Mr. Potter Has Won?

My perennial Christmas Missive, returns after a 4 year (can your believe it) hiatus. And who would have thought 5 years after the Great Meltdown produced the Great Recession, , 5 years into the age of Obama and a purported move away from supply-side economics pretty much nothing has changed to reign in the very things – excessive income inequality, unfettered financial speculation and moral hazard policies that reward the affluent investor over the struggling worker—that drove us to the brink Great Depression II, setting us up nicely for another round of financial mayhem within the decade.  Meanwhile 5 years into a recovery plan that has produced recovery for the richest  10% of the population who now take in more than half of all income (up by over 50%) and even more so the top 1% who raked in  over 90% of the gains from the recovery, middle class and working families are enduring stagnant or declining incomes that haven’t seen significant real increases since the dawn of 1980s supply side economics.    I was apparently naively optimistic when I wrote: Perhaps by Obama Christmas II the tides may turn. For now, let us at least raise a voice of prayer and a glass of cheer to the fact the Potters aren’t adding as much to their winning totals as they used to.Who knew Morning In America actually meant a sunset for  middle class expansion and an American Dream  deferred.. And yes, Virginia, income inequality DOES matter as any Feudal peasant or lord could have told you and as a brief glance at a map of global income inequality also tells you.  Excessive income inequality produces and exacerbates  poverty and  authoritarianism.  Period.  But at least there is hope in the coming year, what with that Marxist in The White House (as we always knew, thank you Fox News) and one now in the Vatican (thank you Rush Limbaugh for that bit of analysis), that national and global attention and conversation may actually turn to a meaningful discussion of inequality and—beyond the social justice issues and even bad for capitalism issues (true capitalism being antithetical to monopolies of power and wealth) the anti-democratic tendencies it fosters.  Until then,  let us hope that the Mister Potters haven’t won – for once they do it won’t be the same America we were born in.  Merry Christmas and best hopes for the future.  CL

__________

I watched the perennial holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the other day. There was George Bailey, as he is every year, struggling to keep the old Savings and Loan afloat. There was the malicious Mr. Potter, a truly covetous old sinner, trying to put Bailey out of business.  There was Clarence the angel showing, once again, that our world is a better place for the George Bailey’s amongst us.  It’s too bad that in today’s world the Potters are beating the Baileys, hands down.

Old man Potter dismissed the Bailey Savings and Loan as a kind of privatized social welfare program for dumb poor workers who couldn’t cut it on their own. “And what does that  get us,” he asked?  “A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.  And all because a few starry eyed dreamers stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas? Don’t the  Rush Limbaughs or Tom Delays say the same thing today?

Labor laws, social welfare, retirement benefits, guaranteed healthcare, workplace safety laws, consumer protection–all are dismissed by our modern Potters as so much misplaced sympathy offered to the undeserving by the foolishly starry eyed, thinking that is at best naïve and at worst dangerous.  Any mention of social welfare on AM radio is now associated with Bolshevik Socialism – want to give workers a guaranteed living wage or put any limits at all on the worst excesses of the market and you’re labeled as an advocate of Gulags and death camps.

George, of course, argued back.  “Just remember this, Mr. Potter,” he retorted, “that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.  Well is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”  Today he could add: is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die with decent healthcare, affordable housing, quality education for their kids and the sure knowledge that when old age comes, there will be some comforts to look forward to?

We don’t have that many George Bailey’s today. Few stand up to our Potters when they tell us workers can’t expect job security, no one is entitled to healthcare and decent pay is whatever the most desperate amongst us is willing to work for.  Even the Democrats, the party of dreams for the working stiff, have fallen in line with the rhetoric of balanced budgets and smaller government (except, of course, if deficits are required to provide tax cuts to the richest Americans) even if the cost are reduced programs to help the disadvantaged.

Can’t anyone makes the simple point George made that helping the least amongst us is not simple altruism, it is Capitalist self interest at it’s best? “Your all business men here,” he reminded the S&L board members thinking of supporting Potter, “don’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?”  Heck, wasn’t it that old socialist Henry Ford’s idea to raise worker pay, not because it was the moral thing to do but because it made them better participants in the Capitalist market place?   Like Old Man Potter, much of American corporate business has become warped and frustrated by ruthless competition and now sees its workers only as cattle to be milked for as long as possible before being sent to the layoff slaughterhouse.

Frank Capra understood that the Potters amongst us seldom lose, though the more public-minded like old George could, on occasion, battle them to a draw. Notice that, while George Bailey ultimately survived his battle with Potter, the old man survived unscathed too, his own crime of theft of the Bailey’s deposits unpunished. There have always been the Potters amongst us, those who pursue personal gain at any cost, be they a grasping banker like fictitious  Potter or the greedy executives of a massive corporations like Enron or WorldCom. What’s regrettable is that there are fewer and fewer George Bailey’s speaking up for the little guy.

