”The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who already have much; it is whether we do enough for those who have too little.”
–Franklin D. Roosevelt
News junkies couldn’t get their fix this week, as everything was slowed to a crawl by weather emergencies and stunningly frigid temperatures. That should have been a warning bell on climate change but wasn’t, at least among those who refuse sound science (which is itself a warning bell on the pitiful state of our educational system). Scandalmongers, on the other hand, warmed their blood at the bonfires created by three big sociopolitical explosions.
The first was a baffling display of narcissism as Dennis Rodman, bowing deeply, sang a soul-full Happy Birthday to his BFF, North Korea’s L’il Kim. This followed a drunken rant in response to press criticisms that included disparaging remarks about American citizen Kenneth Bae, currently being held prisoner in a North Korean gulag. It appears Dennis hasn’t just got ongoing substance abuse issues, he’s also fully immersed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kool Aid, which prompted the distressed sister of the prisoner to suggest that if he wasn’t going to help, he should keep his mouth shut. For his part, Dennis appears to think of himself as a “basketball diplomat,” despite being alone in that assessment. Diplomats are a bit less admiring of leaders that lop off the heads of their former mistress and can easily be believed to have fed their close relatives to hungry dogs.
The next bombshell grabbing attention was a collection of quotes from an emerging book by newly retired defense secretary Robert Gates, seemingly over-eager for a moment of candor after a lifetime of meekly pushing the company line. Having served under several presidents — not all of whom got rave reviews, by the way — Gates took particular exception with the sitting Prez, “shocked” at his lack of trust in the Pentagon or his military advisers, and his refusal to “own” either the Iraq or Afghanistan war. Cherry picking the sound bites, news agencies speculated ad nauseum about how much this information hurt Obama’s credibility, apparently clueless that any progressive within earshot was smiling and nodding, holding out a thumbs up.
The one person who might have been wounded in the crossfire was the Veep, Joe Biden, of whom Gates was particularly critical, saying he’d gotten foreign policy and security issues wrong for four decades. As Joe will probably throw his hat into the ring in 2016, this was unwelcome commentary, but Biden was soundly defended by many on the left, including the White House. Those still wondering if safety and patriotism can be found in the barrel of a gun would do well to remember that Gates is both Republican and hawk.
The week ended with the mushroom cloud hovering over Chris Christie in New Jersey, covered nicely in Friday’s subscriber edition. Huffington gave it three full days of headlines, replete with buzzwords like “capos” and “Sopranos,” and speculated if and/or when the Governor knew about the election retaliation that brought bridge traffic to a crawl. To dot that i and cross the t, here’s Jersey native Jon Stewart weighing in on the controversy, and — at least until the next shoe drops — putting a period on the page.
Pretty amazing what we consider a scandal these days, isn’t it? Foolish statements, childlike behavior and political posturing? The real scandals — assaults to civil rights and justice, banking and lobbying fraud, ongoing environmental degradation and the like — don’t get the spotlight saved for the silliest, most insulting or downright salacious. Is this what happens when news becomes infotainment? It has to have some glitz and glamour to grab our attention?
And evidently these things have to go down easily, without effort. It takes too much time to stay informed and sort out facts vs. the fiction of scandals covered by slick salesmen waving ideological flags, obscuring the core issues and making cause harder to suss out. Meanwhile, truly dangerous attitudes, which should be considered scandalous by a civilized nation, all too often find sufficient cover from the fringe element to label as “normal” what most certainly is not.
Take, for instance, our current reluctance to extend federal unemployment insurance to the million plus standing at the very edge of disaster. To my mind, THAT is scandalous behavior from a nation that still qualifies as a superpower, one that is currently celebrating its financial “recovery.” Still, it can come as no surprise given our tendency, over the last few decades, to surrender the moral high ground in favor of commerce, capitalism and elitist greed. We’ve stood by helplessly as a cloud of misinformation and fear-mongering established a national policy of austerity that continues to limit our ability to reclaim a stable working class economy or offer relief to our poverty stricken brothers and sisters.
Me, I think many of us STILL can’t quite get an emotional handle on this level of nihilistic brutality, even as we watch it change our social landscape. A lot of us are becoming painfully aware of how personal this issue is. Urging the Congress toward an extension of benefits this week, Obama said, “I just want everybody to understand – this is not an abstraction. These are not statistics. These are your neighbors, your friends, your family members. It could at some point be any of us.”
Turning a blind eye and deaf ear, the minority party has little response to such a plea. But let’s be clear: there is nothing “normal” about this kind of cruel abandonment of our citizens or the refusal of policies that would turn around our listless economy.
