AlterPolitics New Post

The American Left Awakens: As The Middle Class Goes, So Goes The Political Middle

by on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 10:56 am EDT in Occupy Wall Street, Politics

It could be said that a democracy’s chosen economic model lives and dies by the prosperity of the majority. A thriving middle class has been the key stabilizing factor in American politics for generations. As such, systematic change in the United States has traditionally come slowly and incrementally. 

But after a decade of zero job growth, while millions more Americans have continued to enter the labor market, they have witnessed unemployment rates rise and become fixed at levels rarely seen before. They have watched their wages drop, their cost of living rise (due in large part to high energy prices, high education costs, and runaway health care costs), and correspondingly, their quality of life erode. 

The middle class is gradually disappearing from the U.S. landscape, and the ‘American dream’ is transforming into a fiction in the minds of millions.

This dream is based on an implicit agreement between the establishment and the masses, and is crucial for America’s brand of hyper-Capitalism to remain a viable economic model. It goes something like this:

If Americans work hard, and invest in a decent education, at worst they should expect a comfortable middle class existence, with prospects for future upward mobility based on merit and perseverance.

As long as this dream is deemed achievable in the minds of the majority, the political status-quo remains all-but a certainty. But the moment people stop believing it, the calls for serious systematic change begin to bubble up to the surface. And this is when the political middle dissipates. 

Many economists hold that the dream actually vanished many years ago, but the establishment extended exorbitant lines of credit to Americans, which allowed them to enjoy a mirage of prosperity. In other words, a once prosperous nation on the decline became transformed into a debtor nation. But in doing so, the ‘American dream’ lived on in the minds of millions.

All it took was the massive financial meltdown of 2008, brought on by years of deregulation in the financial and mortgage industries, to pull the curtain wide open on the American dream. The collapse of the U.S. banking industry — which exposed a band of corrupted, highly-leveraged casinos masquerading as banks — rudely awakened Americans to their true state of affairs.

Twelve trillion dollars in ‘perceived’ wealth, mostly in home values, vanished into thin air. Many of those lucky enough to remain employed, found themselves under water with their mortgages. No longer able to sustain their middle class lifestyles with easy credit, consumer spending continued to dry up, and the economy spiraled even further into the doldrums.

The rationale George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson used to sell the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to the American public was that if taxpayers bailed out these banks, they would in turn ‘loosen’ the credit markets by lending again to businesses and consumers, which would help to stimulate investment and demand.

Instead, the banks did just about everything, BUT resume lending. Having received amazing terms from the government, they invested in no-risk, interest-bearing Treasuries — to profit off the spreads and transaction fees. They paid themselves billions of dollars in the form of bonuses. In addition, these ‘Too Big to Fail’ banks used taxpayer money to buy-out struggling competitor banks, thereby growing even bigger. 

Neither TARP, nor the $16 trillion in secret Fed loans to banks (both here and abroad), loosened the credit markets. Nor did they help millions of struggling Americans to stay in their bank-foreclosed homes. What the bail-outs accomplished was to send a powerful message to Wall Street: as long as these institutions remained ‘Too Big To Fail’ they could continue to take obscene risks, because the government could be counted on to cover their losses.

The effort was branded by most to be a colossal failure — a massive transfer of wealth from the ninety-nine percent to the one percent. 

As the status-quo became untenable, many Americans began to abandon the political middle — once a seemingly ‘mainstream’ place to be — and split towards each end of the political spectrum.

Exiled from government, Republicans recast themselves as Tea Partiers — an ‘AstroTurfed movement’ that blamed ‘government’ for all the country’s woes. In particular, they blamed the new Democratic-controlled government, who’d been elected to clean up their mess. These right-wingers embraced pure unadulterated corporatocracy as the solution to problems created, ironically enough, by deregulated banks and corporations. 

Democratic constituents felt relieved, having ushered Barack Obama into the White House on a populist progressive ‘CHANGE’ platform, along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The Left continued to place its faith in democracy — i.e. the ‘ballot box’ — as the appropriate venue for delivering change.

