Monday, November 01, 2010

I’m voting for a bunch of spineless twerps and I’m not happy about it.

The most recent episode of This American Life tells two stories – one about Tea Partiers in Petoskey and another about Democrats in DC.

My take on it: fighters who don’t think, followed by thinkers who don’t fight. It’s a very good episode especially if you want to get exasperated and angry.

We need the government to create as many jobs it reasonably can, as soon as possible. But the increasingly cranky Republican Party is blocking any attempt and the Democrats lost interest in fighting for it.

One unreal talking point from the Right claims, “Government can’t create jobs.” That is amazingly false. I see government workers regularly at the library. There’s another one that brings my mail. There is a whole category of jobs called government jobs. What’s more, governments can create work programs which can pump a lot of money into the private sector. Maybe we could use that to fix our crumbling infrastructure now so we don’t need to replace it, at far greater expense, later. I know people who could use the work. Or, I suppose we could just do without bridges and pipes. By the way, some communities are reverting to gravel roads because they can’t afford pavement, or because they are ideologically opposed to the idea of commonwealth. Governments can also create tax incentives and encourage industry in ways that promote job growth. The political right is keen on convincing us that government can do nothing about employing people. And some are fooled by this. And I have yet to hear this idiotic claim contradicted.

A more honest Republican talking point would be, “We don’t want the government to create jobs.”

That is why I am voting against the Republicans. And that means I’m voting for those cringing and fearful Democrats.

Any economist will tell you that during an economic downturn, deficit spending is a tool that governments can use to help revive the economy. I expect many Republican leaders are aware of this fact, but they have other priorities. The Republican leader in the House said his top priority is ensuring Obama is a one-term president. Really? That is more important than jobs and the economy during this crisis? Please, be sane. We’re hurting here.

And now we have a bunch of cranks that actually believe those talking points and are running for office. Let’s say we’ve had a house fire that’s been burning for the last couple years. These are the people who spent those two years trying to defund the fire department.

I don’t want these people in high office. I don’t want these people operating heavy machinery.

The Republicans refuse to realize the economic collapse happened because of the deregulation they continue to advocate. They led, with a lot of support from Democrats, a decades-long dismantling of all things New Deal. This allowed banks to divert mortgages into incredibly risky investments. In some cases, these investments appear designed-to-fail. If they were designed-to-fail, that’s not illegal.

I’m not generally opposed to risky complex financial instruments. I want investment banks free to try new things. But I don’t want the entire economy tied to those risky thingamajigs. Deregulation allowed that to happen. The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 – there’s a name to behold – ended a 1933 law that kept investment banks, commercial banks and insurance companies separate. Now, all those institutions can combine.

Several mergers later, a huge part of our economy was in just a few very large buckets. That’s why humble home mortgages found their way into those bizarre financial instruments. This gave Wall Street a big appetite for making new mortgages and even betting against them. Did you know taking insurance policies out on crappy mortgages can be more profitable than having the mortgages paid off? And you never have to report the billions you made this way during the housing collapse, so there is no paper trail. It’s true. And it’s legal. And the economy is in the shitter as a result. The Right’s obsession with financial deregulation – getting rid of laws designed to protect the economy – was disastrous.

I’d rank that as one of the biggest legislative failures in the last 100 years. Yup.

And yet deregulation remains one of the few Republican platform issues – along with opposing Obama on everything and cutting taxes. (Right now, Obama wants to renew Bush’s tax cuts and the Republicans oppose him on that too, supposedly because it doesn’t apply to the very richest. And the Democratic Senate caved in and tabled the tax cut debate until after the election. Yeesh.)

To be fair, the current unemployment problem also stems from the Free Trade agreements of the 90’s. And those treaties were enthusiastically supported by both parties.

Now I know hating government is very trendy. Supposedly it’s patriotic even. I don’t get that one. But I actually want government officials who like the pretext for their jobs. I don’t want them hostile to the idea of public service. Politician is one of the few occupations where contempt for one’s work is seen as a virtue.

