Friday, July 29, 2011

A Wrong That Must Be Righted

By R.A. Monaco
July 29, 2011

As the world's currency, the United States has already stepped off the cliff towards financial disaster. It will be the sudden stop that brings the pain of this reality home, not the fall--we are already falling. This fact is masked only by cop-out news reporting and a media that portrays modern American politics as having two parties that share blame equally while failing to expose wrong for being wrong. In short, the media has done Americans no favor and this, too, is a wrong that must be righted.

The failure of our news media is itself a problem because it rewarded the extremists tactics that reflect nothing more than political self interests. The good in all this is understanding what is happening in these moments where the economic future of the entire nation is being blackmailed by GOP extremism. This fabricated predicament highlights a fundamental conflict of interests that exists within our current election campaign finance structure.

Clearly, it has been shown that carrying out the agenda of prospective election campaign finance supporters is more important to politicians than the well being of our nation which is thundering towards recession and creating even more job uncertainty while serving to further sabotage an already tenuous economic recovery.

While the budget deficit is a serious problem it is not an immediate one. Failing to put the debt ceiling in a priority perspective has already damaged and continues to undermine our economy. Creating a debt ceiling crisis is deliberate sabotage. It's certainly not too over-the-top to use the word treason when you think about what is driving this agenda. Let's not mix words--what has taken place is a media responsibility. Wrong is wrong, say it! Nothing in this debt is about compromise or the best interests of America.

The fact is that Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage and undermined the essential business of government to leverage a partisan agenda that would never have been enacted through legislation. How is it that our media headlines don't say those very words and why isn't this being explained? The malice intended by the manufacture of a debt ceiling crisis can be inferred and should be explained in terms that reflects truth--not fabrication of failed compromises.

Let us understand that the interests being served here are not those of voters. The fact is that there is no downside for outrageous policies. Significant damage has already been caused to our economy in part because our news media continually fails to say and explain exactly who to fault and why.

One would expect that government dialogue and partisan debate would center on things like, "what policies have succeeded before and are most likely to lead to the best life for the largest number of people?" The media treats this uncertainty as being equal when this is not at all the case. We know that, when it comes to economics, a market economy with significant government roles has been the only proven successful model. Where is the media--say it!

We also know that the government has promised more benefits than it can currently afford while the sum of all the revenue collected by the Treasury today totals just 14.8% of our gross domestic product, the lowest in about 50 years. Yet, the republican agenda continues to advocate for corporate tax avoidance while seeking a tax holiday for corporations who keep their revenue outside the U S. and are allowed to continue to plunder our markets without tax accountability or social responsibility. The problem here is that, while there are a great many things that we don't know, our political system is not even trying to find solutions. More simply said, the GOP is transparently creating issues for their next campaign at the expense of voters.

We live in a political environment when prosecuting Roger Clemens for purportedly obstructing Congress is more important than holding Wall Street scoundrels accountable for the harm they created or Bank of American accountable for forging documentation to foreclose on American homes. Too often, our political system is distracted and preoccupied with self interests. Only in America would a want-to-be politician like Meg Whitman, for example, spend $140 million dollars of her own money to be elected to a job that pays less than $250 thousand per year--why? Not much imagination is required.

We do have politicians like Bernie Saunders who scold their legislative brethren, but few listen simply because the best interests of Americans are not even on their political radar. These days, nothing is more important to politicians than getting funding for the next elections cycle--when voters will once again listen to empty promises and our news media will fail to call a wrong, a wrong.

When does the media start to take aim at the fact that what has happened in Washington isn't about policy but only about making Obama look bad. When are Republicans held accountable for placing a priority on making Obama a political loser over the interests of the nation? That is the job of the news media yet they continually present these as issues of failed compromise.

Never in history has it been more difficult or necessary for Americans to have individual critical thinking and evaluation skills because for the most part, they're on their own in sorting through the mess that the news media seems to ignore or maybe not understand. These days news reports have established a practice of splitting-the-baby, so to speak, instead of informing the public--wisdom is not at the center of this tragedy. On that same note, it has taken Obama far too long to wrap his head around that, if in fact he has yet.