But once sworn in, Obama’s call for ‘Change’ insidiously shifted to a new call for ‘Bipartisanship’. He proceeded to prioritize ‘harmony’ between two diametrically-opposed parties over championing the progressive promises that got him elected.

Of course, this new ‘priority’ was merely a cover for appeasing the entrenched corporate interests. His largely-symbolic legislative victories were so watered down and corporate-friendly that they were routinely castigated by the Left. His advisers would complain bitterly how no one outside the White House would give Obama his due-credit for his ‘achievements’.

He governed like a pre-Tea Party Republican as he broke promise after promise. He proposed cuts to social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He pushed the Bush-signed, NAFTA-like (job-exporting) trade deals which Congressional Democrats had defeated years before, and he even pressured Congressional Democrats to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%. In doing so, he grossly underestimated the populist angst that had swept him into office.

Obama’s duplicity led many of his once-energized supporters to conclude that America’s entire political process was something of a sham — that they’d once again been had.

And so they gave up waiting around for the Democratic Party to walk their talk, and took to the streets themselves in masses. On September 17, Occupy Wall Street began peacefully protesting in downtown Manhattan, and it has since spread like a forest fire into a nation-wide movement.

This huge, non-partisan, populist ground-swell blasts the Washington establishment for systematically exploiting and subjugating ninety-nine percent of Americans to appease the wealthy and powerful one-percent. The protesters demand an end to the corrupt and insidious relationship between government and corporations which perverts the very fabric of democracy.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, recently reflected on the underlying cause for the Occupy Wall Street protests on DemocracyNow:

“My biggest fear was that the Obama presidency was going to lead this generation of young people into political cynicism and political apathy,” Klein says. “But instead, they are going to where the power is. They are realizing the change is not coming in Washington because politicians are so controlled by corporate interest, and that that is the fundamental crisis in this country.”

It would appear the power-elite’s greed, corruption, and hubris has finally awakened a sleeping populist giant in the American people. And the longer the Democratic Party continues to promote policies right of center, the more those left-of-center will continue to detach from the party and the entire democratic process.

A new Washington Post/Bloomberg News Poll reveals that 44% of Democrats don’t believe the economy would get any worse should President Obama lose in 2012 to a Republican. Blue Texan from Firedoglake sums up this startling revelation:

“Let that sink in for a minute. The economy will be the number one issue in 2012 — and nearly half of the President’s own party doesn’t think it matters if he’s re-elected.”

Clearly, today’s definition of the political middle — which is where Obama loyalists contend he governs — has come to represent the painful and untenable status-quo to traditional Democratic supporters.

What Makes America Safer: Fiscal Stability, Or Chasing 100 Terrorists Around Afghanistan?

by on Friday, December 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm EDT in Afghanistan, Politics, World

In Obama’s Afghanistan speech at West Point, he announced he would be escalating our troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000-35,000 to ensure those who attacked us on 9-11 are resoundingly defeated.  ABC News notes that Obama conveniently left out a very significant fact, when making his case:

A senior U.S. intelligence official told the approximate estimate of 100 al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan reflects the conclusion of American intelligence agencies and the Defense Department. The relatively small number was part of the intelligence passed on to the White House as President Obama conducted his deliberations.

So, Obama is committing 30,000-35,000 new U.S. troops — at $1 million per soldier per year, which comes to $30-35 billion dollars in more U.S. national debt — to defeat 100 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan?  That works out to $300-350 million per Al Qaeda operative! Has he lost his marbles?!

Al Qaeda is a loosely affiliated network with operatives all over the world: Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, Britain, Spain, United States, etc. and we’re to dig ourselves into an even greater financial ditch chasing after just 100 of these operatives who may very well be somewhere beyond the Pakistani border, or possibly now in Somalia, or Saudi Arabia?

Al Qaeda can nearly claim themselves ‘victors’ in their war against the world’s last superpower.  Not because of anything they did — 9-11 was mostly about inadequate airport security and a Bush Administration unwilling to read their national security memos, like the one entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” — a memo which sat on Condi Rice’s desk for one month and a week before the planes hit the twin towers.

