Saturday, April 30, 2011

Netanyahu Chooses Bravado

When the Egyptian uprising began, the first thing that came to mind was that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu would do everything he could to help President Mubarak remain in power, as head of one of only two countries that had made peace with Israel.  He should have realized that his options were diminishing.

Three months later, Egypt’s temporary leaders have brokered a peace agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. As  Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, noted, the geopolitical situation hadn’t exactly been helpful to the Palestinians up to now, but President Abbas lost his patron when Mubarak resigned on February 11th, and now Hamas faces a similar possibility, as Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad struggles to remain in power.

As the Palestinians seize the moment, President Netanyahu continues to declare that Fatah must choose between peace with Israel and reconciliation with Hamas. He is no more in touch with reality than our own Representative Paul Ryan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It’s Not Just about Guns and Abortions Anymore

With all that’s going on from day to day, It’s difficult to know what mainstream networks to watch. Although MSNBC probably does the best job Grit TV and Democracy Now, which can be found on-line and on public television stations, provide reporting and interviews you won’t get anywhere else, except perhaps on blogs.  But there are even more blogs than TV channels, so which are worth reading? and are worth looking at regularly, but sometimes I hear a piece of news on television, and when I try to find the subject on-line, I am directed to a blog I never heard of, which is providing all the information I’m looking for.

Take, for example, the news bite that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is threatening to take over the running of municipalities.  That’s fascism, I say to myself.  I must have heard wrong.

But no, my ears did not deceive me. According to Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s WTAQ April 18th blog: “Governor Scott Walker said Monday it’s ‘absolutely false’ that he’s working on a financial stress test that local governments would have to pass – or else be taken over by the state.

The Republican Walker told Milwaukee radio talk show host Charlie Sykes that nobody on his staff or administration is working on such a plan. That’s after the GOP governor in Michigan, Rick Snyder, signed a similar bill that creates an emergency financial manager for such municipal takeovers.

Rick Ungar, a blogger for Forbes.Com, also wrote that Walker is said to be working on having his own financial manager who could, “cancel union contracts, push aside duly-elected local government officials and school board members, and take control of Wisconsin cities and towns whenever he sees fit to do so.”

Can that Be???

“Ungar said attorneys from Foley and Lardner are writing up the plan – and it’s scheduled to be introduced in the GOP-controlled Legislature in May. The blogger said the Walker plan would give him, “unchallenged power to end municipal services of which he disapproves, including safety net assistance to those in need.”

When Governors start talking about taking over the administration of towns and cities, if that isn’t fascism, it’s a pretty good imitation. If you go  to Answers and type in ‘Municipal government under Nazis’.  You’ll find this:

“The Nazi assault on existing institutions affected the whole society. Every state government, every state parliament in Germany's federal political system, every town and district and local council was ruthlessly purged. Every national voluntary association, and every local club, was brought under Nazi control, from industrial and agricultural pressure-groups to sports associations, football clubs, male voice choirs, women's organizations - in short, the whole fabric of associational life was Nazified. Rival, politically oriented clubs or societies were merged into a single Nazi body. Existing leaders of voluntary associations were either uncere-moniously ousted, or knuckled under of their own accord. Many organi-zations expelled politically leftish or liberal members and declared their allegiance to the new state and its institutions. This whole process ('co-ordination' in Nazi jargon) went on all over Germany from March to June 1933. By the end, virtually the only non-Nazi associations left were the army and the Churches with their lay organizations. While this was going on, the government passed a law that allowed it to purge the civil service, a vast organization in Germany that included schoolteachers, university staff, judges and many other professions that were not government-controlled in other countries.

If you’re wondering how Republicans (or should we now say The Tea Party?) are going to get away with this nationwide, go to Common-Dreams.Org’s April 18th story: “GOP Wave Reshapes Nation's Agenda State by State” by Ann Sanner and Calvin Woodward, for a description of some of the tools they’re creating:

“Republican governors and state legislators are bringing abortion restrictions into law from Virginia to Arizona, acting swiftly to expand gun rights north and south, pushing polling-station photo ID laws that are anathema to Democrats and taking on public sector unions anywhere they can.”

But that’s not all: Yesterday, according to MSNBC (sorry I don’t remember which afternoon host reported this), the REAL reason for clamping down on unions is to deprive Democratic candidates of their campaign contri-butions, still a significant amount even though union membership has declined over the years.

Meanwhile, our star-studded intellectual class has to realize that Obama can only betray us.  I’ll explain why in my next blog.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Salami Republic

Coming on the heels of the Wisconsin governor’s fight to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of government workers, the barely avoided federal government shutdown over the Tea Party’s determination to eliminate as much social spending as possible should cause Americans to revisit the rise of Hitler.