After exploring all alternative options, America may do the right thing but the price has already been far too high and more of the same seems a guarantee. Our economy is weak and getting weaker, growth was slow and is slowing, unemployment is rising sharply and
instead of coming up with policies to strengthen our economy we are being ignored while extremist politicians are being allowed to create another epic self inflicted economic blunder.

Adding a requiement for a balanced budget amendment is even more reckless than the current political debt ceiling antics. Consitutional amendment by extortion is clearly an indication of need for change. Unfortunately, 2012 elections offers no real hope because without election finance reform that would align the interest of voters with that of their elected representatives more of the same is guaranteed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bad Things Often Start Irresponsibly

By R.A. Monaco
July 14, 2011

Bad things often start-out with irresponsibility and the prosecution of Roger Clemens is no exception. Certainly political gain, not economic sense or sound policy, could not have been what was at the core of the congressional investigation of drugs in professional baseball. Does that seem too cynical? Not hardly when the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walks out of meetings on the business of the nation with the vice president of the United States.

Clearly, Americans were not aware that it was Roger Clemens who is obstructing Congress—who else could be preventing Congress from solving the nation’s economic problems? Certainly those young people, who Congress claims to be concerned about, would never confuse cheating in baseball with political subterfuge. Politicians would never employ media strategies to influence public sentiments or distract focus and attention away from the economic collapse, criminal securities dealers, money laundering mortgage companies and foreclosure fraud by robo-signing banks that’ve been bailed out at the expense of the American public through the legitimate purpose of Congress.

Never mind that we’ve seen irresponsible tax cuts for the rich, started wars and bailed out Wall Street--Congress had important business at hand. According to Assistant United States Attorney Steven Durham, who is prosecuting baseball star Roger Clemens, it was the legitimate purpose of Congress to have hearings to protect young people from “dangerous drugs and dangerous influences” in professional baseball.

Now, if those young people who Congress claims to have so much concern had never heard, or knew anything about performance enhancing drugs, they surely do now thanks to the “legitimate purpose” of congressional politicians.

At the expense of the American public and in the face of heated debate about the nation’s debt ceiling, the United States District Court must now sort out whether Roger Clemens or his trainer is telling the truth. Really, I’d like to put that to a vote. It is not as if the integrity of Congress is at stake—they have none.

To make a determination of innocence or guilt the jury will have to decide whether Clemens was acting “corruptly” with an improper purpose intending to obstruct the proper exercise of the power of congressional inquiry. Shouldn’t that be decided as an issue of fact and not judicial conclusion? Would a jury decide that those Congressional hearings had a legitimate purpose?

For the Jury to make that determination the Judge would have to define uncertainty for the jury. Let there be no confusion about Roger Clemens intending to protect the image of Major League Baseball, its Hall of Fame, the Cy Young Award, Commissioner Bud Selig or his fellow teammates, from the likes of Jose Canseco, whose tell all book was certainly of the highest purpose, and Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee whose purpose is surely even higher.

While the nation’s unemployment rate continues to climb and corporate lobbyists seek another tax holiday the timing for distraction couldn't be better. Bar no expense, we’ve already paid for 103 people in law enforcement, 5 lawyers and 72 investigation locations to get to the bottom of whether Clemens or his trainer is telling the truth about an issue that violated no law and wasn’t even formally within the MLB collective bargaining agreement during the time that Clemens had played.

Oh, let’s not forget the expense of all those Congressional politicians and their aides, staffs and certainly not the cost of the Judge, clerks, bailiffs and court personnel that were involved in the trial that has now been declared a mistrial and will again be an expense in the next trial. We must protect those young people—the real question is from whom?

Friday, July 1, 2011

All We Want for Christmas is Our Two Front Teeth

By R.A. Monaco
July 1, 2011

Most Americans will remember the melody, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, my two front teeth..." Well, going into the 2012 elections, mouthpieces for an ardent corporate plutocracy are likely to pour an obscene sum of money into telling the nation that, that's just too much to ask, especially if they're the front teeth of a progressive idea.

Nevertheless, I'm going to write my Christmas "wish list" and suggest that Americans, whether they celebrate Christmas or not, ask for some useful and meaningful gifts this election year, not just for themselves but for everyone of us. Let me start by asking for a grassroots rally of support to overturn Citizens United--the Supreme Court decision that constitutionalized corporate plutocracy. A ruling that perverted, in totality, the ideals of our democracy by permitting corporations to spend any amount they want on electioneering propaganda.

