Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

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“Who controls the past controls the future.”

March 7, 2017

Today, Dr. Ben Carson, the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, jaw-droppingly said this:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The reaction has been swift, incredulous, and mocking. Slaves weren’t immigrants, WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND:  SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISMpursuing the American Dream. They weren’t working “harder for less,” they were considered to be PROPERTY, they were allowed none of the opportunity, none of the freedom, that this country prides itself on. Slavery was not pursuit of the American Dream. Slavery was our original sin, the great stain on our national conscience, an abomination. How could anyone, much less a black neurosurgeon, say something so ridiculously wrong?!?

But while I get people’s dismay, I just do not get the shock. This isn’t Ben Carson being an idiot. This is Ben Carson repeating a Republican talking point that’s been gaining momentum for years. A couple of years ago, Texas approved textbooks that referred to slaves as immigrants. Last year, when Michelle Obama dared mention that the White House was built by slaves, Bill O’Reilly rushed to claim that those slaves were well-fed and well-housed; contemporary accounts say that that was absolutely not the case, but regardless, it’s the same toxic suggestion that slavery wasn’t that bad. That it was alright, if slaves were well cared for. The argument that somehow the realities of slavery – being bought and sold at auction, ripped from your children, beaten, raped, denied the right to learn, denied basic bodily autonomy, denied your own name, being forced to labor and denied any compensation – could be made okay, as long as we believe the slaves were housed and fed adequately.

I used to think it was guilt that drove some people to sugarcoat the horror of slavery, guilt and an unhealthy dose of “American Exceptionalism” taken to an extreme (if America did it, it can’t be that bad). But now I feel differently.

None of this is accidental. There’s diversion, there’s obfuscation, and there’s a constant, relentless attack on reality, on science, on history, and on our capacity for outrage. As Stephen Colbert once joked, “Truth has a well-known liberal bias” – which is exactly why the GOP is trying to destroy our understanding of what is true. None of this can be laughed off, because it builds over time, until all of the parameters have changed while we were standing still.

16996196_1288946147879217_1699203292099169521_nCarson didn’t misspeak, any more than Trump misspoke when he said “You think we’re so innocent?” Carson is taking this argument and making it mainstream, to make us more accepting of the unacceptable. The hyperwealthy would love openly legalized slavery. Already, all of us own things that were made by prison labor in our booming for-profit detention centers, by undocumented people who are exploited for next to nothing, or by slave labor around the world. An economy that only serves the wealthiest depends on slavery. The Trump administration, and the GOP controlled Congress, are only interested in making the rich richer, and to that end, they are interested in warping our past, so that we aren’t outraged when it becomes our present, and our future. If they can convince us that slaves were living the American Dream, they might convince us that children in ICE custody harvesting tomatoes are lucky, because they’re housed and fed. Constant Vigilance, my friends. Never laugh so hard at the idiocy that you don’t see it’s part of their agenda, that they are trying to rewrite our reality.

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In Which I <3 Joe Biden

October 16, 2012

Again under the wire, and again my two cents are that everything you’ve heard about the most recent debate is missing the point. In this case, ever since the Veep debate ended, the dueling narratives have been Joe Biden Spanked Paul Ryan Like a Red-Headed Stepchild versus Joe Biden was Incredibly Rude, Disrespectful, and Possibly Insane. The first is much closer to the truth, but it’s not an analysis so much as it’s a gut reaction. Did I cheer Biden during the debate? YES. Did I do goofy fist-pumps when Biden explained that Afghan troops would be defending the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan? INDUBITABLY. Did I clap like Brendan Fraser at the Golden Globes when Biden looked straight in the camera to address senior citizens about Medicare?

HELL YES

But that was my initial reaction, as a Democrat and a Biden fangirl – and it probably wasn’t the way undecided voters saw things. No, what’s been missing from the analysis is analysis. No one is talking about what was actually said, and that’s a damn shame. The Vice President is well-regarded for his ability to speak the language of the middle class, of the average American – but what he says in that language shows that his brain is anything but average.

