CPAC and the Conservative Clown Car

The Conservative Clown Car has arrived in Washington, and be prepared, all those they step on their way to power and money for the strong squirt of cyanide water your in face to come. The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) is here to stay, and look out uppity negroes, I mean fraudulent voters, look out single mothers, I mean semen dumpsters, look out malnourished children, I mean moochers and takers. CPAC is here to put you out of your misery. One of the country’s best brain surgeons, Ben Carson, was the first clown out of the car yesterday morning. A moment for a digression, Ben Carson – brain surgeon. The irony is delicious. Any-who, the “Brain Surgeon”, as he is known while wearing his big red shoes said yesterday morning, “I’m for putting our healthcare in our hands rather than in the hands of some bureaucrat, and for balancing our budget, and for a fair taxation system that allows us to get rid of the IRS”. What has always amazed me about the Conservative demonization of the IRS the actual role the agency has played. Without all those arcane rules and regulations in place known only to the most sophisticated money changers, it would be much more difficult for the rich to hide their money, as it is reported they so very often do now to the tune of 21 trillion dollars. Also, let’s remember that Conservatives such as the “Brain Surgeon” are the ‘law and order’ brand, which is why they have taken to every tactic imaginable to defund the IRS, because when a negro, I mean ‘Fraudulent Voter,’ steals 150 bucks from a 7/11 its a crime, but when a Job Creator steals a few dozen million from America its “freedom”. Oh, and that “healthcare in your hands” bit, is probably meant quite literally, with the only healthcare millions would have would be from their very own two hands.

The next Clown to step out of the car, Scott “Koch Addict” Walker, the three times elected in four years governor of Wisconsin who has more top aides to prison than he does actually working in his office, and the man always ready to drop his pants for a needle full of Charles and David Koch, or at least a man pretending to be one brother or the other. The “Koch Addict” has cut taxes in Wisconsin by some 500 million dollars and now faces a deficit over almost two billion. He recently proposed a 300 million dollar cut in the University of Wisconsin state system, the largest cut in the history of Wisconsin. There is also the new funding formula that Governor “Koch Addict” is planning to use for Wisconsin’s technical and vocational schools that could result in loss of funding for those institutions. Care for seniors, and K-12 school funding, has also had its neck threatened with the guillotine with proposed cuts of nearly 130 million, and fifteen million dollars, respectively. However, some estimates suggest that the total impact of the cuts to care for seniors could approach 100 million dollars. Then there is the brand, spanking, new NBA arena for which he has offered to help pay, and the 1.3 billion dollars in loans he wishes to take on in order to finance the state’s transportation fund, which would necessitate nearly 23 percent of the taxes collected to pay for road maintenance and construction will go to paying off the interested accrued in borrowing the money to pay for the construction and maintenance of those very same roads with more to come after 2016. But the best part is, or the worst part if you are a human being with actual feelings, is that Governor “Koch Addict’s” claims to fame are his handling of the state budget, and the decrease in unemployment in the state. However, the University of Wisconsin system he desires to eviscerate has been the state’s biggest generator of jobs.

But this is all par for the course when it comes to the Conservative Clown Car. Unfortunately, perhaps the notion of a clown car is not the most apt description. Perhaps the most apt description of the Conservative movement that one could find is actually a parasite, or a cancerous tumor. Yes, cancerous tumor works best. Sure, it emerges from within the body, a collection of cells that fail to function properly, and continue to grow, spreading further, and further, and further until it eventually kills the host. These kinds of people will never be satisfied with compromise. The current Democratic Party, and its leader, President Obama, are more conservative than Republicans were forty years ago. No, these people will not stop until they have absolute control and an unconditional surrender in the war over control for the soul of America. They have been pushing the same exact ideas for three decades now: cutting taxes increases government revenue and creates jobs; forcing everyone to buy a photo voter identification won’t suppress the vote of minorities and the poor, it will solve the problem of voter fraud, a problem that doesn’t actually exist; that banks, and car companies, and nuclear reactors, and pretty much every industry on Earth can regulate themselves. As they slowly creep into every public service institution that this country has, setting fires, and then blaming the other side for not putting them out fast enough, or spending too much money on the hose and the water, so many of us keep expecting them to finally concede to a compromise, and begin working together in good faith. It will never happen. I think the best Republican president had it right when he knew that the only way to change the mind of a Conservative is with the sharp end of a Union bayonet.

