May 21, 2009

Distinctions without a difference

Admittedly there is a fine line between a skeptic and a crank, and one sometimes finds oneself crossing it unawares, especially if you're in the semi-regular habit of blooging (my portmanteau word for blogging and boogeying at the same time - I haven't checked to see if Maureen Dowd has stolen it).  For example, those who still spend most of their free time (and that's mostly what they must have) perusing the Warren Commission Report for evidence of the Mother of All Coverups probably belong in the Tin Foil Hat Brigade.  But the line is not always clear.  For example, did the CIA introduce crack cocaine into the United States as a result of the work it did for the Contras? What did make building #7 at the World Trade Center fall down on September 11, when no plane actually struck it?

You can't always tell what's really going on.  In the heyday of the Soviet Union, no sane, ordinary citizen of that country ever believed anything the government said; if it was published in Pravda, that was all the proof needed that it was an Official Lie.  The government could lie all the time because there was no effective competing party or group - the Commies controlled everything, the organs of government, the organs of the media.  If the citizenry didn't like them, it didn't matter.

I think some of these elements have taken root in the American system, and the germ of the idea, for me, resulted from reading Dmitry Orlov's writing on American politics.  He lived through the final years of the Soviet state and witnessed its collapse.  What he says about the U.S. is that we now have two Center-Right Parties which no longer have to respond to the actual needs of the citizenry.  There certainly are differences between the Democrats and Republicans and trivializing those differences is a mistake.  The problem is that the differences between the parties are not significant enough to make any real difference in the lives of ordinary Americans, and the ordinary citizen has no one else to vote for.  In effect, the so-called Two Party System has morphed into something akin to the PRC in Mexico during its long tenure of one-party rule, or similar to the Communist Party in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1991.

Take one of my favorite examples, the Crime of the Century by which Congress stole the Social Security Trust Fund.  This was a $2.5 trillion heist.  There is no serious argument that anything else happened; in the early 1980's, Congress foresaw, or at least pretended to see, that the massive retirements of the Baby Boom generation starting meant that the system would be insolvent unless FICA taxes were raised to create a trust fund of real money to make up for the short-fall in revenue caused by the retirements and the consequent drain on the system.  Congress took these large annual surpluses and spent them as part of general revenue, replacing the stolen money with Special Issue Treasury Notes, that is, IOUs.  This year the Social Security surplus is down to $3 billion; in better years, in the 1990s, it was closer to $200 billion.  So you don't need to be a swami to see that the inflows are about to become insufficient to pay the outflows, especially as we shed jobs at the rate of 500,000 per month and the Baby Boomers are now drawing on Social Security in increasing numbers.

If Barack Obama were really, really honest, in the old fashioned sense of that word (that is, a commitment to telling the real truth), he would stop with the civil liberties speeches for awhile and explain what happened to the trust fund in just the terms I used above.  Because that's what happned.  He would not talk about "reform" of Social Security (as Bush did before him), or means-testing or raising the cap on FICA taxes to bring in more money or reducing benefits.  He would lay it all out, the actual truth about what Democrats and Republicans did with the money, and then trace where the surpluses were spent, which was on defense.  He would then honestly discuss the excesses of the defense and security budgets, and the costs of fighting these constant wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, and tell us that since that's where the money went, that's where he's going to get it back.  He would place the ultimate Sacred Cow on the altar of politics: the Defense Budget.

He won't do that.  He won't do it because, fundamentally, he's part of the system.  Calling foul on his co-conspirators in government, the operatives of the Democratic and Republican Parties, just isn't done.  It makes them all look bad.  So instead he will spend his time telling us why indefinite preventive detention (the hallmark of tyranny, according to Thomas Jefferson) is actually okay, and that it's better to conceal the truth and suppress photographs than to be honest about what we've done, because, again, it makes us all look bad.

And never a word about why the security of our retired senior citizens who depend on Social Security has been imperiled because of Congressional malfeasance and criminality, and never a word of explanation as to why we need to spend more on defense and security than the rest of the world (and all our "enemies" included) combined.  If there is actually a difference between that approach and the lies of Official Truth, I would be curious to know what it is and why the distinction matters.  I don't see it.  I don't see it in this "landmark" credit card bill the Senate is currently congratulating itself for, the elimination of a lot of dumb upticks in rates because of late payments, et cetera.  And yet Congress never addressed the actual means by which the banks fleece the naive and financially unsophisticated - the ridiculous, usurious rates charged by credit card companies in the first place.  25 to 30%?  Can Vito parked in the black car across the street cut you a better deal?  

Congress won't touch that because they don't work for you, and they don't work for you because they don't have to anymore. You want the batshit crazy Republicans or the corrupt Democrats?  Up to you, but don't say you didn't have a choice.

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