Joe Biden has been in politics almost my entire life, but it’s only been in the past few years that I recognized what an amazing gift he is to this country. Way back in December 2007, when I was already heavily involved in the Obama campaign despite being weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, I gathered with the other Obama faithful to watch one of the endless pre-season debates. One question asked about toxic paint found on children’s toys manufactured in China. One by one, the candidates – including my candidate – spoke powerfully about the need to amend our trade policy and our laws to ensure that this Never Happened Again. But when it was Biden’s turn, he exasperatedly pointed out that those provisions were already part of our trade agreements with China, and had been for decades. The laws were on the books; we just weren’t willing to fully fund the agencies that would inspect those goods and enforce those laws. I fell a little in love with him. Question after question, he knew everything about everything. He knew exactly what the applicable laws were. He knew exactly where the problems lay. He understood every foreign conflict they threw his way. And he was passionate and articulate and profoundly knowledgeable in precisely that way that doesn’t necessarily give the soundbites our news and our brains expect. I could easily imagine a news story about that debate which would frame his answer on the Chinese toys question as simply, “Obama, Clinton advocate tougher sanctions for Chinese Poison Toys; Biden says current laws are enough.” And you know what? Biden would still answer exactly the same.

I was thrilled when Obama chose him as his running mate, because what better counter to Obama’s cool detachment than Biden’s infectious warmth? And what better counterweight to Obama’s then-slim resume, than the man who knows everything about everything?

And yet, the man who knows everything about everything is strangely pilloried for gaffes, as if he were too dumb to know better. Biden’s “gaffes” are almost always full of unvarnished truth, profound understanding of the realities on the ground, and a whole, emotional engagement with the fate of this country. They  reflect just how passionate he is about making this country a better place. We aren’t used to our politicians emoting quite that much, because we aren’t used to our politicians genuinely caring that much. Earlier in the president’s term, Biden famously congratulated Obama on signing the Affordable Care Act by saying, “This is a big fucking deal!” You know what? IT WAS A BIG FUCKING DEAL. In a town of phonies and hyper-cautious calculators, Biden stands out simply because he still has human reactions.

Joe Biden was apparently rude and “disrespectful” to Eddie Haskell Paul Ryan because he actually, y’know, reacted to the words coming out of Ryan’s mouth. He smiled. He did double-takes. He shook his head. And he laughed when he heard the ridiculous lies that fall so easily from Ryan’s lips. Apparently, THIS look, this frozen smirk that shows the wearer has completely checked out mentally, is the “polite” way to listen in Washington:

But Biden can’t do that. Won’t do that. Shouldn’t do that. It’s a stupid thing to do, first of all, this “I know I’m on tv so I will betray no emotion other than polite (dis)interest.” But beyond that, what’s wrong with laughing at laughable lies?

We’re so bad at history in this country that no one seems to remember that Biden ran for President decades ago, and had a very good chance of winning the nomination. In 1987, he was raising money hand-over-fist. His speeches were fiery and well-received. And then, at the Iowa State Fair, he gave a speech, parts of which were modeled on a speech by an Irish leader. He’d given the speech many times, always citing Kinnock as his inspiration – but in the Iowa State Fair speech, he forgot to give Kinnock credit… and his campaign was effectively over. He had plaguerized, they said, he could not be trusted. It seems quaint, now, the idea that not citing your sources might besmirch your reputation for honesty, that this might be enough to make you unelectable. The GOP ticket has been running a post-truth campaign for months, lying again and again about the President’s record, about Obamacare and Medicare, and even about their own positions. And yet they are within reach of the White House. No one is suggesting Paul Ryan is unfit to serve because he lies, or that Romney, once caught in a falsehood, should’ve left the race. It hardly seems fair that Biden was once forced out of a race for a simple mistake that undermined his credibility, while Romney/Ryan may coast to the White House on wave of bullshit and the audacity of hype. Of course Biden laughed. This is ridiculous.

The Veep came out blazing on Thursday. His beautiful, nuanced answers put Paul Ryan’s facile platitudes to shame. Biden was asked why we don’t intervene in Syria’s revolution as we did in Libya’s. We don’t, he said, because they are very different countries – and then Biden told us exactly how they differ, and how that impacts our course. Ryan only spoke vaguely of not appearing “weak,” and tossed in the word “Iran” a couple of times. On Afghanistan, Ryan tried to argue that we were pulling troops out of the most dangerous regions – and Biden pounded home the reality that those troops are being replaced by Afghan troops, and point-blank demanded to know whether Ryan was saying we should place American troops in greater danger than their Afghan replacements. He explained and championed the Democratic policies on Medicare and Social Security, and held Ryan’s feet to the fire on the way his budget would effect the middle class and the poor. Every answer Biden gave was nuanced and detailed, while Ryan’s were nothing but empty platitudes. And that’s what analysts should have been talking about this week… but they weren’t.