The Theatricality of Punditry

Punditfact recently hosted an event at the National Press Club wherein a number of political pundits discussed the current state of political analysis and commentary. The speakers were Donna Brazile, Jackie Kucinich and Kathleen Parker. Discussing the issues of political analysis Brazile expressed astonishment at the behavior of Brian Williams, who has been suspended from NBC Nightly News for six months after it came to light that he misled the public about the events surrounding a helicopter crash in Iraq at the outset of the war. The most insightful passage in the piece is as follows:

Speaking to a crowd of about 50, and a larger audience online, the pundits were aware of the roles they play when they are put on air. (You can watch a replay of the event for free by enrolling here.) They know the political slot they fill and the need to play to those expectations. While they won’t say something they don’t believe, nor are they fully themselves on air.

‘I’m always on the left,’ Brazile said. ‘It’s like being an actress. I’ve learned to be an actress being on TV.’

‘On television, you need to fit into these neatly packaged view,’ Brazile added later in the conversation.

This was abundantly clear to Parker as well.

‘I am called on to be the center-right voice at the table,’ Parker said. ‘I’m not going to suddenly start talking out of school. I’m there to make that argument because they (the producers) are looking for a balance.’

The group also said they know what sells: Being loud and forceful.

For the average person this would seem like a significant revelation. The News Business is pretty much like everything else under capitalism, a profit making industry. The way to make profits is to entertain viewers, not inform them. So, instead of insightful analysis about a given political, economic, or social issue we are treated to news industry version of the W.W.E. In the wrestling industry big, muscular guys, and beautiful, buxom, women play roles for the sake of entertaining the crowd in the theatre, as well as the crowd at home. No one is brought onto news television to put forth their actual viewpoint on a particular issue. They are present to play to the expectations of the audience, and the advertisers who pay for the time slot.

In America we have a binary paradigm with two political parties. Those two political parties reflect a bifurcation within the ruling class of capitalists. The Republicans reflect the more reactionary faction of the ruling class, the group of capitalists who desire to really put the squeeze on average people by reducing the amount of social services provided to them and redistributing the money typically spent on those programs and giving it to the rich. The Democrats reflect the more reasonable faction of the ruling class who recognizes that to try and squeeze blood from a stone provokes outrage, social tensions, and possibly social upheaval. Therefore the political pundits who go on television to play a representative from one of theses sides has very little wiggle room in terms of what they are permitted to say. The real conversations about the political future of America go on behind closed doors, in boardrooms and bedrooms, not in front of television cameras.

Brian Williams, Lies, and the Press

Brian Williams was recently suspended by NBC for six months after the veracity of one of his Iraq War stories was brought into question. Apparently, back in 2003 Williams related a story on the nightly news about his presence in a helicopter convoy that was targeted by enemy fire. The helicopter ahead of Williams was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and forced to land. Over time this story would “evolve” into the version that Williams relayed during NBC News broadcast coverage of a public event in New York City honoring a retired soldier with Williams being a passenger on the downed aircraft rather than a mere witness. The retired soldier being honored at the New York Rangers hockey game was one of the ground security soldiers present during the event in question and recalled the occurrence very differently, eventually going public with his version.

What is most interesting about this affair is not that a major media figure, and journalist, repeatedly fabricated a story in order to make himself appear as though he had some kind of honorary privilege in the brotherhood of war veterans. No, what is most interesting is that Brian Williams’ lie about a a part of the Iraq War will likely be the only lie about the Iraq War resulting in consequences for the fabricator. Let us not be mistaken. The major media, acting as public relations consultants for the Bush Administration, sold the Iraq War to the public. In the wake of 9/11 many Americans, traumatized by the horrific events, and having witnessed them over, and over again on television, being repeatedly re-traumatized, lived the next few years in a kind of fugue state, and susceptible to any machinations designed to give the impression of increased security. Surely, members of the press were not immune to the effects of such an environment, but no one has ever been held to account for the falsehoods so readily spread by the press in the months preceding the conflict. And Judy Miller losing her job at the New York Times to then be hired by Fox News a few years later is not enough justice; if it is any justice at all.