Rather Al Qaeda is winning, because of our ineffective, money-bleeding, military occupations.  We have effectively self-destructed as the world’s largest financial power.  Essentially, we became so shortsighted — so determined to fix a menacing fly buzzing around our face, we reached for a twelve gauge shotgun, targeted the fly resting upon our forehead — and pulled the trigger.

American al Qaeda figure Adam Gadahn — no, I didn’t say Afghan, I said American — gloated in a recent video about how they were defeating the West:

Gadahn called on Muslims to support jihad with “men and money,” while claiming that the West was now on the verge of collapse under the strikes of the militants.

“The enemy under the leadership of the unbelieving West has began to stagger and falter, and the results of its unabated bleeding has began to show on its economy, which is on the brink of failure,” said Gadahn.

All they have to do is keep some operative alive, in some Muslim country, and America will fiscally come apart looking under every single rock until he’s found.

Is it any wonder that Americans have had enough of this lunacy?  New polls show Americans are turning sharply towards isolationism:

At the very moment when President Barack Obama is looking to thrust the U.S. ever more into global affairs, from Afghanistan to climate change, the American public is turning more isolationist and unilateralist than it has at any time in decades, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found a plurality of Americans — 49 percent — think that the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally” and leave it to other countries to fend for themselves.

It was the first time in more than 40 years of polling that the ranks of Americans with isolationist sentiment outnumbered those with a more international outlook, Pew said. […]

The shift in sentiment comes after more than eight years of war in Afghanistan and almost seven in Iraq, as well as the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Just 32 percent of the public favors increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and only 46 percent say it’s likely that Afghanistan will be able to withstand the threat posed by the Taliban.

The Hill reports that a significant majority of Americans now view overseas war expenditures as a direct threat to fixing a collapsing economic system here at home:

Seventy-three percent told Gallup in its latest measure, released Friday, that they were “very” or “somewhat” fearful the White House’s newly announced troop surge would make it difficult for Congress and the president to tackle such issues as healthcare and the economy in the coming months.

By contrast, only 26 percent signaled they were not concerned the new strategy’s cost — estimated to be about $30 billion — would in any way complicate domestic policymaking.

It would be wise to remember the former U.S.S.R.’s experience in trying to militarily tame Afghanistan:

It was Moscow’s Vietnam, we have come to accept. A bloody quagmire with disastrous consequences that left a million Afghans dead and a generation of Soviet men pulverised by trauma, as had happened to their American counterparts in southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.  The conflict lasted 10 years and the Soviet army retreated only to see its very existence crumble a few years later with the collapse of Communism.

Mr. President, it’s time to bring our troops home, rebuild our economy and our health care system, and get our financial house in order.  I’ve never felt so insecure as an American in my life, and it has absolutely nothing to do with those 100 Al Qaeda cave-dwellers in Afghanistan.  Claim victory, and withdraw already.

UPDATE (Dec. 6, 2009):

Here’s a good read by Sam Stein / Huffington Post on Senator Russ Feingold’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos this morning.  Feingold makes a similar point:

Pakistan, in the border region near Afghanistan, is perhaps the epicenter [of global terrorism], although al Qaida is operating all over the world, in Yemen, in Somalia, in northern Africa, affiliates in Southeast Asia. Why would we build up 100,000 or more troops in parts of Afghanistan included that are not even near the border? You know, this buildup is in Helmand Province. That’s not next door to Waziristan. So I’m wondering, what exactly is this strategy, given the fact that we have seen that there is a minimal presence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan, but a significant presence in Pakistan? It just defies common sense that a huge boots on the ground presence in a place where these people are not is the right strategy. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

The Status Quo And How Washington Ensures It

by on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm EDT in Politics

A major impasse appears to exist these days between Democrats and Republicans on virtually every issue.  On the surface, it would seem it’s all ideology-based.  But upon closer inspection, their hostilities are, in large part, incited by media-manufactured outrage, where partisan vitriol and ideological demagoguery drowns out all thoughtful discourse.

