Jun 252012
 

Bizarro Obama

Electoral politics is a game of contrasting values and ideas. It requires that a candidate present a compelling argument explaining why they’re the best person for the job. But what’s a person to do if they’re up against a superior opponent, one who bests them in nearly every category? The answer is simple and obvious, provided you can get away with it — just run against somebody else.

That is exactly the tack that Mitt Romney has taken against President Obama. Mr. Romney, who has the personality of a pet rock and has been “severely” on both sides of every issue, finds himself facing a smart, articulate, and charismatic leader with a pretty damn good record, especially when given due credit for circumstance. Couple the obvious nature of a values versus return-on-value / man versus robot matchup, with the impact of Romney’s well-deserved mantle as Champion of the One-percent, and you’ve got a situation that screams for creative remedy.

So, instead of running against President Obama, the Romney campaign is running from him. According to Romney, the person he’s up against is an anti-business, anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs socialist who’s bent on penalizing success, apologizing for the US, and raising taxes on working Americans. Romney’s opponent doesn’t care about the deficit or debt, is weak on using military force and responsible for higher gas prices. He’s made the economy worse, “stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history,” and believes thatAmerica’s greatness is a thing of the past.

Who is this person Mitt Romney’s campaigning against? It’s obviously not President Obama. No, the opponent who Romney has chosen to mount an attack against is a fictitious character; he’s a Bizarro World version of  President Obama — he’s BizarrObama.

As it was in Dell comic’s Bizarro World of Htrae (Earth spelled backward), Romney’s fictitious opponent is categorically the opposite of the actual President Obama in every way. Where the President has promoted investment, and actually signed 18 tax cuts for small business, BizarrObama is anti-investment and anti-business. Where President Obama has approved fewer new regulations than President Bush and proposed a sweeping jobs plan, the American Jobs Act, his Bizarro World counterpart “hasn’t put forth a plan to get us working again” and is anti-growth and anti-jobs.

Willard M. Romney has repeatedly stated that President Obama has “made [the economy] worse.” But again, he must be referring to BizarrObama, because things have improved considerably under the real President. The economy was in freefall when President Obama took office; we were hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs per month in January 2009, but his efforts quickly slowed the bleeding and led to the past 27 months of private sector job growth. On the investment side, somehow the Dow that fell to just 6,626 before the President finished moving into the White House has climbed to 12,649 today. And in the wake of the largest economic disaster since the Great Depression, by late 2010, corporations were recording record profits and sitting on $2 trillion in cash. But Romney says this is “worse?” Could it be that the Mittster is referring to the Bizarro-economy — where worse actually means better and better is worse?

Possibly the most glaring evidence of Romney’s fixation with the fictitious world of Htrae are his statements about the President and the federal debt. According to Willard, the debt “will keep growing under this president” and will be “passed on to young people.” He’s likened Obama’s economic policy to a prairie fire, a “debt and spending inferno.” Yet since the 2009 budget, which was developed and signed by George W. Bush, federal spending has increased very little. It actually went down by 1.7% in 2010, up about 4% in 2011, and is expected to rise less than 1% this year. And that spending includes the much maligned Stimulus, which is credited by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for adding as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increasing employment by 3.3 million jobs.

All told, while the numbers are historically large, the debt has actually grown at a much slower rate under President Obama than under either George W. Bush or Republican hero, Ronald Reagan. The true “debt and spending inferno” actually occurred under Reagan, who was responsible for nearly tripling the debt, and the prairie fire that more than doubled it again blazed under GW’s tight fiscal control. If this GOP leadership is to define the standard, then the less than 50% increase under Obama is more a “simmer” than the type of out-of-control burn characterized by the Romnibot. Of course, in the world of Willard, where Bizarro bonds are “guaranteed to loose money for you,” I suppose this might all make sense.

But here on planet Earth, where the real President Obama has never “apologized for America,” has been exceedingly strong on national defense (often to the dismay of much of his base), and no president has control over gas prices, even when domestic drilling increases under their watch, as it has with Obama — slowing the increase in debt is a good thing. And it certainly does not square with Romney’s claim that “Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history.”