Ironically, pushing austerity measures past the point of good sense or public approval comes at a time when the Center for Responsive Politics has reported that for the first time since ethics laws required financial disclosure of congressional members, more than half of seated legislators have been identified as millionaires. The harsh truth is, they couldn’t have gotten elected without money and position. Here in local politics, rule of thumb states that it takes “a million to run and more to win.” I was recently urged to run for office and I laughed and laughed. The difference between the working class and the ruling class can best be illustrated by bank balance. The working class is hungry in this country; the ruling class, never.
Such an attitude can be considered, in a word — as offered by Noam Chomsky — “savagery.” In a recent interview at Huffy, Chomsky ” … said that the congressional controversy over extending unemployment benefits is evidence that American politics has descended into madness. The refusal to provide very minimal living standards to people who are caught in this monstrosity — that’s just pure savagery, there’s no other word for it.”
Not only is austerity a heartless and selfish practice, but it’s mindlessly unaware, uncaring of the human desperation it’s creating. And although we’re seeing some idealistic folks begin to step up now, the old guard in leadership is routinely unimpressed by the suffering of their fellow citizens. Rather than allowing their own well-positioned financial situation to free them from the mundane constraints of acquiring “more” — free them to serve the public good — the congressional mainstream continues to consider those in poverty, the working poor and the struggling middle class the equivalent of deadbeats and loafers.
Worse, they won’t shut up about it. With off-the-scale arrogance, Rand Paul wants to teach the unemployed the “joy of work,” while Georgia Rep (and Senatorial candidate) Jack Kingston wants poor kids receiving subsidized school lunches to trade out janitorial chores to “instill a strong work ethic” in them (and single them out among their peers).
Despite the fact that there’s a minimum of three people applying for every job opening in America, the minority party continues to punish those fallen on hard times by belittling their character, offering them little or no assistance, and agreeing to toss a bone only if sufficient cuts to other vital programs are enacted. Further discussion of renewing the federal unemployment legislation passed through the Senate early in the week depends on the Dems’ willingness to offer up more crippling sequestration to cover costs, and there is surely no guarantee that upper-house agreements will convince a stonewalling lower house to take up the cause.
Economist Bob Reich recently blogged about the Pub determination to kill off decent wages, eliminate safety nets and isolate the poor, all to the benefit of the top one percent. Where, he asked, are the Dems in all this? Why aren’t they speaking up? A good many of us — including, I think, the 86 percent of American’s who believe government should continue to fight poverty — have taken note of the political ennui, including Chomsky:
Chomsky told HuffPost that corporate interests dominate the policy agenda of the Democratic Party, and cited conservative scholar Norm Ornstein’s observation that the Republican Party has “drifted off the spectrum” and no longer functions as a serious parliamentary entity.
“It used to be said years ago that the United States is a one-party state — the business party — with two factions, Democrats and Republicans,” Chomsky said. “That’s no longer true. It’s still a one-party state — the business party — but now it has only one faction. And it’s not Democrats, it’s moderate Republicans. The so-called New Democrats, who are the dominant force in the Democratic Party, are pretty much what used to be moderate Republicans a couple of decades ago. And the rest of the Republican Party has just drifted off the spectrum.”
Those of us on the progressive side of the political wheel need to make that evident to anyone willing to listen. Most people are aware, as Chomsky points out, of the Pubs falling off the edge of political sanity, and the nonsense about “equivalency” between the two parties’ outer edges has begun to fade, but the average citizen doesn’t understand how far the scale has tipped on the left. Education is the first order of business as we go about our day, dedicating ourselves to finding opportunities to communicate and educate.
We obviously can’t leave truth-telling to the politicians. The weight of poverty economics is on our side, as austerity touches everyone on some level. Although I rather doubt it, perhaps those with so much haven’t fully considered what they are creating with such wretched policy. This week I went out to the shed to get the weeks’ portion of meat from my little freezer and found it looted. Folks traditionally live close to the bone around here, but times are indeed tough when someone plunders as modest a household as my own.
When people are homeless and hungry, they do things they would not normally do, and it ain’t pretty. When jobs are scarce and help is hard to find, there aren’t as many options as there used to be. This isn’t the time to fold our hands on our laps and let things slip by, this is the time to speak out, loud and clear. This is a moment to come together to not only take care of one another, but to renew our dedication to LBJ’s War on Poverty, 50 years and counting.
In the United States of America — held hostage by tight-fisted, mean-spirited political morass and the unfettered greed of a savage new Gilded Age — the real scandal of our times is that we’ve come to this.