maandag 6 september 2010

The Neoliberal Religion 10


  As Robert Kuttner notes in The American Prospect:  "For more than three
decades, the wages of American workers have been close to flat while
economic insecurity has risen massively.  Although the productivity of the
U.S. economy has doubled in a generation, most of those gains have not been
captured by workers.  And in the decade that began in 2001,
inflation-adjusted wages have fallen for all but the most affluent 3
percent of the population.

---------

Our Long National Nightmare Isn't Over, It's Just Beginning
by David Michael Green  Published on Sunday, September 5, 2010
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/09/05-0

  In the 1930s, the only thing we had to fear was fear, itself. Today, the
main thing we have to fear is us, ourselves.

  Looking out over the horizon, I'm starting to wonder just how many
shades of dark there are on the pallette.  Lately, I get the feeling that
we're about to find out.  I wish I could say that this society did our best
to fight our demons, but that the odds were simply insurmountable.  You
know.  Like we were just sitting there by ourselves on our remote little
Pacific island, a thousand years before telephones and radar when - bang -
the tsunami hit, no fault of our own.  And we bravely struggled heroically,
doing our mightiest to save as many lives as we could.

I mean, if you've got to crash and burn, better to go down with a little
dignity and honor, eh?

But, no, not for me, apparently.  I'm an American.  I live in a country -
nay, an empire! - that insists on destroying itself.  I'm part of the
generation of decline.  My people are the fools who perfected the fine art
of committing suicide by stupidity.

It's an astonishing act, and one of wide participation.

The nightmare of the right in America edges increasingly close to dragging
the country past the point of no return, over the cliff of violent
implosion.  At this point, there is already little that is missing save the
jackboots and broken glass.

The Republican Party was once a moderately conservative, pro-business
outfit, until it was highjacked by the oligarchy and turned into a full-on
predatory machine, hiding behind the facade of hate mobilizing issues like
bogus overseas threats abroad and uppity brown people and demanding women
at home.  Basically, any way that middle class white males could be
distracted from their sinking economic status - through the diversion of a
sense of superiority over others, or the supposed threat to that superior
status - was employed to cover for a party whose true agenda was to quietly
produce the greatest transfer of wealth in all of human history.

Having succeeded dramatically, they are back at it again.  It is now
transparent, for anyone who cares to look, that the ugly tea party movement
in America is an invention of the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey
and their sick ilk, once again mobilizing a boatload of fools who are
angry, but too stupid to know quite why.  This explains their endless
rhetoric about the evils of the federal government, and their simultaneous
desire to keep their Social Security and Medicare benies.  It also explains
their unmatched idiocy in serving as tools for their own destruction.  If
they succeed, they fail.  If they get their champions elected, they lose
their government-provided (Shhhh!) goodies.  Brilliant.

In any case, the takeover of the GOP by Serious Money is now well into its
second stage.  Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it is.
Seriously, what is the next step after this one fails to provide any
long-term solutions to what ails America, as most assuredly will be the
case?  For a decade or three now, regressives in America have been showing
that they are capable of anything.  Which more or less answers that
question, doesn't it?  If you're willing to savage military icons like John
McCain, Max Cleland and John Kerry in order to win elections - and
especially after you get away with it every time - you're willing to do
anything.  If you're willing to mock the 9/11 widows as scheming
opportunists, you're willing to do anything.  If you're willing to don a
tuxedo and joke about missing WMD at a press banquet in Washington, just as
you're telling the American military's adversaries in Iraq to "bring it
on", you're willing to do anything.

Looking at the rhetoric the right throws in the direction of our president
these days, questioning his very nationality (oh, did I mention that he's
black?), it's easy to see that they‘ve gone completely over the line.
But what's really out of control is what lies underneath this insanity
generated for the consumption of an ignorant hoi polloi.  And what that is
- what you see when you move the slime-infested rock away - is an
unfathomably monstrous greed.  Watching these folks in action, you could
easily get the impression that they had been impoverished their whole
lives.  That they had been denied everything, right down to food and water.
That they had been deprived through poverty especially of their dignity.
You know, like the real poor people of this world, the forty or fifty
percent of the Earth's population that survives on less than two dollars
per day.  Those folks.