Yes, there is legitimacy in interrogating Williams’ claims, not only the claims about this particular instance, but any other potential false claims, for he is a journalist, and is entrusted with a credibility given only to people engaged in enterprises aimed at serving the common good. The American media is inquiring into the claims made by Brian Williams because it is easy. Williams has quickly become a villain in the profession of journalism, and frankly, it costs very little in terms of money, time, human-power, and no journalist will have to put their credibility, reputation, or employment at risk in order to publish information on this scandal. It is the path of least resistance, something most modern journalists seek without conscious awareness. No producer was fired for booking Dick Cheney on Meet The Press before the Iraq War as he cited his own leaks in the New York Times as evidence of an impartial assessment of the case for war on Iraq. Tim Russert, host of Meet The Press at the time, never took responsibility for his failure, nor did many of his colleagues. In fact, journalists such as Dick Gregory, the man who took Russert’s place as the host of Meet The Press after Russert died, argued that the press did its job quite well during the Bush Administration. Of course they did. And Brian Williams is piloted that wrecked helicopter to a safe landing.

Triumph of SYRIZA and the Problem with the Left

The Radical Left Party of Greece, known by the acronym SYRIZA, won 36.3% of the electorate, a total of 2,246,064 votes, in the recent Greek elections. This sweeping victory of a left-wing party in Europe became possible by the incredible suffering inflicted on the populace of Greece, in particular the least fortunate of Greece, by Germany under the guise of the European Union (EU). In the wake of the global recession Greece’s public debt skyrocketed as unemployment increased to more than 20%, levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In response to this crisis successive Greek governments agreed with the European Union to establish an economic regime based on the concept of austerity, a policy that advocates a significant reduction in government spending and increases in taxation in order to pay down its debts, so that at some future date investors would once again take the risk of loaning the country money. Unfortunately, such policies have a tendency to result in a vicious circle whereby reduced government spending in a time of high unemployment means that no one is spending money, thus further exacerbating an already damaging lack of demand for goods and services, and the inevitable layoffs that result in greater unemployment.

But this crisis was not some miraculous accident, a fluke lightning strike to the economic security of Europe and the world. This was a deliberate decision to take advantage of a situation in order to bypass the traditional obstacles to bourgeois “reform” of a modern, European, welfare state. The kind of “reform” that includes eroding public pensions, unions, and other aid to working people, as well as the expansion of privatization and deregulation. All of the suffering that the Greek people have undergone in the last six years in hopes of climbing out of the hole they had not dug could easily have been prevent had the European Central Bank (ECB) engaged in a policy similar to that which the United States began after the financial collapse. All the ECB would have had to do was to purchase a sufficient amount of Greek debt to keep interest rates low enough to maintain a reasonable, and repayable, public debt burden. Instead, the ECB, to the benefit of the economically stronger European nations such as Germany, chose to impose austerity, shrink the Greek economy, forcing its debt, and the interest rates on that debt, to explode. And, of course, this is excluding from the conversation the entire reason the economic collapse was precipitated in the first place.

It is in this context that a political party such as SYRIZA was able to seize hold of popular anger and ride it to victory. SYRIZA has advocated a four pillar national reconstruction plan: “confronting the humanitarian crisis, restarting the economy and promoting tax justice, regaining employment and transforming the political system to deepen democracy”. Their immediate goals in ameliorating the crisis so many average Greek working people are facing includes policies such as free electricity and meal subsidies provided to 300,000 households currently living beneath the poverty line, guaranteed housing numbering in 30,000 apartments with subsidized rents, the restitution of the Christmas bonus to over 1.25 million pensioners, free medical care, prescription drugs, and public transportation cards for the long-term and uninsured unemployed, as well as a reduction in the consumption tax on heating and automobile energy.

Other policy proposals include: restoration of the minimum wage, a cessation of prosecution against debtors with no income as well as an end to the confiscation of bank accounts, primary residences, and salaries. An abolition to the mandatory 50% down payment on outstanding debts as a requirement in order to attain a hearing in court will be adopted with a judge determining the eventual down payment within a 10-20% limit, depending on the individual circumstances of the individual debtor. SYRIZA is also planning to restore the 12,000 Euros income tax threshold; a tax on large properties, and a greater number of tax brackets to ensure that taxation is progressive; debt relief through the restructuring on non-performing loans, and cessation of foreclosures on properties worth less than 300,000 Euros; a prohibition on the sale of loans to financial institutions that are not banks, and the creation of a public bank; restoration of the institutional systems designed to protect the employment rights of working people like collective bargaining, arbitration, prevention of mass layoffs, unjustified layoffs, and the renting of employee. Another key aspect to the program on which SYRIZA won the election is a re-commitment to democracy. New democratic institutions will be created: people’s legislative initiative, veto, and referendum, as well as reductions in the ability of Ministers of Parliament to receive immunity. Strong steps will also be taken to reign in tax evasion and the smuggling of fuel and cigarettes.

