It’s Worse Than You Realize

In my last post, I mentioned that the state of Massachusetts was #49 in job creation during Mitt Romney’s term as governor.  One of our readers was kind enough to provide some links to published articles and statistics showing just how much worse.  Note that these were written over four years ago by Romney’s home-state newspaper, the Boston Globe, not some flamer who only jumped into the fray this year.

In short, Romney’s argument that his business experiences means he knows how to create jobs as a state or national government executive has already been proved wrong.  The same is true of most of the Republican economic argument – it has been proved wrong repeatedly from Herbert Hoover on, but they are oblivious to those facts.

“All You Need To Know”

Anne Romney, the wife of GOP hopeful Mitt Romney, on Thursday insisted that she and her husband would not be giving voters any more information about their tax returns because they had “given all you people need to know.”

Oh sure, it was the wife of the candidate, not the candidate, who made that statement, but how different is it really from so many of Mitt Romney’s statements.  Statements that reflect an imperial attitude so natural that they don’t even realize it.

“All you need to know.”

“Let them eat cake.”

What’s the difference.

Righteousness is the usual hallmark of a scoundrel.

Simple fact: If Romney didn’t have something to hide in his past tax returns (like that he was still on the Bain payroll several years after he claims otherwise) – if he didn’t have something to LOSE by releasing them, he would release them. Can anything be more obvious?

And speaking of “simple facts”, here are a few more:

Simple fact: In the past 150 years, the Presidents with the most “business experience” were the WORST for the economy and jobs. Namely, Hoover and GW Bush.

Simple fact: Under Romney, Massachusetts was #49 in the nation in job creation.

Simple fact: Running a nation is not like running a business.  You can’t just layoff or divest the “unprofitable” divisions.

Simple fact: Four years ago, the economy was in free-fall.  Now it is improving, although it’s still an uphill struggle. Romney’s proposals equal returning to the GW Bush era.  How much simpler can it be?

Playing “Ain’t It Awful”

It was a long time ago – the 1960s – when I read the book “Games People Play” by Eric Berne and heard about “Ain’t It Awful.”  This was one of the earlier pop psychology books that was both easy to read and, at the same time, illuminated many of the patterns that we all follow in our daily lives.  These patterns were called “games” because indeed, they seemed to be group activities defined by specific, if unwritten, rules, and serving some purpose, even if not consciously understood.

Many people clearly recognized themselves in these descriptions, and I was certainly one.  One game that was very recognizable and quite pervasive was called “Ain’t It Awful”.  The classic example of this is where a bunch of employees sit around the water cooler or having a beer after work, and bitch about how screwed up the company is, how all the managers are clueless, how so many co-workers (none of whom are present) are morons, lazy, or corrupt, and so on.  This game can go on indefinitely, generally until it is time to return to the cube or go home.

Although a “game”, this is not one with a goal, nor one where there is a finish with a winner and loser.  It is simply a ritual that serves the moment, and indeed, no one walks away feeling like the loser.  On the contrary, this game allows the participants to feel some level of bonding around their shared experience of misery and frustration.  It may even allow participants to express anger in a way not tolerated in the normal work environment and so serve some useful purpose of briefly relieving tension.

Ultimately, however, it accomplishes nothing and leads to no improvement in the situation which is the context for the complaining.  The marvelous poet, Mary Oliver, said, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.”

It has been described it this way:  “People playing this game get to feel Right and Righteous, a step above those being ‘awfulized’.”  “There is the drama and attention that comes to the one who begins the game or who can ‘one-up’ the previous player.”

In short, it is a kind of drug that makes us feel better in the moment but does nothing to make our lives better in the long term.

Even worse, it has a long-term corrosive effect – where the addicts of the game come to believe that the scenario they spend their time discussing is the true reality and beyond possibility of redemption.

The media today has become dominated by “Ain’t It Awful.”  So has much of our political process and discourse, and it is irrelevant which came first.  They are feeding on each other, all for immediate gratification and with no attention on problem solving or working toward a resolution of the things about which they complain.