The truth be told, here, where the planet is blue, not the sun, we don’t hate beauty, better is better, and when a presidential administration cuts income taxes for 95% of working families and cuts payroll taxes for all working Americans — in contrast with Romney claims, they did “lower taxes for the middle class.” And when that same administration proposes a rule to end the free ride where the richest few pay tax rates far below that of the middle class, the vast majority are in support, and only Willard and those like him who save Mittloads of cash under the rigged system are against it.

Indeed, every time Mitt Romney opens his mouth, it’s virtually certain that some distorted contrary version of reality will escape his lips. It’s almost as if he believes the 99% to actually be the 1% and vice-versa. Fortunately, there may be a simple explanation for Romney’s confusion. Be it in his defense of Citizens United, his calm assertion that “corporations are people, my friend,” or his mockery of the President’s call to protect firemen, police and teachers, Mitt Romney always appears to think that the American people are with him. The question is — which American people . . . those here on Earth, or those on a cube-shaped planet orbiting a blue sun?

In case anyone might think this is all conjecture, perhaps a little something straight from the horse’s mouth will help: while at a campaign event in Virginiain May, Romney was asked what he would do about the economy. His response is quite revealing: “What I would do? People ask me, ‘What would you do to get the economy going?’ and I say, ‘Well look at what the president’s done and do the opposite.” Now, the core tenet of the Bizarro Code being “Us do opposite of all Earthly things,” is alarming enough, but when you consider that the opposite of what President Obama has done is another GOP directed financial crisis, and you understand that on Htrae it’s a “big crime to make anything perfect” . . . well, draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps this is all just a wild attempt to explain the strange behavior of Willard M. Romney. But most people would agree it’s a bit odd to “like being able to fire people,” more than a little rude to criticize cookies offered by a gracious host, downright bizarre to strap a dog to the roof of a car, and a multimillionaire quipping that he too is “unemployed” is funny as a rubber crutch. With Romney, the issues are much deeper than those of the average selfish Mitthead.

If not some weird connection with a fictitious world, what is it that explains the Willard? Why does his laugh seem so canned, his smile seem so plastic? How can anybody be so stiff, so robotic? What is it that makes you want to smack the Mitt out of Romney? So little of what the man says having any basis in reality, an impartial observer who’s unwilling to accept the Bizarro is forced into a more mundane conclusion — that Romney is just another out-of-touch, psychopathic rich guy who happens to also be a pathological liar.


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Apr 282012
 
A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of...

A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and stalwart champion of education for all Americans, made clear the need for a knowledgeable electorate. He warned us, that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.” He explained that there is “no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves,” and clearly stated the requisite condition for that depository, “Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to raise any argument against what Jefferson said on the matter. People simply cannot expect to make informed decisions if they are not well informed. Taken in this light, the stated mission of Americans for Prosperity, “educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process,” is in perfect alignment with, not only one of our nation’s most revered patriots, but also with the common sense of every American.

In performance of their mission, Americans for Prosperity, commonly referred to as AFP, launched their latest educational effort this past Thursday. Their campaign to “educate” Americans on “wasteful spending” is centered on a one minute video that will air in eight states, from Florida to Michigan toNew Mexico. According to AFP, the ad will “scrutinize wasteful use of taxpayer dollars,” and “hold President Obama accountable” — objectives sure to make Thomas Jefferson proud.

The AFP ad gets right down to business, opening with “Washington promised to create American jobs, if we passed their stimulus, but that’s not what happened.” It then presents the “FACT” to backup their claim — a quantum leap to “Billions spent on green energy,” that went to “jobs in foreign countries.” But wait a minute . . . their argument is that  the stimulus was $831 billion that didn’t create American jobs, and then they attempt to substantiate the claim with a Washington Times article about green energy?

Why the non sequitur? Can use of a formal fallacy to support an assertion really be viewed as an effective means of “educating citizens?” Obviously not; which means there’s likely a hidden agenda, but let’s not jump to conclusions.

What about the claim that the stimulus didn’t help with American jobs? According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the stimulus added as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increased domestic employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs. Mark Zandi, former economic advisor to John McCain, took issue with Republican claims on the matter and stated that, “Without the stimulus spending, instead of a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, we’d have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate.”

Okay, so the ad gets off to a bad start, making false claims about the stimulus, but what about those “billions” creating jobs overseas?