Add to my list, public funding for all elections--eliminating the inherent conflicts of interest that prospective and elected representatives can no longer ethically balance against the public's interests. Include a gift of free air time for political candidates as a public resource--which will help to neutralize the outlandish linguistic silencing of substantive claims and political discourse.

Please don't forget to put a heap of transparency on campaign funding, underneath where the Christmas tree once stood, that would reveal and shame those corporate CEOs who're perverting our democracy. And, if it's not too much to ask, generally bring America's elections back to the people. Oh, and if you can, throw in impeaching a Supreme Court justice or two--that would be just fine by me.

That certainly wasn't the longest list of wishes written over the years but, for Americans, it is a list that is far longer than we're likely to realize this side of the North Pole, absent a real grassroots campaign that focuses on seriously needed structural changes on campaign finance reform upon which our democracy now depends. That's right, depends. I'll explain.

Let's begin by talking about the truly dangerous mechanisms and linguistic strategies that are undermining truth and, in effect, silencing substantive debate and political discourse. At this moment, America is at the threshold of what will be a deluge of unlimited and unreported corporate spending strategically intended to finance what scholars refer to as Speech Act--the outlandish claims that will be made about public figures and progressive ideas intended only to undermine the public's trust so that nothing that is said can be taken at face value.

The significance of Speech Act politics as a tool can be illuminated by way of reflection from some brief moments in the 1952 presidential campaign between candidates Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. Louis Cowan, a television producer who later became President of CBS, was concerned about Stevenson's failure to adapt to the techniques of radio and television so he devised a strategy during the convention to flash the camera onto the three sons of Stevenson with the young Adlai agreeing to touch his father lightly on the back and say "Good luck, dad," to show something warm and that he was a family man. At the last minute, Cowan's conscience began to bother him and he told Stevenson about the plan. "Lou, old boy," said the first Democratic candidate for President in the television age, "we don't do things like that in our family."

On the other side of the campaign trail, Eisenhower was being tutored by a young staff aide named David Schoenbrun. Schoenbrun, who was attempting to convince the General of the merits of radio was asked, "Do you realize how frightening this really is?" Ike would question, "What's to stop a demagogue from taking over?" "Who's to set the limits on it?" "What are the controls?"

Clearly, their mutual concern was the possibility of dangerous people taking over these mediums and exploiting them. A concern that was accurately foreseen and fully realized to an even a darker extent, thanks to a divided 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that ignored over a hundred years of precedent.

The very nature of Constitutional decisions are rooted in fundamental social concepts about liberty and property. They are, by definition, political. Now, when the Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of social policies their rulings are seen as partisan ideology which undermines the court's legitimacy. Particularly when Justices fail to respect the appearance of impropriety or make themselves accountable to a code of conduct as was once the practice and, always paramount to former Chief Justice Earl Warren.

While we might wish that pundits or politicians like Eric Cantor, John Boehner or Mitchell McConnell might engage in the reality of our political discourse, it seems few Americans have come to recognize and understand that's no longer possible or a reality. Their public posturing is not truly about making substantive claims but, rather, that they individually are playing a role of silencing--a linguistic strategy for stealing the voices of political discourse.

We've only to read the recent news reports about the debt ceiling deadline to see some clear examples. Most notably, for example, Eric Cantor who clearly used a premeditated speech act to oppose "anything the 'Kenyan socialist' president might propose" were his words repeated in the Washington Post, June 28th by line of Katrina venden Heuvel. By referring to our President as a "Kenyan socialist", Mr. Cantor revealed that his clear purpose was not to engage in a debate about truth. The more bizarre, improbable and twisted the innuendo, the more likely that his meaning will be misappropriated.

If we take more time to compare the news reports of Congressional Republicans with those of Democrats and the President we'll clearly see that Republicans continually refer to increasing taxes or new taxes as a component of the democratic proposal when what is really being proposed and discussed is ending tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Those are not new techniques in the arsenal of political posturing. But what Americans hear is more taxes, more spending, again and again. Those are speech acts or linguistic tactics specifically intended to undermine truth in the debate.