Praising the President’s cool during the week-long battle, democratic strategist Peter Fenn on MSNBC assured us that “The president is no wild-eyed socialist”, but a savvy con-sensus-builder. Commentators need to stop prolonging the opprobrium attached to the world ‘socialist’ and even ‘social democrat’ since the McCarthy era. The latest book by Chicago labor lawyer Tom Geoghagan titled “Were you Born on the Wrong Continent” details the much more agreeable - and democratic - life of Europeans lucky enough to live under governments inspired by socialist ideals, in particular Germany, which he has come to know well. I plan to devote a blog to Geoghagan’s book, but every day that passes makes it more urgent to bring up the Germany we fought for four years, when Hitler hijacked the term ‘socialist’ to make a nationalist project palatable.

Our leaders wonder aloud ‘who’ the Libyan rebels are, publicly fearing they could turn out to be Taliban or Al Qaeda types, but privately aware that many of them are more interested in real social democracy than in the global capitalist agenda. We watch Bashar Al Assad shoot Syrian demonstrators but are not aware that his supporters prefer the Muslim brand of socialism represented by the long-ruling Ba’ath Party (the party of Saddam Hussein) to American-baked capitalism. As Laurent Gbagbo clings to power in Ivory Coast, an interviewer suggests he might want to seek asylum in Mugabe’s  Zimbabwe - ‘or Venezuela...?’  Gbagbo’s government is described as ‘socialist-inspired’, while Alassane Outtara, the ‘internationally recognized winner’ of the disputed 2010 presidential election,  is a former economist at the International Monetary Fund.

As with the stand-off in Libya, the populations that have taken to the streets in so many Middle Eastern and African countries, are a mixed bag; but all yearn for more participation in decision-making. Some want Western-style personal free-dom, while others, along with many Christians and Jews, believe that freedom does not imply not license.

These conflicting ideals and concepts do not make it easy for Americans to see the implications of what is going on in their own country. The Tea Party would be a passing phenomenon were it not the child of a thirty-year long incubation by right-wing libertarians determined to limit democracy in the most powerful country. The budget crisis that has just come to an end, heralded by the attack on labor in Wisconsin and other states, utilized the same methods by which Hitler turned the Weimar Republic into a totalitarian state.

Voters are beginning to realize that elections have become something of a sham since the Supreme Court decided in 2010 that corporations can spend as much money as the want on election campaigns, and lobbying has become ‘ethical’. But we have no practice in dealing with parliamentary slicing and dicing. The budget fight has been waged over the 14 percent slice that Congress approves each year for domestic spending. Although the government narrowly avoided a shutdown, how many voters know what they were made to sacrifice?

The measure cuts nearly $2 billion in spending from transportation and housing programs, including $1.5 billion from a high-speed rail program and $280 million from capital investment grants. Were it not for the number of Americans out of work and/or who have been foreclosed on their mortgages, cuts in housing subsidies would not appear dire. Thankfully, Democrats were able to exempt the Big Three entitlement programs:  Social Security, the Medicare health plan for retirees, and the Medicaid plan for the poor, from the cuts. (The size of these programs is determined by how many people qualify for them, not by how much money Congress sets aside for them.) But students will be deprived of $550 million from the SMART Grant student-aid program at a time when official policy is to support education at all levels.

With wars having cost a trillion dollars since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the House and Senate are now considering an additional request for $33 billion in supplemental funding for the remainder of FY2010, and the Administration has also requested $159 billion to cover costs of overseas operations in FY2011. A cut of $3 billion from defense programs will have no effect on our on-going war policy.

The bill subjects the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to yearly audits by both the private sector and the congressional Government Accountability Office. We shall have to see what hay will be made under this measure.

Taken individually, each cut may seem justified by our dire financial situation and basic good housekeeping. But seen side by side with the policies the President has consistently bid the country adopt, they are ominous; and more will come. The longer-term agreement will cut spending in the current 2011 fiscal year by about $38 billion, including $17.8 billion from benefit programs, known as ‘entitlements’. The Tea Party doesn’t think citizens are ‘entitled’ to anything but security protection from the government.

Thankfully, measures to ban funding for Planned Parenthood health clinics and greenhouse-gas regulation survived the cuts. But as part of the compromise, the Senate agreed to hold a vote on blocking implementation of Obama's healthcare reform law. It is commonly expected to fail, but another round of strident de-monstrations could rattle the delicate constitutions of many Democrats.