In the real world the Bailey S&L would have been bought out by the 1980s by PotterCorp, a huge transnational Financial Services leviathan. A PotterCorp holding company would have bought out Bedford Fall’s chief industry, the plastic’s factory old Hee-Haw Sam Wainwright had built at George’s urging and shipped the jobs to Third World sweatshops. Downtown Bedford Falls would now be a ghost town with shops shuttered by a massive PotterMart selling cheap slave-labor produced products to the town’s poorly paid service employees.   Yes, least be there any doubt, in the world of today Mister Potter would have won.  And, least there be any doubt, Mr. Potter voted Republican.

 

Posted in Barack ObamaSupply-Side Economics. Tags: Healthcare ReformIt’s a Wonderful LifeMr. PotterLeave a Comment »

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Summer Song

 Broke my long hiatus from punditry today with an article on the city’s faux-budget. Read it, hot from the pages from CityBeat Analog, here. Haven’t written since my last, aptly named entry, “Last Hurrah” back in April. Don’t really plan to write any more until the end of August. I’m not teaching this summer, for the first time in around 20 years, so I’m taking the summer off from my usual concerns–teaching, administrating, teaching, punditrying and, of course, teaching–to pursue other pursuits (beach, patio, other writing projects, beach, patio and, above all, five o’clock proseco time in the gazebo. I’m not kidding. We have a freakin’ gazebo and, every summer day at 5, adjourn there for a glass of cold proseco. It’s a good life.)

In any event, what is there to say right now that’s worth saying? At the local level things in June, 2009 are not really all that different than in June, 2000 or 2001. The city continues to muddle along with the usual mediocre municipal mundanity: precarious finances, feckless leadership and a gentle diminishment of America’s finest city to just another over-extended, under-repaired American town. Frye will be off the council soon, Jerry will be off to gentlemanly retirement and DeMaio will be Mayor—so it has been written, it seems, so it will be done. The Tribe of Five Old White People will continue to dominate the County. The Airport Authority will continue to plan billions of dollars in new projects that will never be spent for an airport that will never be adequate or replaced. The Chargers will continue to lobby for their new stadium which will inevitably be built with public monies (my suggestion, alas, that they build it beneath a three trillion dollar convention center expansion—which, I think, around the amount the convention center really dreams of spending) whether it takes another year or ten. Only the decline of the UT and the tantalizing possibility that the new owners might realize that if Kittle and Kompany continue to dictate editorial viewpoint the paper’s circulation will continue to shrink to the sixty-five and older north of Mira Mesa Boulevard crowd offers some hope for a break in the local monotony. Who knows – by fall the UT may have a new crowd (albeit probably a bunch of twenty-somethings paid minimum wage) flogging the pagewaves. Couldn’t hurt.

Of course, things have changed dramatically in Sacramento. Six years ago we had an unpopular second-term governor disowned even by his own party presiding over massive state deficits, declining services, increasing taxes, unrestrained partisan warfare with absolutely no realistic solutions being offered by the legislative leadership lugs. Oh, how times have changed. (Dramatic pause for sarcastic effect.)

And, at the national level, we have our Obama moment, Act One. Tobacco has been regulated. Some form of healthcare reform is on the way. The economy is no longer sinking. Yay. Except that the tobacco reform is about two generations too late to really matter, the healthcare reform is going to be delightfully watered down and any leveling off of economy we’re currently seeing is actually a consequence of actions taken last fall before Obama came into office. It takes around six months or more for policy decisions in DC to trickle into the real economy—the Obama stimulus won’t really begin to be felt until late summer and, by then, will be revealed, I fear, to be too little. Unemployment continues to rise – my bet is it eventually hits 11%-12%. Foreclosures continue to mount and the other shoe of the real estate debacle—the commercial side of the house—is caving. (Count empty storefronts and commercial “For Rent” signs next time you’re out.) At some point Obama’s love affair with Wall Street and Wall Street types has got to end and more aggressive Keynesian tactics aimed at homeowners and consumers have got kick in. According to retail experts, it’s going to take ten years, at this point, to get back to consumer spending levels in 2007. If everything starts turning around now. Obama keeps going the path he’s going and he runs the risk of becoming the American Kiichi Miiyazawa, (the Japanese Prime Minister who helped keep Japan from falling into depression back in 1990-1991 but, instead, ushered in a decade plus of stagnation.) The world can—and did—survive a stagnant Japan. It won’t survive, with any stability, a stagnant United States. Meanwhile national discourse has degenerated to a nasty level that simultaneously makes dock workers blush and insults the intelligence of second graders. I’m taking the summer off from Fox, MSBNC and the entire AM dial. I haven’t heard one original thing said (Obama is a radical, communist-socialist-muslim-American-hater and Republicans are Rush Limbaugh) in months by any of my brethren (albeit it far more lucratively compensated kin) in punditry. My bet is, come September 1, I turn on Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews after a two-month hiatus and I won’t have missed a beat. Maybe, by end of summer, democracy will have come to Iran. (Which I doubt. Erstwhile president Ahmadinukejihad will emerge from this ultimately stronger, probably having co-opted the authority of the religious clerics and, thereby, regressing Iran back to a standard authoritarian model.) If democracy does triumph, however, people are going to (oh, it gives me gout right down to my little toe to write this) reassess the Bush-Cheney theory of viral democracy. Look at Lebanon. But that’s a debate for another month.

