in a mutually agreed upon fashion.  Mathematics is necessary because an understanding of the uses of money, and misuses of money, is the key to avoiding being savaged by predatory criminals and those businesses that operate like them.  Science is important because it allows us to grasp the nature of the precipice upon which we--as a species--now stand.

There's a movement now attempting to blame all the failures of education on bad teachers, when they are as much a symptom of the problem as anything remotely resembling its cause.  Remember that most of them are also products of our education system and are working within a structure of assumptions that are, in the end, ultimately erroneous.  The question is not whether the children can repeat back what they've learned, but if they can use it in a real world context.

All too often, our most successful people are those who can rise above the limitations of our educational system, not those who are best served by it.

Which brings us to our tea party friends.  Surveys suggest that they're relatively well educated (keeping in mind what this means) yet exhibit a frightfully limited world-view with regards to the value of government, taxation, political science, and (in many cases) our Constitutional rights.  Parroting their darlings in the media, they decry this administration's policies as "socialist" when they're as timid and tepid an example of liberal social engineering as we've ever seen.  Many past Republicans have gone farther than has the Obama administration.

Yet clearly we're not dealing with critical thinkers here, just people who know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to piece together what's happening.  They blame the government for bailing out the banking institutions and wall street, and yet embrace the very party that makes such constituencies a core part of their political base.

For which I blame the Democrats, at least in part.  They rose to power this time around through the justified anger of the masses after seeing the abuses of the last administration, and the clear crony capitalism that made that regime such a fitful host for our democratic aspirations.  Yet, upon gaining power, they took to the capital as if nothing had changed, as if it was just another cycle of political fortunes coming around.  The Republicans had been given their chance and failed.  So what?

The problem is that once ousting the Republicans, the Democrats climbed right into bed with the very power brokers that had corrupted their opposition.  Aside from a few notable exceptions, the Democrats were all too happy to take money in order to further the ambitions of wall street brokers, bankers, and oil men.  And when it all came crashing down, who did they look to save?  The corrupt and calculating power brokers.  All that righteous populist anger that had swept them into power easily became co-opted by the Republicans who'd set the stage for the collapse in the first place.  And the tea party was born.

I also blame Obama.  Not because he wasn't the progressive leader I didn't believe he was to start with, but because he didn't once turn the skills he exhibited as a campaigner to the work of being the President and the leader of the Democratic Party.  When he sat back and allowed many of the questionable policies of the previous administration to continue, he never bothered to reach out to any of us to explain why he made that choice.  We were left to imagine, and our imaginings weren't good.  He failed as a communicator and as a leader, and invited us to pressure him and his fellow democrats with one side of his mouth, yet condemned us for doing so from the other.

The rank and file democrats didn't help matters either, giving Obama a great deal of cover during his early weeks... "He's playing chess."  No, not really.  I know you wanted to think so, but he was playing another game entirely.  A game called Stroking the Military-Industrial Complex.  We stood by and let him maintain many of the things Bush had begun without even speaking up about it, and attempting to silence those who dared criticize.

But if things go sour tomorrow--now today, actually--the bulk of the blame rests on the self-righteous shoulders of the professionally disenchanted... those who said "Democrats are no different than Republicans" when it's closer to the truth to say "Democrats aren't different enough from Republicans."  Basically, by saying the former, one suggests that voting is pointless.  Saying the latter would suggest that it may be mended by a concerted effort on our own part.  And a portion of the tertiary responsibility goes to those who happily bought into this argument.  "I'm not going to bother.  It's all rigged anyway."  Even if it is--and I'm not saying either way--it doesn't let you off the fucking hook.

And, lastly, we can place a certain amount of blame on those who decry our interest in the whole thing, who make false comparisons between the anti-science, anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-gay, and pro-corporate side and those of us who are trying to fight for a handle on an equitable future.  Those who don't "get" politics, or don't think it matters.  It matters.

You don't like the tone?  Well, maybe if you'd stood up for us while the Republicans ramped up the FOX News scream engine and did every single thing it could to bring us down, we wouldn't be left trying to defend ourselves so valiantly this late in the game.  There's really no comparison, and if you hadn't been so badly betrayed by the aforementioned educational system, you'd know that.