The media? It sells papers and gets viewers, listeners, and blog traffic. It pays the bills and keeps the lights on.  The right wing has made a full-blown career out of this for a decade or more, but the left is in the game too.  As with the original book, once the pattern is called to our attention, it is as clear as a 30-foot neon sign.  Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. are simply playing “Ain’t It Awful” all day long, day after day, and serving up the drug of Right and Righteousness to their audience – all without any hint of responsibility on the part of the listener.  No.  All the world’s troubles are somebody elses fault.

Bad as that may be, the entire Republican party seems to have joined in the game.  The self-styled “Tea Party” crew that swept on the scene a few years ago actually has nothing more to offer than strident rants about how awful everything is.  It is particularly pointless to mention that their party was in control of the Congress and the Executive branch for most of the 8 years preceding their epiphany that the country was on the short road to ruin.  Discussion with these people, from their presumptive nominee down, is only possible if you embrace the complete awfulness of the entire government and most of the changes (formerly called ‘progress’) in this country over the past 200 years.

So lest I be merely another player in a different cell of the “Ain’t It Awful” game, I will suggest that we start immediately focusing attention on those persons and those activities that are not mired in “Ain’t It Awful.”  Give support in whatever way possible – time, money, even just casual conversation – to the ways that our complex life and society can be managed and evolved for the better, and to the people who show an ability and commitment to that approach. Do not waste time on people who are trapped in “Ain’t It Awful” and who don’t even realize it.

One of the classic recommendations to people who have come to realize that they have been drawn in to these “Ain’t It Awful” games is simply to stop playing.  Refuse to play.  Just say, “this does not serve me or the larger world” and walk away. Walk away and find something positive to do. This is not a new idea.  As a very old saying put it, “Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”

The right direction, or the wrong one.

Four years ago, during the last presidential election cycle, one of the standard poll question was, “do you think the country is headed in the wrong direction”, and it was getting a substantial majority of “yes” votes.  The election of Barack Obama as President therefore seemed like a logical consequence.  Curiously, polls these days sometimes show a plurality of “yes” votes to that same question, even though, by any obvious measure, the country is going in the opposite direction it was 4 years ago.

Let’s consider some of the relevant “directions”:

  1. The direction of jobs and employment:
    Four years ago: DOWN. We were practically in a free-fall, even if we didn’t fully realize it.
    Now: UP, even if not as fast as we would like, but the direction has been reversed.  And another Great Depression did not occur. Do not take that for granted.
  2. The direction of the stock market:
    Four years ago: DOWN.  Substantial ‘crash’ events continued to happen throughout the year and into the next year.
    Now: UP.  The stock market has recently been chalking up highs not seen since 4+ years ago.
  3. Housing:
    Four years ago: DOWN. The mortgage market was in collapse and housing prices went into a freefall that we can only appreciate in retrospect.
    Now: UP. Even the hardest-hit markets like Phoenix are starting to see recovery.
  4. Industry:
    Four years ago: DOWN. The auto industry was facing bankruptcy.  Tens of thousand of jobs in the US were at stake.  The mere survival of GM and Chrysler were in question.
    Now: UP. The US auto industry has staged a miraculous comeback and is again a force to be reckoned with in the world market.  GM, Ford, and Chrysler are back as world-class competitors.  Detroit is looking at a renaissance.  I say this with a lump in my throat as someone who grew up in Detroit.  This likely would not have happened if the “let Detroit go bankrupt” people had had their way.  You know who I’m talking about.
  5. Social issues – gays, women, and the rest of us human beings.
    Four years ago: DOWN. We had “don’t ask, don’t tell”.  RU486 was banned.
    Now: UP. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been repealed.  The rights of women and men to choose birth control and, when necessary, abortion, is supported by the executive branch.
  6. Foreign wars:
    Four years ago: DOWN. We had gone into Afghanistan.  We had gone into Iraq based on fabricated evidence and outright lies. Exit from any of these was vague and uncertain.  One candidate for President that year said we should expect “a hundred years of war”.
    Now: UP. We are out of Iraq.  We have a timetable for exiting Afghanistan. We have started no new wars in foreign countries.
  7. American respect in the world:
    Four years ago: DOWN.  The contempt in which even our traditional European allies held us was barely concealed because of our arrogance in charging into Iraq and showing them so little respect.
    Now: UP. Respect for America is at an all-time high because we are working with our allies and are dealing with our competitors with respect and intelligence.  When action was needed in Libya, we participated in a multi-national effort that achieved the goal without turning the US into the arrogant intruder.
  8. Terrorism:
    Four years ago: DOWN.  We were still in shock from the attacks of 9/11/01.  We had abridged our own internal freedoms out of fear and using terrorism as an excuse. Osama bin Laden continued to taunt us with occasional rants distributed worldwide.
    Now: UP. bin Laden was apprehended and killed in a bold raid that showed to those who would plot harm to us that we do not forget, we do not give up, and we will eliminate such threats, no matter where they may be. Many other members of the core of al-qaeda have been eliminated and the organization is dysfunctional.
  9. Taking care of ourselves, our middle class, the poorer among us:
    Four years ago: DOWN. Nobody but the wealthy could feel comfortable or secure that the government had their interests at heart.
    Now: UP.  We have health care reform and financial reform which, despite all the lies and disinformation spread by political opponents, do support the 99% of us in having health care and in not becoming the collateral damage of the wheelings and dealings of bankers and Wall Street manipulators.
  10. National pride.
    Four years ago: DOWN.  We were seen as an aggressor in the world, charging around like a drunken cowboy with no appreciation or even awareness of much of the rest of the world.  We had squandered the worldwide sympathy that flowed to us after the 9/11/01 attacks by our arrogance, yet we still seemed like a weak and stumbling giant. Our industry was seen as failing.
    Now: UP. We have changed our actions, and with it the opinion of the world.  We are again seen as both a serious competitor and a fair partner.  In a symbolic yet powerful and meaningful moment in just this past week, the new tower being built at One World Trade Center, NYC, USA, became the tallest structure in New York.  “It is not given, it is taken.  We shall rise.” We are rising.  That is our direction.

So are we where we want to be? No. But are we moving in a direction to get there?  Well, look at the summary above.  What do you think?  The direction we are going is not the same as the place we are at.  It is not enough to say “change direction” because we don’t like where we are at.  We must look at our current direction and see if it is making us “better off than we were four years ago” and better off each of the next few years ahead.  And if someone says our current directions are wrong and we should change them all, we should look well at where those directions took us in the past decade.


The Question for Mitt

Mitt Romney keeps repeating the big lie that Obama is “in over his head” on the economy and that the Obama administration has “failed” on the economy. He has yet to say one single thing that he would do differently than the administration of George W. Bush, the policies of which got us into this hole in the first place. The question for Mitt from now to the election is, do you have any idea how the Bush policies lead to disaster, and what would you do differently? If you haven’t learned from history, you are doomed to repeat it. The country does not want someone who gives us a repeat of that experience.

The death penalty makes for an ugly society

[This was originally posted on January 27, 2006.  With the events of yesterday and recent days, I have decided to repost it.]

I used to favor the death penalty. I used to say it really was a deterrent because anyone who has received the death penalty cannot be released by some misguided parole board and commit more murder and mayhem.

I changed my mind.

I now oppose the death penalty in all cases. The reasons include many that I never hear discussed. That we should not “play God” is not one of my reasons. We play God all the time — including when we keep alive people who would otherwise die as well as when we kill people who would otherwise live. If we were to stop “playing God”, we would have to go back to the woods and live like deer and squirrels.