In short, I go into the summer feeling crotchety and persnickety about all things political. By summers end, though, batteries recharged, feelings reinvigorated, I’ll be back to pound the punditry pages. Hopefully in a reformatted format—one of my summer projects is to try and upgrade and integrate this blog into more comprehensive website that can be useful to both my students and you, my faithful reader. (If there are any of you left – alas, even poor Mlaiuppa has bailed on me given my niggardly natterings. ) As such, a bid you summer time adieu. Look for me when the dog days are over, if you care to.

Fractackular

lil-frack-you

I’ve been watching  the final season of the Sci Fi channel’s resurrected 1970s Sci Fic hoke-classic, Battlestar Galactica.  The current incarnation of this human-made-machines-out-to-destroy-humankind  saga is far better acted, has far better effects and a much more commanding dramtic plotline than did the original.  (In which Loren Greene, fresh from 200 years on Bonanza, played essentially Ben Cartwright in command of a Battlestar rather than the Ponderosa.  But we sci fi buffs found it cool because a) it was the only real sci fi on TV; b) it’s pre Star Wars effects were awesome for their time; and c) we were twelve  years old.)   And, being on cable, the show’s writers can take certain liberties with plot and language which a network couldn’t back in the 1970s.  A result of which is that, in watching the show these past weeks,  I’ve finally decoded the ultimate message of the Republican party.

And, no, it’s not that Republicans remind me of Cylons, the race of evil human-looking machines  that never eat or sleep, like to nuke puppies and toddlers and  wreak havoc  across the galaxy in their quest to pursue their Cylon-god driven destiny. I mean,  Dick Cheney, liked to eat, after all,   They have that on tape.  And I think he slept (though that “man-sized safe” in the VP’s office Jon Stewart used to joke about might have actually been a coffin).  But Dick Cheney did share a taste for diction with the Colonial soldiers and sailors who battled the Cylons, as does the Republican party in general.   Whenever Starbuck, the sexy and brooding tomboy ace fighter pilot, or Admiral Odama (played memorably by Edward James Olmos) is angered past propriety or the Colonial President is sick of the political squabbling or any other member of the human refugee community is caught in a moment of anger, panic or surprise they all have the same thing to say:

“Frack!”

Yes, the Sci Fi channel let the writers of Battlestar Galatica drop the “F-bomb” but, being basic access cable, it’s a watered-down,  kinder, gentler “F-bomb” than the one heard on premium cable. 

Which is just like the Republicans’ basic message to the American people (you remember the American people–that “bunch of whiners” as McCain economic guru  and former senator “Dr. Phil” Graham labeled them) .   Now Dick “F-Man” Cheney, wasn’t  above dropping the ‘F-Bomb” in full mega-tonnage on the  floor of the Senate itself.  And Rush is just DYING to drop it.  (And if he’s not careful one of these days he’s going to slip during one of his “Screw Them” rants and end up jostling for satellite bandwidth with  potty-mouth Howard Stern.  Oh to dream…)

 Most Republicans though try to water their F-bombing down,  wrapping it in clichés and pontifications just like the Battlestar writers had to replace a vowel and add a consonant.  But it all comes down to the same sentiment:

Republicans to America:  “Frack You.”

Detroit is burning to the financial ground last semester?  Congressional Republicans to the backbone US Industry:  Frack You.  America’s economy is burning to the ground right now. Congressional Republicans response to the stimulus package and the American people its supposed to help: “Frack You.” And a good Frack You to you too, Mr. “Just elected by the American  People by a clear popular majority as a rebuke to the last 8 years of GOP mismanagement & misjudgment  and still enjoys extraordinarily-High Approval-ratings of the level that should make the outgoing GOP president weep in shame and yet still stretched out a bipartisan hand which Congressional Republican’s partisanly spit in” President.

And its not just the current Congressional Republicans who’ve embraced the Battlestar battle cry.  It’s been the basic message of  Reagan Republicans to Americans for the last generation.  You’re a woman dumb enough to get pregnant? Frack You and your right to an abortion, prenatal care,  post-natal care,  paid maternity leave, child care and family health care.  And Frack your right to affordable and available contraception.   And Frack your kids, too.  If they don’t like being born in a country with the highest infant mortality rates of any developed society, they shouldn’t have been born here.   And your Asthma sufferering, peanut-allergic kids? They don’t want to breathe my second hand smoke or risk accidentally swapping sandwiches with my Peter Pan munching rug rat?  Frack them.

You want me to give up my SUV to help avoid environmental meltdown?  Give up my unlicensed gun, my high-powered convertible semi automatic or my thirty-eight handgun?  Frack you. And frack Mother Earth  and homicide victims,  respectively.   

Indeed, the GOP’s answer to just about any request that one modifies any personal behavior or bear any cost to in any way promote any notion or action intended to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, or secure any  blessing of liberty for anyone but themselves is simple,  clear and resounding.

Frack you, America.

So, American people, get onboard with the Republican universal response mantra. November,  2010,  American People’s response to Republican candidates:

Frack you, GOP.