According to AFP, citing the same Washington Times article, “The Obama administration admitted the truth, that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas.” The graphic says, “$2.3 billion to jobs in foreign countries.” And the Times article states:

“The Department of Energy estimated that 82,000 jobs have been created and has acknowledged that as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States.”

More clear “educational” content? Uh huh.

The $2.3 billion cited by both the Times and AFP, according to Russ Choma, the investigative journalist upon whose work the Times article was based, came from a 48C credit program that was launched specifically to create US manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technology. The money helped to fund domestic projects, and the credits were given out based on the number of domestic jobs to be created.

That said, there were stimulus funds spent through an entirely different program that did send significant funds to foreign companies. Mr. Choma’s original piece, in the Investigative Reporting Workshop, addressed issues regarding stimulus Section 1603 grants of up to 30% of the investment for renewable energy production capacity brought online by the end of 2010.

Choma’s investigative work concluded that a whopping $2.38 billion of the grant money went to foreign developers. Of course, the nature of the grant did ensure that $2.33 of private money was invested in domestic infrastructure for every $1 of federal funding. The real issue was lack of American manufacturing capacity, which was being simultaneously addressed through the 48C program, but not quickly enough. Due to lack of domestic capacity, only 46% of the $4.4 billion spent on wind farms went to domestic companies.

The interesting point, with respect to the AFP ad, is that through all of Choma’s work, he stated that just exactly where jobs were created was a bit murky. There are around 8,000 parts in the average windmill, and the supply chains are complex. Some foreign companies have domestic facilities and vice versa. Choma stated that “We simply don’t know where all of the parts were made,” and he was forced to conclude, “I can’t say how many of the turbines built by American manufacturers were overseas, and how many of the turbines built by foreign manufacturers were built here.”

So, why would an ad ostensibly created to “educate,” be so convoluted and misleading? Perhaps because the form of “education” intended isn’t the kind Thomas Jefferson had in mind. Maybe the goal isn’t a knowledgeable electorate at all, but perhaps a manipulated one.

After briefly associating the “green” foreign expenditures with “13 Million unemployed back home,” the video moves to $1.2 billion given to a “solar company that’s building a plant . . . in Mexico.” It is true that the money went to a solar company, one that’s based in Silicon Valley, CA. It’s even true that SunPower had plans to build a plant in Mexicali, but the $1.2 billion DOE loan guarantee was to build a plant in San Luis Obispo County.

Clever wording? Absolutely! A person viewing the AFP ad will naturally put 2 and 2 together and wind up with $1.2 . . . billion going to Mexico. But education? Maybe as a euphemism for pure propaganda.

From Mexico, the AFP ad travels quickly to where “Half a billion” went to an electric car company that “created hundreds of jobs” — in Finland. The company in question is Fisker Automotive, a California-based carmaker, and they did get $529 million in loan guarantees. The money was spent on engineering and design work in the US, but again because of lack of domestic capacity, the original manufacturing of the Fisker Karma will happen in Finland. According to the ABC News piece cited in the AFP ad, the company has plans to build “tens of thousands” of their Fisker Nina sedans at the old GM plant they purchased in Delaware. But it appears that company “plans” can only be used to smear a solar investment, not to defend a loan for electric cars.

AFP’s world tour of “wasteful spending” turns to Asia next, with claims of “Tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights . . . in China.” The sums of money continuing to decline with each successive story line, AFP piques the viewer’s interest by invoking the spectre of the Red mennace. This particular claim is linked to $6.3 billion in stimulus funds given to cities and states to increase energy efficiency. The number cited, “tens of millions,” is necessarily vague, because nobody knows how much money went to China. What is known is that AFP’s wording isn’t as clever as that used with the Mexicali solar plant, since the signals were actually “built” in the US. Yet money for parts did go overseas, with some going to China, but once again the issue was the lack of domestic capacity — a lack that will never be addressed unless investment is made here — the very investment being spurred by the stimulus.

What’s telling is that all of the facts regarding the Fisker car loan and the traffic light issue were included in the articles AFP cited in their ad. If they had read the Pittsburgh Tribune piece, and had the desire to actually “educate,” they could have created a video that informed the public and left people to draw their own conclusions. But that was and is far from the goal of Americans for Prosperity.