There is so much to admire in the program on offer by SYRIZA. Unfortunately, much of the Left seems unimpressed, even hostile to the efforts underway in Greece to alleviate the widespread suffering of working people. The criticisms range from complaints about SYRIZA working with sections of the ruling class who oppose austerity measures as a solution to the crisis, to charges of collaboration with reactionaries analogous to, “Russia in 1917, when the Kerensky government collaborated closely with the reactionary military before being overthrown in the October Revolution; in 1927 in China, where Chiang Kai-shek led a massacre of his allies in the Communist Party; in the 1930s in Spain, where the Popular Front paralyzed the working lass and enabled Franco’s victory”.

While it is true that SYRIZA seeks to work within the confines of the capitalist electoral process it is untrue that SYRIZA’s intention is to “develop an economic policy aimed at creating the best conditions for capitalist exploitation”. Offered as evidence of this argument, and evidence of a “pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist” agenda, have been benign, meaningless statements from American President Barack Obama on his interest in working with the newly elected government of Greece, and this quote from Greek Deputy Prime Minister Giorgos Dragasakis, “The Greek economy has many opportunities, our government is interested in attracting new investments …We are preparing a long list of projects and investment opportunities.” Apparently, certain sections of the Left believe that the real class character of SYRIZA as a bourgeois fraud will come to the fore as the interests of their true masters enter into direct conflict with the interests of a truly independent Greek, and international, working class.

This has been one of the biggest problems of the left since the end of the Cold War. A complete disinterest in the practical application of radical left politics in favor of sectarian diatribes on the value of socialist, revolutionary purity. While the left-wing intelligentsia of Europe and America sits around in office buildings, university campuses, and wherever else they spend their waking hours propagating these “revolutionary’ litmus tests real people are still starving, freezing, slaving, and despairing. Movements like SYRIZA, making real differences in people’s lives, are the first steps toward a broader international solidarity for a new kind of economy that works for the majority. What exactly has the Left accomplished in the last forty years beyond being transformed from one of the most powerful actors in world politics, establishing unions, labor rights, environmental protections, the welfare state, and so on, to having almost no influence whatsoever as the Right marches onward in a war to unravel all that has been achieved? The crisis of the working class, and the crisis of the Left are interconnected, and one cannot be saved without the other.

Sources:

1. http://www.transform-network.net/blog/blog-2014/news/detail/Blog/-5ed1064aab.html
2. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/28/syri-j28.html
3. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/30/pers-j30.html

Bill Maher, Freedom of Speech, and the War on Terrorism

Recently comedian, and host of HBO television program Real Time, Bill Maher, presented a commentary on freedom of speech, which is odd because from his commentary it seems that Maher has absolutely no idea what that phrase, ‘freedom of speech’, even means. The crux of Maher’s argument seems to be that if I do not like what you have to say, and take steps to ensure that the microphone into which you say it is either reduced in size, or stripped from you entirely, then I am violating the ‘liberal’ tradition of freedom of speech. Maher likes to use these monologues on his show to occasionally target his own side, liberals, for criticism. So, two of the prominent examples of this poor, poor behavior Maher cites are the tendency for liberals to castigate certain kinds of speech as hateful, bigoted, or racist, and the online campaign to pressure Rush Limbaugh’s commercial sponsors into ending their economic partnership with his program.