Since the debate, Fox and the right have been going hard after Biden for his lack of “respect.” Fox News even showcased an “expert” to suggest that Biden’s behavior – which was exactly like all of Biden’s public behavior for the past 40 years – indicates that he either suffers from dementia or was drunk. It’s not just the guests, either – Mike Huckabee and Sean Hannity also claimed that Biden was an “obnoxious drunk” during the debate. Because of a family history with alcoholism, Joe Biden is a well-known teetotaler, but that is how sick these people are. They will defame a good man, a faithful public servant, and a brilliant mind, just to deflect attention from the truth of what he said. He beat them, and so they are trying to destroy his reputation. It shouldn’t be surprising – these are the same asshats who have slandered the President as an illegitimate, communist, socialist, fascist dictator out to destroy America, a radical Muslim extremist collaborating with our most violent enemies to destroy our country. If they can pin all of that on the POTUS, surely they can comfortably smear the elected Vice President of the United States as a demented old drunk.

But it does beg the question: how can they keep a straight face as they suggest that Biden’s the one who’s being “disrespectful”?

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Let Them Eat Cake! In the Ambulance! (The Problem with Romney’s Money, part 2)

September 27, 2012

I said in my last post that Mitt Romney’s wealth doesn’t disqualify him from the presidency, but that his attitude about his wealth, and the way he has let it shape his world view, are real problems. Not only does Romney have an incredible sense of entitlement, and a blindness to the privileges that have made his success possible, he also seems completely oblivious to the way ordinary Americans live.

A leader has the capacity of vision, the ability to see where things are headed before people in general see those things. That vision is typically a product, in part not just of their skill and brilliance, but even more of their experience, their life experience. And so if you’re looking for a leader to guide an economy, you hope that you have someone who didn’t just study it in school, but someone who’s actually lived in the economy.

That’s Mitt Romney, making a fine case against a Romney presidency on 60 Minutes. Romney’s great privilege has made his life experience so unlike that of most Americans, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is that he has risen to his party nomination for POTUS without showing any curiosity about how it is that most Americans live. This has led to some amazingly tone-deaf pronouncements from the candidate. “I like to fire people.” If you can’t afford college, “borrow money from your parents.” From the 60 Minutes interview, his plan for middle class tax relief – “eliminating the tax for middle-income families on interest, dividends, and capital gains” – as if these were even on the radar for most of us. And of course this gem:

Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance, people — we — if someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and — and die. We — we pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care.

Oh. My. Lord. There really is not one single issue on which he can relate to people of average income, is there? Forget policy – forget that everyone knows that emergency room care is the least cost effective way to provide care for those without insurance. Forget that people without insurance don’t just have heart attacks – they get little things like strep throat that can become much worse things if untreated, but are a terrible use of ER resources. Forget, if you can, that a lot of people have serious medical issues – cancer comes to mind – that cannot be treated with in an emergency room visit. Forget, for a moment, that our hypothetical heart attack victim probably had hypothetical hypertension for years, and that if she had insurance she would have been treating her blood pressure and would not now need a $1,000 ambulance ride and several additional thousands of dollars in ER bills – in fact she’d never know that today was the day she would’ve had a heart attack. Instead, remember this:

Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis.

She has been under a doctor’s care for 14 years, and is almost certainly on a host of prescription medications to manage her condition. If she had been uninsured, she would not have been able to get insurance until Obamacare passed. If Obamacare is repealed, thousands of people diagnosed with MS will not be able to afford treatment, unless they bankrupt themselves paying for it out of pocket and become sufficiently poor to qualify for Medicaid. But even knowing all of that, Mitt Romney is determined to repeal it.

Speaking of Ann, she gave a lovely speech at the RNC about the idyllic poverty of the Romneys’ student days as a young married couple living off the sale of stock. Sawhorse tables and tuna and macaroni and cheese. See, she was saying, we know your struggle. We’ve lived it. But they never did. All the milk-crate furniture in the world doesn’t mean you know what struggling is – because poverty isn’t crazy-quilt carpeting or Hamburger Helper. Poverty is FEAR. The fear that comes from knowing you have no cushion, no safety net, no one you know who is in a position to help you. Poverty is having your wife diagnosed with MS and knowing you cannot help her because neither of your full-time jobs provides health insurance. Poverty is your kid having strep throat and missing school for a whole week instead of 2 days because you can’t afford the doctor. Poverty is knowing there’s a heart attack with your name on it, and no way to afford preventative care.  And far far too many Americans have lived with that fear. Not just the “very poor” Romney doesn’t concern himself with. Not just the 47% it is “not [his] job to worry about.” Far too many middle class Americans have inadequate or non-existent health insurance, and know that a serious illness would bankrupt them. And that is a condition that Willard Mitt Romney simply cannot fathom, and has never tried to comprehend – even when serious illness came to the woman he loves. Fear. Uncertainty. That’s what it means to “live in the economy,” Mitt. And you haven’t.