My reasons for opposing the death penalty include:

  1. People have been exonerated after 20 years or more in prison. While it is an intolerable injustice and tragedy that they were wrongly imprisoned, and that much of their life was in fact taken from them, at least they lived to know that their innocence had finally been recognized, and to return with the record cleared to whatever family and friends may still be around.
  2. Seeking the death penalty makes us an ugly society. It is really disgusting when a big case hits the news and everybody wants to know, will the prosecution seek the death penalty, and will they “WIN”. It is portrayed like a game that degrades us all. Sometimes the families of victims speak out about how they want the accused to die. I have compassion for these people but I wish they had somehow been taught a different way of thinking. As far as I can tell, even after an execution, the relatives never feel the ‘better’ that they expected.
    Sometimes, part of the game is, will the defense seek an “insanity” plea, and how that would be a “loss” for the prosecution. I disgaree. I say that when any accused wants to plead “insanity”, that plea should be accepted immediately and no trial need be held. The result is that the accused is removed from society until society decides they are able to return without posing a further threat. What else could we want?? It’s a life sentence if necessary. Call it “guilty but insane” instead of “not guilty by reason of insanity” if that makes anyone feel better.
  3. The death penalty costs us a lot of money as well as other intangible things. Appeals go on forever. Prosecutors spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money — your money — trying to “WIN” a capital punishment sentence. Tookie Williams sat on death row for about 25 years, and when the legal process finally ran its course, it could not cope with the fact that he had become a voice for non-violence and against gang warfare in the inner city communities. We killed a person who had found a way to do good even while in a maximum security prison.
  4. Death is too good a punishment for the crimes it is mandated for. OK, so I can’t eliminate the idea of punishment entirely from this equation. As a just society, we must show that people who commit crimes will be removed from society, possibly forever. I think it is better for someone who is guilty of a heinous crime to spend the rest of their life in jail thinking about it than to have the luxury of a quick death and a shot at martyrdom. There is no scientific evidence that the possibility of the death penalty vs. life imprisonment has the slightest deterrent effect on someone before they commit a crime. What does have an effect is a sense that justice is swift and truly just. The money we waste on the death penalty process could be put to much better use improving the quality of law enforcement and trial.

We disparage the ancient Romans for making a contest and spectator sport of killing in the Colosseum.  We have come a long way since then, but not far enough.  It is time we remove the ugliness of public executions from our own society.

Caution: Don’t Drink the Tea

So I’m overdue to catch up on what has happened in the past month.  Not much good, it seems.

  1. The US averted default, but otherwise the outcome was totally negative.  The process gave the world the idea, quite understandably, that the US government is dysfunctional and cannot be counted on to come in out of the rain. It kicked the can a few months down the road by putting us between a bigger rock and  a bigger hard place.
  2. There was an earthquake centered not far from Washing, DC, and a hurricane that knocked a fair amount of the of the northeast upside the head.  Michelle Bachmann says that was God’s message that Washington’s policies are wrong. Apparently, she has a direct phone line to God.  More on “theocrat” below.
  3. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who succeeded George W. Bush, jumped into the presidential race and almost immediately eclipsed Bachmann because he is even more radical and extreme.  One pundit characterized him as “George W. Bush without the charm.”  His previous book unequivocally puts him in the religious right camp, which is not all that far from the Nazis.  Think I’m exaggerating?  When someone paints gays and “moral relativists” as a danger to society, they are arming themselves with the ammunition to, uh, eliminate the “danger”, whatever it takes. Perry is also a theocrat, as in someone who espouses a theocracy – a religious state where the rules of one religion are the rules of society, whether or not literal adherence to that religion in name is required.  For him, it is like the First Amendment does not exist.  Or maybe it’s a Communist plot.  Don’t take my word for it, read his own book.
  4. The media continues to follow the above two tea preachers* as if they were credible candidates for any public office, let alone President of the United States.  People like this, who assert, among other bizarre beliefs, that evolution is wrong, deserve no more coverage than the current Communist Party candidate (if there is one) or the Flat-Earthers, with whom they are near cousins.

America today may have its challenges, but it remains the number one power on this earth.  We did not arrive at this place by clinging to medieval beliefs and mythologies. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights set forth an ideal that was way ahead of its time. It included that there shall be no law respecting an establishment of religion.  George Washington wrote at the time, “this is not a Christian country.”    Even though we fell short of that ideal in the early days of our nation, we have been evolving towards it, step by step, ever since.  It is still a shining star – the “city on a hill” – toward which we strive.