Instead, we are talking about people who are already fantastically rich.
And who, despite this, are absolutely hell-bent on getting richer, even if
that means depriving hundreds of millions of people in the American middle
class of their middle classness, and in many cases, ultimately of their
lives.  How do we explain people like this?  Are they not essentially
sociopathic?  Are they not made of essentially the same stuff as those who
can kill without guilt or remorse?  Especially when you consider that even
the greediest among us reach a limit beyond which one can effectively make
use of the next dollar and the one beyond that, so that pushing others into
poverty is no longer even for purposes of your own benefit, but instead for
some kind of sick sport?  Aren't these the characters whose essential
sickness preachers and philosophers and shrinks have been trying to sort
out for millennia?

Whatever the explanation for such illness, the effects of their efforts are
certainly plain to see.  We're talking here about a class of Americans who
have been essentially offended by the diminishment of inequality produced
in America during the middle part of the twentieth century, due to the
national policies ranging from the New Deal to the Great Society,
Republican administrations included.  America's socio-economic structure
changed dramatically during that time, and almost entirely for the better.
A huge middle class that had never existed before came into being.
Anti-poverty programs took the worst sting out of living conditions for the
poor.  And America became the greatest economic dynamo since the Roman
Empire.  Meanwhile, by the way, the rich remained very, very rich.

But that was not enough.  So they have made a concerted effort over the
last generation or so to revert the country back to the bad old days of
Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.  Think about that for a second.  What
sort of elevated sickness, what sort parental deprivation in childhood,
what sort of total absence of conscience and consciousness is required to
produce a group of people with that mentality?

I wish I knew.  But I do know that their plan worked.  As Robert Kuttner
notes in The American Prospect:  "For more than three decades, the wages of
American workers have been close to flat while economic insecurity has
risen massively.  Although the productivity of the U.S. economy has doubled
in a generation, most of those gains have not been captured by workers.
And in the decade that began in 2001, inflation-adjusted wages have fallen
for all but the most affluent 3 percent of the population.

"This pattern of deepening inequality was well entrenched before the
financial collapse - which only made things worse. In 2006, economists at
Goldman Sachs, sounding almost Marxian, reported that ‘the most important
contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a
decline in labor's share of national income.'  By 2006, wages as a
percentage of gross domestic product were already at their lowest share -
45 percent - since government began keeping statistics in 1947.  In the
past three years, the decline in worker earnings has only intensified, as
worker bargaining power has been undermined by very high unemployment.  As
the economy has stumbled toward a feeble recovery, corporate profits and
executive bonuses have rebounded smartly, but salaries and wages have not.

"In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, wages and productivity moved upward in
lockstep.  Beginning in the 1970s, as government regulation of labor
conditions faltered, trade with nations that exploited their own workers
increased, and corporations declared open war on unions, the lines
diverged.  Productivity kept increasing, while median wages were nearly
flat."

This is the successful agenda of the right in America, though it has been
cleverly masked by the politics of resentment.  This has been the real
‘class warfare' in the United States these last decades - not, as
pouncing regressives instantly scream out in an effort to silence truth,
the very occasional and even more feeble attempts by the odd Democratic
politician who slips up and mentions what has actually happened.  And, as
Warren Buffett is honest enough to point out, the war is over and his side
won.  As Robert Reich noted in a recent New York Times op-ed, the richest
one percent of Americans have gone from taking in nine percent of the total
national income right before the Reagan era began, to nearly one-fourth of
it today.  As Reich also reminds us, the last time this happened was in
1928.  I would rush to say, "Hey, remember how that one turned out?", but
it's pretty unnecessary to crack the history books for that reference,
since we're now living it.  As just about the stupidest society that ever
was, we've decided to get together to explore the fun and exciting
question, "What would happen if America had a devastating economic downturn
once again, boys and girls?!?!"

There is one big difference between today and the 1930s, however.  Once
there was a political party in America - the one that did the New Deal and
the Great Society - that stood up a bit for the middle class and the poor.
But Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have led the Democrats down a different
path.  Now the party stands for a slightly weaker version of the GOP's
plutocracy protection service.  And, seemingly, for getting its face
bitch-slapped bright red at every possible juncture.  Both aspects of the
New Democrats are a puzzle, but particularly the latter.  What sort of
psychology of the self-loathing explains how a Clinton or an Obama can be
so passive, even when getting handed their heads by the most scurrilous of
creeps on the political landscape, pieces of (allegedly) human garbage who
could be destroyed with the slightest show of self-defense, let alone a wee
assertion of political courage?

