October 27, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity May Not Take Place

I’m a fan don’t get me wrong. Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s political takedowns through satiric jiu-jitsu have not just been rip-roaring but somewhat mission critical for many liberals and progressives. But I also think their planned Rally to Restore Sanity for this Saturday in DC requires all-too-little expectation adjustment. The fatal blind spot in Stewart’s Rally is not, as Timothy Noah from Slate fears, that it is too political (for Noah, the event potentially incurs a Tea Tantrum reaction from the right,) but rather that it shines blatantly of simulated politics. The event will simply be, in more Baudrillardean lingo, a “non-event” of mass proportions. It will gain media attention, of course. But it will more likely only confirm the political anemia afflicting thousands of activists who can somehow occasionally manage to muster up the energy and wherewithal to mobilize “the grassroots” only to articulate vague, sophomoric, and ultimately cowardly platitudes. (“I MAY DISAGREE WITH YOU BUT I’M PRETTY SURE YOU’RE NOT HITLER!”) As Daniel Denvir wrote last month,

“the Rally to Restore Sanity repeats the liberal establishment’s greatest error: when Republicans go on attack — either at home with lies or abroad with bombs — hunker down somewhere in the middle and plead for civility.”

Needless to say, it also repeats the flawed Hopeful strategy of Obama and the Democrats who have over the last two years conceded too much, too early, while foregoing more combative stances in policy and rhetoric against the GOP. (Prolly just a coincidence, you know the whole thing, something for the DVD extras.)    

Leaving aside the obvious question whether the planned turnout this Saturday could have been mobilized in a more politically effective way, say, on Wall St., (just think, “The Rally to Restore Responsibility,”) there is also the more glaring fallacy of false equivalencies which the rally is predicated on. As Rizvi Qureshi asks,

“Are partisan pundits, tea partiers, leftist activists, members of the House, and architects of GOP politics all equally lacking in sanity? These actors are all so disparate in their nature, power, and aspirations that Stewart's attempt to dub them all as a threat to the stability of the nation is puzzling, and appears to be more a product of his fatigue with American politics than a compelling grievance.”

Of course, one could imagine that the absolutely heee-larious “million moderate march” on Washington may help Democrats at the polls despite Stewart’s and Colbert’s silence on this explicitly partisan issue. But, as already reported, the rally may actually come to hurt the Democrats on election day by being a distraction. (Who knew!) More importantly, it must be said that what Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity will certainly not demonstrate to liberals and progressives is that a little mob rule, if coordinated and voiced the right way, can actually go a long way.

October 7, 2010

Citizens United v democracy

Corporate entities are not human beings: they do not eat, breathe, live, nor die. Neither do they have any overriding ethical or moral commitments. They are artificial constructs with only the legal mandate – their sole purpose of existence – to increase profit. What the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court effectively granted last January was the unlimited potential of corporations, whether they be General Motors, Fox News, Freedom Works, or labor unions, to spend as much money on elections as “they” choose.

Over the several months since the ruling was decided, as reported by NY Times, we have seen numerous small to medium size companies, “mainly on the Republican side…jumping in” to contribute huge sums of cash via various 501 organizations which enable them to do so without having to disclose individual donors. For example, $400,000 was given by American Financial Group directly to Karl Rove’s campaign spending group, American Crossroads GPS, a contribution that would not have been possible prior to Citizens United. And together, with its close affiliate American Crossroads which is not a 501, (and incidentally received 91% of $2.6 million from just three individuals in the month of August alone,) American Crossroads GPS is expected to spend more than $50 million this fall on elections.

Plutocracy works, sure. But if you think these efforts have been bi-partisan, think again. As reported by Politico, as of 9/24/2010, 

pro-Republican organizations had paid for a total of $23.6 million worth of ads compared to $4.8 million for Democratic-aligned groups. And it's only going to get worse: Over the next four weeks, GOP groups have $9.4 million worth of TV ads reserved across 40 districts compared to $1.3 million in five districts for Democratic groups.

“And the future?” asks Kevin Drum from Mother Jones. “Probably worse. Big publicly traded companies may still be staying on the sidelines this year to see how things shake out, but that's not likely to last.”

October 5, 2010

when “austerity” knocks

Think Progress reports on firefighters who allowed a house to burn down to the ground in ashes because the homeowner hadn’t paid the requisite $75 fee! It also reports on the near-universal support of conservative writers for the fire department’s position. Now, I love America as much as the next guy but this denial of public service privatization of public service is eerily similar to denying rationing basic medical care to a sick or needy person because of lack of insurance.

I suspect also that sitting idly by while such damages pile up does harm to the real economy as well since someone has to pay for these losses eventually, (i.e., given lost income, lost demand, lost property value, lost wages, etc.) The question left in abeyance however is who pays and who does not. Who gets their house saved and who doesn’t. Who is bailed out and who is not. Who is left to rot away and who not.

Rather than come out of everyone’s taxes and be paid for across the board as a basic public service to all, (that is, as service to all considered either as the protection from physical loss, from damage to property, or from the harmful effects of an macro-economic downturn,) the policy of treating the public as private customers who simply get what they deserve pay for  sabotages the very existence of a public, and, in effect, divides the populace into resentful classes: those few who pay for services and protections, like private security and health insurance, and those who do not.

It is no coincidence that the financial recovery of “the market” comes amid increased cutbacks for public services and social services. Public cutbacks on basic infrastructure through the virtues of “austerity” is kind of like rich folks all of a sudden discovering the virtues of clipping coupons  while the whole block is of fire. Does the US really want to creep further down the path of a “failed state”? 

Perhaps it can learn a thing or two from labor movements abroad.