The AFP ad closes with the accusation that President Obama “wasted $34 billion on risky investments . . . the result — failure.” The ad doesn’t state where that number comes from, although it matches the $34.7 billion total for the Section 1705 stimulus program to invest in renewables, power transmission and biofuels. The problem is that the reference doesn’t fit the narrative, as most all of the money was kept in the US, and with regard to “failure,” the DOE credits the program with creating 60,000 jobs. Of course, AFP does cite a supporting article, a piece in Investors Business Daily. It’s too bad all the report offers, besides yet another rip at the Solyndra deal, is an opinionated critique focused on how electric cars sales are lower then expected.

So, unless “education” is accomplished by feeding people jumbled up garbage intended to manipulate their understanding of a given situation, the AFP ad has nothing to do with the organization’s stated mission and everything to do with forwarding the political agenda that they’re forbidden to have as a tax-exempt non-profit.

The truth is that this should be no surprise for anyone familiar with AFP. They are clearly a front organization for Koch Industries, and their mission is to increase Koch profits in any way they can. The Koch fortune owing largely to the oil business, they’re dead set against anything “green.”

AFP, like Koch, is relentless in their efforts to bring down President Obama, keep America on the oil teat, destroy labor unions, and muddy every issue from climate change to tobacco and healthcare. They don’t care how deceptive their tactics or dishonest their statements. They do have a mission though — and if their latest ad is any indication — it’s not to “educate” but rather to keep citizens as ignorant as possible about economic policy.

Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in his grave.


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Apr 072012
 

The Sorcerer

Once upon a time in a land not far away there lived a mighty people. Together they worked, and everyone shared in the fruits of their labor. Life in their nation wasn’t perfect; there was inequality, but no matter a person’s station in life, as the nation prospered, so did they all. A sense of shared purpose united the people, and it seemed that nothing could stop their collective pursuit of a better life for one and all.

Sadly, one day trouble came to this prosperous land. The people still worked as hard as ever, but regardless of their toil and labor, the irresistible force of their combined will had come to meet an immovable object. The engines that drove their economy, the mightiest in the history of their world, had come to be chained to the whim of foreign kings.

It was the good fortune of the people that a man of unwavering faith and strength of character had been elected to lead them. Without regard for his own lot, the leader spoke to the people candidly. He shared the truth of their situation. Open and honest were his words; he warned them that they were at a crossroads, that there was only one path forward to true freedom. He sounded the alarm over their growing dependency on other nations, but he also shared his vision for the future. He called on all of the people to join together, to face their problems and embrace their common destiny.

The people understood that the road would be hard, that sacrifice was needed and more effort would be required of everyone. Only with a united public could the challenges be met. The nation was ready to rally behind their leader, but another man, a man of celebrity, would offer an alternative.

His voice was calming, and his words were clear; there was no need for sacrifice, he proclaimed. Dependency on foreign kings wasn’t the problem — the trusted leader and his oppressive institutions were at fault.

Beleaguered and struggling from before the trusted leader came to power, the people were eager for better days. Their very identity as a nation had become threatened, their confidence shaken. The words of the challenger fell like sweet music upon their ears.

The challenger stood tall. Strong and sure of himself, his scripted appeals hypnotized all who listened. He summoned the people to look back and recall the pride of their mighty nation. He assured them that the path directed by the trusted leader was the path to ruin, that the leader was soft and would surely bring them no good. He offered to relieve them of the hard choices expressed by the wise leader, to release them from the bonds of his “oppressive regime.” Prosperity was their birthright, he said, for they were truly exceptional and deserving. They could be certain that his was the superior path, for it promised resurgent glory, and did so without sacrifice.

Like those of days gone by who crowded around medicine shows, seeking miracle tonics and magic elixirs, the people were swept up by the promise of an easier, yet more rewarding path. The people believed the challenger would deliver the bright future he promised. They could see it already glimmering in the distance. With smooth talk and a calming voice, he had mesmerized the masses and cast his glimmer spell upon them. The people were unable to resist, and with arms wide open, they welcomed the Glimmer Man, overwhelmingly rejecting the trusted leader and refusing his sage advice.

Three decades and nearly two years have passed since that fateful day in November of 1980. The mighty nation was, of course, the USA. The trusted leader was Jimmy Carter, and the Glimmer Man was none other than Ronald Wilson Reagan.