The current White House is such a failure that I am sometimes left
scratching my head in understanding why that is the case.  The puzzle
becomes especially acute if one considers how transparently intelligent
Barack Obama is, and how strategically clever they were in running their
presidential campaign.  It's true, of course, that there are different
kinds of smart.  Jimmy Carter understood nuclear physics, but not the
presidency.  George W. Bush understood the presidency, but was otherwise as
intellectually vacuous as a mud pie.  Still, Obama has shown serious
evidence that he has keen political smarts.  Until he became president,
that is.

One obvious explanation for this puzzle is that the guy, like Clinton
before him, is just another flavor of corporate tool.  Ya got yer
Republican Wall Street marionettes, see, and ya got yer Democratic Wall
Street marionettes...  That much is clear, but it still doesn't explain why
this White House has been as inept as it has.  Another claim that some
people make is that he just wants one term, and will take the money and
prestige and run.  The problem with that theory is that he already had the
money.  And, quite arguably, he could have done better financially by
simply writing a third book than by sitting in the Oval Office earning a
mere half mil per year.  What is absolutely clear, unless there is some
radical and nearly unimaginable change of course, is that he will leave the
presidency as one of history's great losers, which again suggests to me
that he would have been better off just sitting it out.  Not to mention all
the stress and ever-present death threats he could avoid by just hanging on
the sidelines.

Whatever the explanation, the effect could not be clearer.  Obama came into
his presidency with more wind in his sails than perhaps anyone since
Johnson in 1964, and this for a black man with an Islamic name, no less.
He then blew it, utterly and completely.  The indications of this are
everywhere, starting with all the subsequent by-elections which he has
turned into ‘bye' elections for candidates from his party.  Meanwhile,
there are Democrats running for Congress today who are literally running TV
ads dissing Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.  And even those who are not
mostly don't want the president showing up in their districts before this
election.

Now the latest polls are showing Republicans with a ten percent lead in
generic congressional ballots.  This is the biggest they've ever had in the
68 year history of polling.  Meanwhile, half of Republican voters are
enthusiastic about voting this November, while only one-fourth of Democrats
are.  On top of everything else, Republicans are doing this well despite
offering nothing in terms of a plan for solving the problems that are
upsetting voters.  They will cut taxes on the rich.  That's it.  The
entirety of the rest of what they stand for is simply "NO!!!" to all things
Demon Obama.

Now, think about this for a second, and bear in mind that when it comes to
the GOP we are talking about a political party that the very same polls
show voters still hating.  How astonishingly inept do you have to be to
turn the world upside down on its axis and hand not only resurrection but
in fact control of Congress to such thugs, and hugely despised ones at
that?  What kind of a full-blown multiple-car crash of a politician do you
have to be to make the party of Bush, Cheney, Boehner and McConnell seem
preferable to the public, by a wide margin?

Wait.  Don't answer yet.  It gets worse from there.  In 2003, the ratio of
Democratic to Republican identifying/leaning voters was about 50 to 40
among young voters, known as the Millennial generation.  By 2008, via a
combination of the effects of both George W. Bush and (candidate) Barack
Obama, that ratio had moved an astonishing distance to provide a whopping
gap of 62 to 30.  Now, less than two years into the rule of Mr. We Are The
Ones We've Been Waiting For, it is back to 54 to 40.  These are incredible
swings in identities that are usually far more stable.  And they are
incredibly important, because there is good evidence to suggest that voters
who select a given party over a series of elections in the early part of
their lives wind up keeping that party ID for life.  In other words,
Democrats had an opportunity here to lock in with an entire generation of
voters a hugely disproportionate preference to continue voting for them.
Imagine the difference this would have made in elections for the next
seventy(!) years, especially over time as these Millennials replaced older,
more conservative, voters in the electorate, and as they themselves came to
turn out in larger proportion each election cycle, as every generation does
when it ages.  Democrats could have come close to locking up control of
American government for the coming half-century, just as they essentially
did after 1932.  Instead, the party's leaders have alienated this
generation so much that they have returned the identification numbers to
the period when George Bush and his party were highly popular.  That's a
real achievement, folks.

Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's communications director, recently averred that "The
public is rightly frustrated and angry with the economy".  So far so good,
Dan.  Very perceptive for a guy in the Obama White House.  You should have
stopped there, though.  Instead, Dan went on to say that, "There is no
small tactical shift we could have made at any point that would have solved
that problem".  You know, I don't really know who Dan Pfeiffer is, but I
would say that anyone making this claim should be removed from office, and
fast.  Indeed, right now I would say that anyone who has the title of
Obama's communications director should probably just be taken out back and
shot, on account of gross incompetence and lethal negligence.  I'm sorry,
but these fools are so clueless.  This could have turned out so
differently, and, moreover, that was obvious in January of 2009 to anyone
who had paid attention to American politics for the last thirty years.
This White House was not praiseworthy for seeking to be bipartisan.
Rather, it was embarrassing for not even knowing who its enemies were.

The worst, though, is what is to come.  Obama and the Democrats will get
slaughtered in November.  This will happen not so much because of the
socialist crimes they are alleged by the right to have committed - which
are of course utter nonsense - but simply because of what they have not
done, which is to solve the country's problems.  Yet, because of the
socialist, big-spending, freedom-crushing narrative that regressives have
successfully fomented and that the administration (including - Hello! -
paging COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR DAN PFEIFFER!!) has been completely inept
about countering, and because the other post-election option of actually
getting it right would appear to be (and would be vociferously made to
appear to be, by Republicans) an act of spiteful spitting in the public's
eye, the administration will have no option after the election but to tack
yet further to the right in the ensuing two years.

That will be disastrous for Obama, for Democrats and for the country.  (I
could care less about the first two, who deserve it, and frankly I'm
leaning that same way for number three on the list as well.)  Like Clinton
before him, Obama will try to placate voters and Republican monsters with
their sponsoring oligarchy by moving to the right.  Of course, there is
absolutely nothing there except tax cuts for the wealthy (he is already
proposing tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent).  The Republicans have no
other solutions for the economy (or anything else, for that matter), though
these dam-busting boondoggles for the fiscally obese are, of course, no
solution either.  And, like Clinton before him, Obama will be relentlessly
hounded by congressional investigations into every manner of bogus scandal
that the fevered minds of the closeted perverts on the right can dream up
to keep the administration reeling.

Unlike Clinton, however, there will be one big difference.  I often said,
back in the day, that the only thing that kept the American public from
immolating Wild Bill, and the only thing that kept the Senate from
convicting him in his impeachment trial, was that the economy was jumping
at the time and Americans were therefore fat, dumb and happy.  Today,
however, they're merely fat and dumb, and even the fat part isn't a good
thing in this case.  The public could not possibly be more surly - apart
that is, from how surly they'll be in a year or two.  Obama has been as
idiotic a president as could be created if you sat down with the intention
of making one, and they will be happy to watch him get savaged him when
they have a chance.  By bringing timidity and compromise with criminals to
bear against multiple severe crises, and by refusing to fight for anything,
he has launched a vicious cycle that is sucking him inexorably down, and us
with him:  He fails to solve the problems, the public gets angry and
frustrated, his party loses elections, the right accuses him of everything
from being a socialist to a fascist, he says nothing in response, the
public gets angrier and more frustrated, his party loses more elections,
they are then even more unable to govern than before, the public is about
to explode in anger and frustration, he moves to the right and thereby
offers even less of a solution to these crises than the non-solutions
already on display, and ... so on.  And so on, again.  Rinse and repeat.

Obama and the rest of the cowardly and corrupt members of his party have
guaranteed their own destruction, that's for sure, but that is likely the
least unkind thing that history will say about them.  If we think about
where this all goes next, it becomes clear what these shallow punks are
trading away for their pathetic self-interest and unwillingness to fight
against treasonous criminals.  Democrats will be smashed in the next two
elections, and the right will gain full control of the government and full
responsibility for the state of the country.  At that point, Republicans
will have to put up or shut up.  Since they will have no remotely viable
way to solve the problems people face - since, indeed, their real mission
is to make those problems worse, because that is necessary to further
enrich their sponsors - they will reach for ever greater means of
distraction to keep the public's attention elsewhere.  All I can say is,
"Watch out, third world countries everywhere".

We know what these people are capable of, though Cheneyism has only hinted
at how bad it could ultimately get.

History will record - if there are historians left to record it - that this
was a moment of monsters, cowards and indolents:  those being the right,
the supposed left, and the public, respectively.

It's the worst of all worlds, and the combination is likely to be
catastrophic.

Given the magnitude of the crises we face and the ability of those who
would govern us - and those who would be governed by them - to do anything
whatsoever in pursuit of their own, narrow, short-term interest, it could
well be far worse than catastrophic.
It could be entirely lethal.
---------
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra
University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to
his articles (mailto:dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time
constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be
found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

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