Of course the political power is very appealing. It’s the responsibility part they openly oppose.

I can understand the appeal of small government. Getting rid of Government creates need. Then companies can make money satisfying that need. Let’s assume that markets can satisfy anything a healthy society requires. (Yes, it is a fantastical idea.) A problem still arises when the population doesn’t have enough money to buy those requirements. If there aren’t enough jobs and the government is run by ideologues who are opposed to government helping people, we end up with a lot of very needy people.

The Bush administration’s non-response to Katrina is exactly what we should expect. I was in as much disbelief at the non-response as anyone else, but we should have seen it coming. Bush seemed genuinely surprised that people expected him to do something. The Republicans are tireless advocates of small government – it’s one of their favorite topics. Well, sometimes small government looks like a flooded city with no one to help. People were so angry at Bush, but he was just being consistent with his party’s platform. Why anyone wants to put that philosophy back in power is kind of mind-boggling.

The Republicans also want to privatize Social Security. Of course, if Bush had succeeded in this, the economic meltdown would have created a new brand of conspiracy theory: “Can’t you see? Cheney screwed the stock market on purpose so it would destroy Social Security! Man! It all makes too much sense!” (The effect is enhanced if you say this like Dennis Hopper or Crispin Glover.)

The Constitution charges our country “to promote the general welfare.” Republicans now consider that socialism.

We are far freakin’ far from socialism. If you think socialism is our big threat right now, you probably watch Fox News too much.

Instead of conservative, it’s more accurate to think of today’s Right as anti-liberal. Some of these anti-liberals are not just opposed to 60’s liberalism or the New Deal. They’re opposed the liberal tradition since the Enlightenment: Universities, scientists, journalists, progressive taxation, and the concept of public are all a part of what they see as rampant liberalism and what others see as the modern world.

The US is woefully behind the rest of the industrialized world in technology. And we have no political will to catch up. For example, the Federal goals for American Internet connectivity are to match, by the year 2020, the bandwidth South Korea enjoys today. And we may not even reach that goal because the political will isn’t there. I have nothing against South Korea but I don’t like them beating us like that.

And all those jobs that went overseas? Those jobs included research and development, because you need a shop floor to do that kind of work. So other countries are doing the innovating right now.

Can government solve this problem? Well, it can create incentives and programs that could help a lot. Well, the Right won’t have it. And we have a motivated subgroup that will rant all teary-eyed about Hitler, or some other nonsense, if it tries. But these are poor reasons not to try.

We have a vocal minority that believes Canada and Denmark operate like the Soviet Union. And they fear we’re next. I am sad our governance is influenced by these delusional people.

I am sadder there is so much airtime and money devoted to promoting and exploiting their delusional fears. It looks like the US Chamber of Commerce is trying to do for the Federal Government what General Motors did for the streetcar*. Only this time it’s legal and it’s cheered on by Fox and millions of voters.

These voters are about to vote for their own deprivation. And it’s all wrapped up in some perverse and badly-informed idea of virtue. “Vote against economic stimulus, it’s feels like fighting the Nazis.”

What’s more, some of them don’t give a crap about the world because they think their invisible buddy Jesus will put an end to it soon anyway. Leave it to religion to make the world disposable.

The conclusion of the Tea Party story on This American Life is surreal. The reporter is trying to make sense of one man’s contradictory decisions. This particular guy decided to do a number of things that are completely self-defeating. And it doesn’t bother him. He doesn’t seem to care about being logical or consistent or even successful. It’s a stark moment of hearing someone not thinking.

Electing that mindset is a bad idea.

So please join me in voting for those lame-ass Democrats. You probably won’t enjoy it anymore than I will. But it may keep cranks from having a legislative majority.

*General Motors was found guilty of criminal conspiracy under anti-trust law involved in the destruction of municipal streetcar systems across the country. GM, Firestone, Standard Oil, Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum were fined $5,000 each. Their executives were fined $1 each. See the excellent one-hour documentary, “Taken for a Ride” for details.