It was July 15,1979 when President Carter gave his now famous “Malaise” speech. The nation had been struggling with increasing dependence on foreign oil for two decades, hitting a tipping point when domestic oil production peaked in 1970. Our energy independence gone, our nation was held hostage, first by the Arab nations that cut off our oil supply in 1973, and then again during the Iranian Revolution in 1979 — this time not only closing the oil spigot but literally holding 52 Americans hostage. By the time of Carter’s speech, nearly half the oil consumed in the US had to be imported.

Our long post-war economic expansion had faltered; the unity that had so tightly bonded Americans had been lost in the bloody rice patties ofVietnam, and our rose-colored glasses, spotted by the assassinations of the 1960s, were shattered by Watergate in 1972. We saw our first trade deficit in 1971 and began an unending series of such deficits in 1976. Inflation soared to double-digits, as did the prime interest rate. Wages were stagnating, and for the first time in our history, people believed the future would be worse than the past. Americans were desperate for a victory, for some light at the end of the tunnel, for anything resembling good news.

But Carter didn’t have good news to share; he offered instead a choice between two paths: one focused on self-interest, and the other on common purpose. He presented the unadulterated facts of our situation, labeling energy dependency a “clear and present danger,” and warned that to ignore this truth was “a certain route to failure,” one that promised a “mistaken idea of freedom.”

President Carter shared an alternative that he claimed would lead to “real freedom.” He called Americans to “seize control again of our common destiny” and advocated doing so by first solving our energy problems. Carter set forth bold steps in his energy policy. He called for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, for investment in public transportation, to build energy conservation into our homes, and to reach a goal of 20% solar power by the year 2000. Most importantly, the President’s speech was a call to arms on the “battlefield of energy,” where every act of conservation would be “an act of patriotism.”

Ronald Reagan, former actor, both theatrical and political, appeared on the scene with a quite different, and highly attractive, alternative for the American people: he would cut taxes while also balancing the budget and simultaneously address energy dependence without conservation. According to Reagan, oil production was the answer to our energy woes, and high taxes the cause of our economic problems. Reagan raised high the specter of the dark Soviet empire, painted Carter to be a weak leader, and sold the American people on the notion that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”

Telling the public exactly what they wanted to hear, Reagan easily won a popular majority, of which this author, a Democrat, was a member.

As president, he wasted no time attacking “the problem.” He moved to quickly implement the economic policies that his primary opponent and general election running mate, George H.W. Bush, had referred to as “voodoo economics.” Claiming that tax cuts for top income earners would “trickle down” for everyone else, Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 would cut the top marginal tax rate by 20% and drop the capital gains tax to 20% — the lowest level since the Hoover administration.

The net effect on federal revenues was a reduction of $268 billion over the next three years — as a share of GDP, the single largest cut in American history. In Reagan’s own words, he was treating the federal government like an “extravagant kid” who needed his parents to “cut his allowance.” By  Reagan’s second term, the “extravagant kid” prescription had become the signature political strategy of movement conservatism. Known as “starve the beast,” the plan would deprive government of revenue, which would then force spending cuts and the defunding of social programs.

Following a series of limited tax increases from 1982 through 1985, Reagan wielded his tax axe again during his second term. His Tax Reform Act of 1986 also earned it’s place in history as the only legislation, before or since, to simultaneously drop the top tax rate (from 50% to 28%) and raise the rate for the lowest income earners (from 11% to 15%). Not only was the beast to be starved, but so were millions of working Americans.

Unwavering in his faith in “trickle down economics,” Reagan was relentless in his support of the wealthy. Tax advantage was only one side of the ledger. Once the president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he was eventually pressured out of office in response to his pro-management positions, Reagan would wage a full scale war on labor during his presidency. Not only did he freeze the minimum wage and deal the most destructive blow ever delivered to American unions, when he fired 13,000 air traffic controllers in 1981, but he effectively changed the NLRB into an “Employer Relations Board” when he stacked the 5-member panel with a majority of management representation.