If you don't like the way things are, stand with us and change them.  Fight for public financing of elections and instant runoff elections... if not proportional representations.  Don't like the vitriol?  Do something to change it.  Stand with us.  It's the only way things are ever going to get better.  This is a perfect storm of cultural destruction coming down the pike, America's Katrina.  And it was all of us who didn't bother to fix the levies ahead of time.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Taxation without Compensation

The tea-partiers will tell you that their terminology was based on an acronym "Taxed Enough Already."  But are we?  Taxed enough, I mean?  Oh, I'm not arguing that we should be taxed more than we are, just that we don't get near as much from it as we should.  And the reason?  People like the Tea Party who throw fits when we TRY to get more for what we're paying.  Rather than having our tax money go for things like education and health care, opening them up to all Americans, they'll fight tooth and nail to take out exorbitant loans from massive financial institutions, at whatever interest the market will bear--not to mention risking bankruptcy should they have a major medical issue.

What's not to like?

No, I say the problem is not that we're taxed enough, but that our taxes aren't used to benefit us enough.  Europeans pay more or less the same tax rates--perhaps a little higher in some places--but they get so much more for their money.  Healthcare on the spot?  No debt?  Sign us up.  College tuition as a perk of citizenship?  And why exactly why do we think we're falling behind the rest of the world?  Do we really think the children of the indolent rich are champing at the bit to study science or anything else that might actually help people?  No, as a general rule, they're studying new and improved ways of stealing peoples' money.  Our money.

Add this to things like paid vacations, generous retirements, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, and a political structure that isn't winner take all, nor driven entirely by the engines of wealth, and you have a far more equitable, democratic system.

Instead of taking lessons from the Europeans, we allow the terminally ignorant to decry anything socially democratic as "socialistic" without explaining, first, what they mean by the term, and, second, what's so terrible about a little socialism anyway?  If it means that the vast majority of people have a decent quality of life at the expense of a very few having a frightfully lavish lifestyle, well, so what?

Fact is we're being ripped off, we Americans.  Big time.  By the greedy rich, the corporate interests, and, yes, by our elected "representatives."  They'll take our money, but we're not really the ones paying their bills.  So they take our money, give our needs lip service, and turn around and service their corporate donors.

And, yeah, the right wing will point out that there are other special interests besides corporations, and they would be right.  None of them, even combined, have the kind of reach and power that corporations have in the United States, the power to throw money around as if it were nothing.  Of course, the unions don't have the ability to cheat their employees out of a couple of dimes worth of raise in order to pass along a hefty donation to the anti-worker, proto-fascist candidate their CEO favors.

Are our unions flawed?  Fuck yeah.  Starting with the fact that when they earned a permanent place at the table--at least in some industries, including civil service--they pretty much forgot about the rest of us.  They no longer chose to help drive industry toward a more democratic agenda for everyone... they took their money and left the rest of us to rot.  When a neighbor confessed to me that he makes 80 dollars an hour, including benefits, I had to stop and wonder... and people ask why there's such a strong backlash against the unions?  We've got enough problems with the whole "I've got mine" crowd.  Unions have become, at least in some minds, a refuge for incompetence, cronyism, and corruption.

The Tea Partiers accuse Obama of having a socialist agenda.  Hah.  If only.  A tepid health insurance reform law and a very necessary agency to regulate the interaction between wall street and consumers does not a socialist agenda make.  Not even close.

I'd settle for a touch of social capitalism, myself... for our workplaces, and the industries which control them, to be more democratic.  I'd like to see companies be about something more than making money... I'd like to see them dedicated to making America a better place to live.  For all of us.

I maintain that government exists to protect the vulnerable from the powerful, and suggest that, right now, it's doing a fucking shitty job of it.  I'm not getting nearly enough for my taxes, and I want that to change.  I'd like to have the chance to elect members of a party that actually reflects my views, not one that reflects some of my views some of the time.  The Republicans don't know how good they got it.  Sure, their elite may also think they're a bunch of dumbasses, but at least they try to hide the way they feel.  Those we elect, and fight hard to elect sometimes, seem to be as happy to use us as a punching bag in public as acknowledge how important we are to their success.

It's the mathematics of enthusiasm.  We're about as enthusiastic about voting for you as you are about delivering the goods.  It may not be taxation without representation, but a lot of us more liberal folks sure find reasons to question that assumption from time to time.