Unfortunately, our country is in a mess, and on many fronts.  And the proposed solutions (including the watered-down health care reform bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee yesterday) are more about symbolic change than meaningful change.  Nothing gets done, nothing changes, because the biggest problems plaguing our country actually enrich powerful interest groups who are dead-set on keeping it that way.

Were the public (from both parties) to spend more time deconstructing the issues, and connecting the dots, they’d understand their anger is — more times than not — displaced.  Yes, each side strongly believes the other’s ideological perspective is deeply flawed, but their inability to logically discuss issues in a meaningful way, or to pay close attention to lobbyist contributions to their own parties, ensures that they continue to miss the pink elephant in the room whom their elected representatives are tripping over to feed.

The two parties’ key ideological talking points revolve around the following:

The Republican Mantra — the government is everything that is wrong with society.  It taxes hard-working citizens and gives it away to those who don’t work as hard. Big business can be trusted, and a laissez faire approach to the marketplace is essential to economic growth.  Essentially, government is the problem, business is the solution.

The Democratic Mantra — the government is generally good.  It was created by the people for the people.  When market conditions are ripe, corporations will profit by exploiting labor and price gauging the public.  They need to be reigned in to some degree by government.  Essentially, business is the problem, government is the solution.

While there are some truths in each, NEITHER addresses how the realities inherent in both the American political system and its marketplace minimizes the significance of some of their most cherished beliefs.

A large part of the Republican mantra is a myth:

First and foremost, the government DOES exist to best serve the public interest.  It WAS created by the people, for the people.

To embrace the Republican ideology, you must convince yourself not only that government is bad and incapable of doing anything, but that corporate interests are aligned with the public interest.  In reality, NOTHING could be further from the truth.  Corporations have a responsibility to no one, but their shareholders.  They exist to maximize profits by any legal means.

If a corporation can save its shareholders millions of dollars by legally dumping toxic wastes into fresh water supplies, or by outsourcing all their jobs overseas, or by denying coverage to the uninsured, or by denying the claims of the insured, or by selling ‘snake oil’ as medicine, or by price gauging when competition doesn’t exist (like in the pharmaceutical marketplace, where patents ensure monopolies) then these corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders to exploit it to the fullest — to the detriment of the public they serve.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it: “Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.”

Take a look at George W. Bush’s laissez faire policies:

Bush drastically cut the funding of the FDA, thereby reducing government oversight over the food and drug industries.  How did the food and drug industries fare when left to their own devices?  We experienced more food recalls in those eight years than in my entire lifetime.  Click into Bush’s report card of October 2006 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  It outlines Bush’s significant FDA cuts, and the calamity that resulted.

Take a look at Sen. Lindsey Graham’s success in pushing Wall Street deregulation during both the Clinton and Bush years:

In one remarkable stretch from 1999 to 2001, [Graham] pushed laws and promoted policies that he says unshackled businesses from needless restraints but his critics charge significantly contributed to the financial crisis that has rattled the nation.

He led the effort to block measures curtailing deceptive or predatory lending, which was just beginning to result in a jump in home foreclosures that would undermine the financial markets. He advanced legislation that fractured oversight of Wall Street while knocking down Depression-era barriers that restricted the rise and reach of financial conglomerates.

And he pushed through a provision that ensured virtually no regulation of the complex financial instruments known as derivatives, including credit swaps, contracts that would encourage risky investment practices at Wall Street’s most venerable institutions and spread the risks, like a virus, around the world.

Warren Buffett, the world’s most astute and successful investor, warned us as far back as 2003 of the threat posed by these derivatives:

The derivatives market has exploded in recent years, with investment banks selling billions of dollars worth of these investments to clients as a way to off-load or manage market risk.

But Mr Buffett argues that such highly complex financial instruments are time bombs and “financial weapons of mass destruction” that could harm not only their buyers and sellers, but the whole economic system.