Of course, had the Reagan tax cuts been accompanied by corresponding cuts in spending, the American public might have been more aware of the toll taken by Reagan’s anti-labor polices.  But contrary to conservative myth, Reagan was as much spendthrift as tax slasher. He did cut funding for many social programs, including food stamps, education and the EPA. He hacked Medicaid and slashed federal assistance to local governments by 60%. But overall, Reagan was anything but fiscally conservative. During his two terms, federal spending would average 22.4% of GDP, well above the 40-year average of 20.7%, and the federal debt would swell to nearly $3 trillion, effectively tripling under Reagan’s fiscal leadership.

In retrospect, it’s rather obvious why so many people revere Ronald Reagan as such a great leader. With the entire nation suffering from some sort of collective amnesia regarding his record on the debt, what else could be expected when a president slashes taxes and simultaneously pumps trillions of dollars of federal stimulus into the economy? This is not to diminish his foreign policy record, where among other achievements, he must be given credit for his part in ending the Cold War.  But the real magic of the Reagan presidency came from his innate ability to capture the imagination of the American people, to lull them into believing what he wanted them to believe, regardless of the reality — with masterful stagecraft, to cast a spell and breathe life into an alternate reality that never really existed.

The harsh truth of Reagan’s legacy is that while the American people were under his spell, his actual handiwork was the crafting of a new form of politics that used the public’s natural patriotism and belief in the work ethic to gain the blind support of working people while giving all benefit to only the wealthiest among us.

Reagan appealed to our national vanity with his incantation of American exceptionalism, but did nothing to help the average citizen share in the prosperity. He nearly silenced the voice of organized labor, the movement that brought us the 40-hour workweek, the minimum wage and workplace safety. He abandoned Carter’s energy policy, the last to be adopted by any administration, and as a result relinquished control of our energy future to OPEC and other foreign nations. He put the pedal to the metal on military spending, skewed tax policy to advantage the rich, and tilted the economic playing field to such an extent that, as a nation, we may never recover.

All of what’s happened in the three decades since Reagan was elected cannot be blamed solely on his policies, but it goes without question that he is the creator-in-chief of the paradigm that made it all possible. He won election by contradicting the sage advice of Jimmy Carter and convincing the American people that no sacrifice would be needed, so long as we dealt with our “problems.” And then he did everything in his power to divert attention from both his budget deficits and the real “problem” — parasites of American wealth who use their influence to rig banking, trade and tax policy.

By conjuring up fictitious culprits, like his famous Cadillac-driving welfare queens, Reagan was able to sell a large segment of the populace on the notion that our economic woes were the result of lazy, untrustworthy miscreants, living large on the public dole. Sadly, the predisposition of many conservatives was justified by Reagan’s own messaging, and this particular blame-game became a form of muffled racism. Expressed mostly through dog whistle politics, the finger was pointed at all “others” — minorities of any stripe. It was this form of deceit that planted the fertile ground of economic hardship with the seeds of radical division that continue to grow today. Job losses, stagnant wages and a diminishing standard of living weren’t the fault of  profit seeking elites exploiting people and planet; it was all the fault of  “big government” supporting lazy loafers who milked the system.

In the time since Reagan was first elected, America has grown increasingly divided. With half of the population still under the Glimmer Man’s spell, believing that it isn’t poverty that’s “the problem” — it’s the poor, the scales continue to tip further and further in favor of the rich, and the toll is paid increasingly by working Americans, mostly by the vanishing middle class. Since 1979, two-thirds of all income gains have gone to the Top 1%. That exclusive group, which accounted for only 9% of all income in 1976, now rakes in a full 24% and claims more financial wealth than the bottom 95%. Meanwhile median household has remained essentially flat, and the United States has taken its place amongst the most economically unequal nations on the planet — worse than even Iran and China.

Is this unhealthy for an economy? Absolutely. When wealth becomes so overly concentrated, the middle class has insufficient funds to provide the demand for the goods and services that are essential for a consumer economy. Without sufficient demand, companies cut back, jobs are lost, demand weakens further, and the cycle repeats itself — a self-reinforcing death spiral without a bottom. If not for our serial economic bubbles, where lack of income was relieved with ever-increasing borrowing and debt, conservative voters might have been awakened from that glimmer spell cast all those long years ago. But such has not been the case. The bubbles have served to conceal the dire straits our nation must now navigate.