John Boehner was quoted by the New York Times as saying, "The American people know tax hikes destroy jobs." More speech act tactics which are not about making substantive claims. They are clearly intended to dramatize the debate and undermine the political discourse. Does John Boehner's statement really mean that ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies, hedge funds and closing corporate tax loopholes is going to put even more of us out of work and further fuel wage deflation?

Mitch McConnell in a speech Wednesday said, "It's about whether Washington will ever be held accountable for its mistakes. That's why Republicans refuse to let the taxpayers take the hit when it comes to reducing the debt." Is there really truth in that debate? Which taxpayers is he really talking about--the corporations who will fund his campaign and those whose tax rate is lower than the guy outside mowing the lawn? Insincerity is another form of speech act. What Americans need to understand is that its true purpose serves solely to silence truth and the voices of reasoned debate.

If the President and Congressional Democrats are repeatedly called irresponsible by corporations who can spend any amount they want on electioneering propaganda coordinated in step with the likes of the House Speaker, House Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader, then voters will be less willing to believe anything being said by the President or Congressional Democrats.

On the other hand, by trying to protect all federal spending except defense, Congressional Democrats are guaranteeing that many of their most important plans will be in jeopardy. Programs that award college scholarships, finance the National Weather Service and medical research, and improve food safety, for example.

The challenge for individual Americans over the months to follow is seeing through the deceptive agendas and the secretly financed campaign fronts whose funding comes by way of executive expropriation of corporate shareholders money that is being spent, usually without their consent, to make negative and false attacks and not to engage in honest political debate.

It surely is being argued and insisted that Democrats, too, are free to spend unlimited amounts in secretly funded campaign strategies and therefore elections are on a fair and level playing field. But the democratic system becomes far too weighted by the access to unfathomable corporate treasuries which Conservatives are able draw upon and the fact that progressives don't believe in clandestine campaign funding.

There is a mountain to be climbed which voters are unlikely to fully appreciate and which the President needed to make more clear, which is, that even in the financial straits in which the country currently finds itself, more help for the economy is still needed. Specifically, political support is needed to extend a reduction for payroll taxes and provide loans for infrastructure which has the benefit of providing an important exponential return benefit. The President's reminder that our economic recovery will take time doesn't fully drive home the fact that the broader measure of unemployment is almost 20 percent depending on which segment of the population or region of the country is measured.

The true measure of the success of the stimulus is not the actual level of unemployment, but what unemployment would have been without the stimulus. According to Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, all evidence showed that the stimulus had made things better. In his opinion, the benefits of the stimulus are so strong that it outweighs the longer-term risks of indebtedness increases and higher interest demands of creditors which is why the debt ceiling debate is such an irresponsible Republican ploy.

It becomes very hard to argue against the conclusion that Republicans have moved from merely rooting for a bad economy to actively committing to making it worse when one thinks carefully about how irresponsible the threat to blow up the economy over the debt limit truly is.

Try to think in these terms as you work through the bizarre political dialogue on the economy--if another round of stimulus money were spent on investments, those adverse effects of concern are less likely to occur because markets should realize that the United States is actually in a stronger economic position as a result of the additional stimulus, not a weaker position. If the stimulus spending is for investment, then the asset side of the nation's balance sheet increases in tandem with the liabilities and there is no reason for lenders to be worried, and no reason for an increase in interests rates.

The big issue raised last year by economist Joseph Stiglitz, who believed that the initial stimulus was insufficiently strong enough, was whether the government would continue to provide a stimulus should the economy fail to achieve a robust recovery after its first dose of medicine, as is the current state of our economy?

Americans need to add to their Christmas "wish list" a second dose of stimulus funding and open our eyes to the irresponsible partisan agenda of the deficit hawks in Congress urging a cutback in government spending until our economy returns to and maintains stronger growth. The interests and voices of the public must not fall silent to extremist ideology and a vengeful partisanship agenda. We can each remain true to our political affiliations, republicans and democrats alike, and fix what is wrong with our democracy by granting ourselves the grassroots support to make election reform and the changes needed part of our list of wishes for restored democracy.