Hitler called his methods ‘piecemeal’ but they acquired the more imaginative name of ‘salami tactics’ after the war, when the Hungarian Communist Mátyás Rákosi destroyed his country’s non-Communist parties by ‘cutting them off like slices of salami’. By portraying his opponents as fascists, or fascist sympathizers, Rakosi was able to get rid of the Parliament’s right wing, then its centrists, until only those collaborating with the Communists remained.

In America we have the mirror image: centrists and right-wingers use the accusation of ‘socialist‘ to intimidate democratic politicians who believe in the responsibility of government to protect and educate its citizens.

As we witness the slicing away from the Republican party of its moderate members in favor of its Tea Partiers, we should keep in mind Hitler’s conquest of absolute power in a country that, like our own, was known for its religiosity and cultural achievements.

The Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933, was akin, in its consequences, to our 9/11. Without evidence, it was attributed to a lone Dutch communist, and was followed by a decree that suspended many civil liberties and outlawed the Communist Party and the Social Democrats. Some 10,000 people were arrested in two weeks, and on March 24, 1933, the Enabling Act  gave Hitler plenary power, allowing him to bypass the Reichstag.

Hitler and the Nazis established totalitarian control bit by bit, eliminating potential opponents such as trade unions and rival political parties. They also established mandatory youth organizations and regimented the labor organizations organized during the Weimar Republic. The Enabling Act was renewed in 1937 and 1941. Finally, on April 26, 1942, the Reichstag passed a law making Hitler the supreme judge of the land, giving him power of life and death over every citizen until he was defeated in war.

The Tea party’s financiers and ideologues have studied both Hitler and Lenin, and have taken ‘from each according to their utility’.  According to a New Yorker July 2005 profile of Grover Norquist by Brendan Nyhan: “He talked about how to build a broad coalition. ‘If you want the votes of people who are good on guns, good on taxes, and good on faith issues, that is a very small intersection of voters," he said. "But if you say, ‘Give me the votes of anybody who agrees with you on any of these issues, that's a much bigger section of the population.’ To illustrate what he meant, Norquist drew three intersecting circles on a piece of paper. In the first one he wrote "guns," in the second he wrote "taxes," in the third he wrote "faith." Where the circles intersected: "With that group, you can take over the country, starting with the airports and the radio stations," he said. "But with all of the three circles that's sixty percent of the population, and you can win politically.”

Nyhan's 2005 article refers to a 1983 Cato Institute article that lays out a ‘Leninist strategy’ of ‘guerilla warfare’ for privatizing Social Security. commenting that “liberals could never get away with this stuff.” Six years later, a President whose heart is on the left, had to rescue the ‘third rail’. Criticizing government ‘inefficiency’, its right-wing opponents warn that we are turning into a ‘Banana Republic’. In reality, we must fear becoming a Salami Republic.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why They are Doing This

It’s the question that’s on everyone’s lips:  why would the Republicans want to bankrupt three quarters of the American population, while sending the remaining one quarter over the moon financially?

Even taking into account the degeneration of our system of checks and balances of which we are so proud, there doesn’t appear to be a rational explanation for the behavior of the Tea Party - or, for that matter, approximately half the voters who seem to supporter their current attitude toward the budget.

I think we can assume that the voters are war weary both in terms of the Beltway and the Great Beyond (our equivalent of the former Soviet Union’s Near and Far Enemies, also taken up by Al Qaeda...).  They’re ready to endorse the Republican stance simply because it looks quick and easy, instead of quick and dirty.

What’s seems illogical, however, is the attitude of the movers and shakers the world over who affirm : “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”  They want the government to receive even less money from the richest individuals and the corporations, while bleeding the wage earners who built this country with one hand and taking away any benefits they may have with the other.

The key is the phrase ‘who built this country’.  We don’t need any more ‘builders’.  And we need fewer consumers.

I hate to say this, but since we cannot intelligently assume that the radical right cannot add and subtract, we have to conclude that the policies it is persistently pursuing serve a specific goal: reducing the population of manufacturing and other workers no longer needed by our post-industrial economy.

Corporate policies have the same goal: it doesn’t matter if oil spills or radioactive material pollutes the oceans; or if fracking for natural gas ruins the aquifers; or if Alaskan caribou go extinct: the shareholders will continue having the means to live in protected, gated areas of the world, consuming its last resources, as the ‘expendable’ populations die off.

Are the Democrats really part of this sordid deal? How could they not be, when they too are financed by the corporations whom the Supreme Court has anointed as ‘persons’?  The most we can say about the Democrats is that some of them may have a bad conscience.  The few who speak out cannot tip the scale in favor of humanity.

The fight over Medicare will be their last hurrah.