Following 30 years of shared prosperity, the Reagan era ushered in the age of extraction, where the rich get filthy rich and everyone else struggles to make ends meet. Ronald Reagan made the national debt a major campaign issue when he ran against Jimmy Carter —America needed a conservative to address this pressing issue. Yet, once elected, Reagan tripled the debt, and today it sits at over $15 trillion.

Carter warned us that we had to deal with dependency on foreign oil and set goals for energy efficiency and the implementation of wind and solar power. Reagan scuttled all plans for alternatives, and today we still import half of the oil we consume, while the planet sits at the precipice of global peak oil (the point at which total world oil resources go into terminal decline). The US has been without an energy policy since Carter, and today we waste nearly 60% of all energy produced through inefficiency, and we generate a whopping 4% of what we consume from wind, solar, hydro and geothermal combined.

Ronald Reagan may have ridden into Washington on a white horse, but what he was peddling was nothing more than snake oil. He sent us down the path Carter called “a certain route to failure,” and more than 30 years later, we’re still steaming full speed ahead into the abyss.

Three decades of blind support of business and dismantling of government has severely tilted the playing field and rigged the game against the average American. It was rigged banking that allowed Wall St. to bleed the American people for trillions of dollars of wealth. Rigged trade permitted the multinational corporations to send millions of jobs overseas. Rigged tax policy continually subsidizes the largest industries, requiring many to pay no income tax at all, and further enables massive concentration of wealth and power. Rigged elections ensure that the interests of the rich and powerful are always put in front of the wellbeing of our nation as a whole, and an increasingly rigged judiciary makes damn sure that the voice of average Americans is silenced.

As a result, our infrastructure is in disrepair and our education system is unable to meet our needs. Healthcare spending amounts to 17% of GDP,  with costs at more than double the OECD average and continuing to soar. Unemployment is still at rates almost unseen since the Great Depression. The debt is over $15 trillion. Upward mobility has been all but comepletely lost. Our unfunded liabilities are in the tens of trillions of dollars. We seem to be permanently at war. Gas prices are at $4 per gallon, and we have no solution for our energy problems.

Could this be the “mistaken idea of freedom” that Jimmy Carter warned us about?

One thing is certain: it’s hard to see how we could be worse off today had we listened to Carter’s sage advice. The issues that now plague our nation are reaching epidemic proportions, yet we’ve  become so polarized as a people that we’re entirely unable to work together in seeking real solutions. Discussion and analysis of our problems with the intent of identifying solutions isn’t even part of the conversation. We have become trapped in a partisan world controlled by the extremes, where positions are argued, but principles and values are trampled into the muddied ground of an ideological battlefield.

This division is the true legacy of the Reagan presidency. Where we were previously united in our efforts and earnestly sought after the common good, the Reagan doctrine taught that fragmentation and self-interest were appropriate responses to the issues we face. Win/win, shared properity, and an end to poverty were replaced with winners and losers, extraction and exploitation, Social Darwinism, and the survival of the most ruthless. Reagan gave those who needed someone to blame a target for their ire — anyone who’s different — and in so doing, drove an iron wedge into the American body politic.

Like a family that can’t deal with it’s problems, we’ve become a dysfunctional society. And as is typically the case, our dysfunction is rooted in our inability to effectively communicate. If we are to avoid further disaster, we must once again come together as a people, and the only way that happens is when we commit to an equal balance of inquiry and advocacy. We have to listen as well as speak, because it’s the only way to understand, and the only route to respecting our neighbors position is through understanding their perspective.

It’s time to be honest about the problems we face, time to stop arguing and start working together. It’s time to break the Glimmer Man’s spell, and in the words of Jimmy Carter, “seize control of our common destiny.” Most importantly, it’s time we recognize the greatest lie Reagan ever told: that “government is the problem.” The truth is that government is what we make it.

Government is the framework of rules we agree to live by and the vehicle with which we can achieve the otherwise impossible. Government is not “the problem” — the problem is broken government, and We the People are the solution.

The United States of America was founded on the principle of unity and of embracing the common good. “E pluribus unum” — out of many, one. This is the true source of our greatness. To the extent that we deviate from this principle, we work toward our own demise. We are the greatest nation in the history of our planet, but in order to remain great, we must sacrifice self-interest and embrace our common purpose, for this is the nature of true patriotism.


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