Had Bush regulators reeled back the financial industry’s exposure to these risky speculative securities, we could have prevented the collapse of insurance Goliath, AIG.  But Bush, being the ever-hard-headed ideologue, rushed to enact even more deregulation initiatives right up to the final months of his Presidency in 2008  — at the same time we were experiencing the financial meltdown from his earlier deregulation.   Since then, AIG has cost the American taxpayers $200 billion dollars, and the tally continues to grow.  Its failure can be directly attributed to risky derivative speculation, and a lack of oversight:

State insurance regulators have said repeatedly that [AIG’s] core insurance operations were sound — that the financial disaster was caused primarily by a small unit that dealt in exotic derivatives.

Anyone who believes that less government (and more freedom for big business) leads to economic stability and is in the public interest, is either delusional, or a Lobbyist.

The Democratic Mantra For Bigger Government Ignores the Fact That Politicians Are ‘On The Take’:

Yes, unlike corporations whose responsibility is only to their shareholders, the government does serve to promote the interests of the American public.  But the truth of the matter is they are beholden to powerful money interests whose political contributions determine whether or not they remain in office.  If politicians refuse to subjugate themselves to these powerful interest groups — on grounds of principle — they not only forfeit their political contributions, the interest groups aggressively bankroll their opposition (in their upcoming election).

The power of these entrenched interests and their hold over our politicians has recently come to the forefront in the ongoing Health Reform debates.  Look at the Democratic Senators trying to kill the public option, and see how much money they are receiving from the health insurance industry.  Keep in mind they are defying the public will.

Even President Obama, himself, who has stated many times in the past that he prefers a single payer system, banished single payer advocates from even getting a place at the table to engage in the discussion.  His closest advisers (Rahm Emanuel and Kathleen Sebelius) have been doing everything in their power to undermine the passing of a robust public option, despite the fact that Americans support a government-run insurance option by a nearly two-to-one margin, 61%-34%.  A public option would guarantee a reigning-in of our nation’s staggering medical costs, and ensure universal health coverage.  So why won’t Obama firmly commit to it and use his bully pulpit to drive it home?

In addition, Obama quickly cut a deal with the Pharmaceutical Industry protecting them from Congressional efforts to use its bargaining power to lower runaway drug prices.   As part of the deal, he also agreed to prohibit American citizens from importing cheaper medications from Canada.  The Pharmaceutical Industry, in turn, agreed to reduce drug expenses by a mere $80 billion — a guaranteed ceiling — and a pittance for such a profitable industry.  In addition, Big Pharma agreed to pay $150 million in advertising for the White House ‘health reform’ agenda.

As the ‘old’ John McCain said back in 1999 (when he still had integrity):

We will never achieve these reforms until we first reform the way we finance our political campaigns. As long as the influence of special interests dominates political campaigns, it will dominate legislation as well. Until we abolish soft money, Americans will never have a government that works as hard for them as it does for the special interests. That is a sad, but undeniable fact of contemporary politics.

A Change of Behavior From Both Parties is Required To Turn This Country Around:

Republicans — Your ideology is misguided, and the proof is all around you.  Your inability to acknowledge this fact and to seek new ideas only serves as a distraction in our country’s attempts to solve its pressing problems.  You must ween yourselves from chasing after shadows cast by the likes of Rush, Hannity, Beck and Fox News.  Your real enemies are not the government, per say.  They are the powerful interests who’ve corrupted our government, and the propagandists who distract you from seeing it.  Enough with the dramatic knee-jerk outbursts over hot-button — but meaningless — sound bites, and focus on getting at the real truth (in other words: stop turning to compulsive liars in search of answers).

Democrats — Policies are to politics, what location is to real estate.  Policies, policies, policies!  Get over the fact Obama won.  Stop making excuses for him each time he breaks another campaign promise, or he’ll never deliver substantive change.  Obama is proving to be one who takes the path of least resistance .  So when you follow like sheep and cheer him on even when he’s selling you out, then you’re ensuring that the path of least resistance for him is the one aligned with the powerful interests — those heavily invested in the status quo — those working against the change you voted for.

If we don’t get a robust public option, or our troops withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan; and if we don’t get more transparency in our government, or an investigation into Bush’s torture abuses and other illegalities, or meaningful global warming policies it WON’T be because of an uncooperative Republican minority.  They’re largely redundant.  The battle for real change is taking place within the Democratic Party.

Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.