First of all, ‘freedom of speech’ has absolutely nothing to do with most of what Maher said in his monologue. The only pieces of the monologue to which such liberal values and traditions as ‘freedom of speech’ applies is the example of the anti-Semitic comedian in France who was recently arrested for his comments about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and the criminal statutes in France that target Holocaust denial. Everything else in Maher’s monologue is completely, utterly, irrelevant to the issue at hand; that issue being ‘freedom of speech’ of course. Now, it is not a surprise that Maher takes such a position on this issue. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks Maher was fired from his television show ‘Politically Incorrect’ on ABC because of his comments that firing cruise missiles from thousands of miles away from one’s target is cowardly, as the U.S. military had done in the years before 9/11 in its attempts to assassinate Osama bin Laden, while hijacking planes and flying them into buildings is not.
Not to mention all the times he has been targeted for protest, and boycott, because of his criticisms of religion. Maher, being a comedian and political pundit, relies quite heavily on his ability to proffer his opinion on television, and on stage, in exchange for handfuls of cash and is therefore quite sensitive to any efforts to punish certain forms of speech. But, ‘freedom of speech’ only applies to speech targeted by the government for censorship. It is irrelevant in the context of someone offering an opinion I do not like and my taking steps to criticize, condemn, and punish the other person. How exactly does Bill Maher think that the conversation around such issues as sexism, racism, or political issues of any kind, evolve without this back and forth process of reward and punishment?

Now, let us examine this concept of ‘freedom of speech’ within the context of capitalism. Capitalism is a class system with certain power relations. So, who really has ‘freedom of speech’, and what do they say with such freedom? Certainly the handful of corporate conglomerates that control so much of what Americans read, watch, and hear each day have a greater amount of ‘freedom of speech’ than I do with this measly little blog. What do they have to say with the untold amount of resources at their beck and call? Their speech is deliberately designed to reinforce specific social and economic relations, relations that sustain and perpetuate the very circumstances that result in their continued presence as arbiters of permissible speech. So, we have speech that either seeks to promote the status, or speech that seeks to undermine it; speech that seeks to aid the afflicted, or speech that seeks perpetuate their affliction; speech that seeks to undermine oppression, or expand its hegemony. Purveyors of capitalist ideology such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher ultimately have one thing in common, despite their other ideological divergences, and that is ensuring that those without real power are left with no voice beyond corporate sponsors such as themselves.

Finally, Maher offers another critique of liberals as it relates to ‘freedom of speech’ and violence. Maher offers quotes from liberal journalist Glenn Greenwald, and a protest sign he witnessed during the protests that took place during a recent commencement speech he was asked to give to a graduating class at Berkley University that stated “Islamophobia kills”; clear comments about the role that anti-Muslim speech plays in creating the ideological context for the violence inflicted by the Western World on Muslim countries that so often kills innocent people rather than, or along with, the violent extremists. Maher disagreed, offering instead the AK47s, beheadings, and the planes into buildings, as examples of… what, I do not know. Maher seemed to be trying to make the case that it is the violence perpetrated by terrorists that provokes the violence of the Western World.

But, given the syntax of his previous sentence, in the context of the quotes he provides, it seems as though he is removing the responsibility for the violence inflicted on the innocent by the Western World in Western Asia from the governments perpetrating it, and placing that responsibility with the innocent victims of that violence, and those deserving it. Nevertheless, what Maher seems unable to recognize is that acts of terrorism such as those perpetrated on Charlie Hebdo do not occur in a vacuum. They are not unilateral acts of violence, but are instead instances of violence and counter-violence. The violence carried out on the streets of Paris is one battle in an ideological war being waged by the Western World against Islamist extremism. And Maher seems incapable of recognizing that both sides need an ideological infrastructure in order to rally supporters to their cause. Islamic extremists use the Koran, and the Western World uses the racist cartoons of outlets such as Charlie Hebdo, among many others form of political discourse, to convince its people to support military interventions in Muslim countries. And this is not even accounting for the true nature of this conflict, which is the necessary economic expansion and domination of Global Capitalism over every market on the planet.

In the end most of these considerations are beyond the contemplative power of a mind such as Bill Maher’s. Maher cannot see his misunderstanding of the notion of ‘freedom of speech’, much less the power relations of a class system as capitalism, and the role that economic imperialism plays in this conflict. So, while he may oppose direct military intervention of Western Asia by government like France, Britain, or the United States, he will support the underlying War on Terrorism because of his distaste for religion. I too have a distaste for religion, and agree with much of his criticism of Islam, but as a savvy observer of geopolitics it is clear to me that this conflict ultimately has little to do with religion beyond the fact that Islam has become an ideological system for opposing the hegemony of Global Capitalism and therefore must be targeted. As it stands, it seems unlikely that the grand American jester Bill Maher will ever understand that.