The Tea Party would have us reject and discard that ideal and the progress of at least the past century, if not more.  It is time we dump the Tea Partyers into the harbor along with their rancid tea.

* – “The Tea Preacher looked so baffled when I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest.”
— “Memphis Blues Again” – Bob Dylan

Somebody is in charge

As this is written, Congress continues to thrash and heave, supposedly working on a deal to avert a national default because the government will not have and cannot borrow money to pay the debts that Congress has previously authorized.  The latest reports suggest that the Democrats are about to accept a “compromise” that gives the Tea Party Republicans everything they want, and all they get in return is an increase in the debt ceiling through 2012.  Does no one notice that what President Obama and the Democrats “get” is something that should have happened routinely?

In other words, the Republicans created this crises by turning a routine procedure into a hostage situation, and now are about to achieve many, if not all, of their aims merely by freeing the hostage.  If this were being done by anybody but Congress, it would be a crime and the FBI would be all over it, ready to arrest the hostage takers.

The Republicans have won the PR battle.  Why?  Because, even though this crisis atmosphere is entirely of their creation, the approval rating of the President has fallen to a new low.

Apparently, much of the public has a one-dimensional brain. Loads of dire warnings in the news means the President is not doing his job well. The Republicans understand this.  As I wrote earlier, their strategy is to accept continued economic turmoil in order that Obama not be reelected.

It seems the Democrats don’t understand.  They have been amazingly quiet and docile these past few weeks.  They already gave up even insisting on a bit of additional revenue by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Do they look like leaders? No.  Obama told Speaker Boehner over a week ago to “lead”, referring to the unruly band of Tea Partiers that shot down an almost-done deal.  Well, the President needs to take his own advise.

Obama needs to knock some heads and lead. He should hold firm against all Republican tricks, and make sure the Senate does not pass anything but a bill with some sense of balance — new revenues as well as spending cuts. If that means there is no bill to raise the debt limit on Tuesday, he should raise it by executive order. Mark my words: his approval rating would go up 15 points overnight because he would be showing the country – finally – that somebody is in charge.

I was going to write, “somebody sane is in charge”, which would be true, but the public first needs somebody to be in charge. While there are strong partisans on each side, much of the middle isn’t sure who is right or wrong, they just want to see things getting fixed and getting better.  If that happens, Obama will be rewarded and reelected.  If it doesn’t, he will likely see the same fate as Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.  Now as then, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

An interesting legal analysis says that, in fact, the Supreme Court has already ruled that a President can not pick and choose which of the government’s bills to pay, understanding that all the bills are for expenditures previously authorized by Congress.  Therefore, this notion that, in a default, the President can direct the Treasurer which bills to pay and which to postpone or skip, has already been ruled unconstitutional.

That leaves the 14th Amendment as the presumptive authority for the President to order continued borrowing so as to assure that, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.” Of course, the House Republicans will likely throw a fit and even start impeachment proceedings.  So what.  They did it to Clinton, and his approval rating only improved as a result.

Speaking of Clinton, the former President said a few weeks ago that Obama should invoke the 14 Amendment, absent a reasonable bill from Congress. I hope Obama was listening.  FDR did many things that were just as bold.  We elected Barack Obama to lead for these four years, and it’s time for him to show clearly that somebody is, indeed, in charge.

Still True Today

It is amazing how relevant facts are completely forgotten or denied without challenge in the midst of political debates like the one we are now having.  All of the following are simple facts of history:

  1. President Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion budget deficit.
  2. Republican leaders supported the tax cuts and wars that (along with the recession, another pre-Obama phenomenon) created that deficit.
  3. Republicans engineered this crisis by attaching unprecedented ideological demands to a routine measure.
  4. President Clinton left behind a substantial surplus
  5. President Bush vaporized it into a gigantic deficit
  6. President Obama’s health care reforms will actually reduce the deficit.

For a further discussion, read Still True Today: Frequently Forgotten Facts of the Debt Debate.

It is said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.  Unless we can start remembering the history of just the past 10 years, we will likely repeat it in spades.

The Ultimate Outrage

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” Mitch McConnell said last year. In other words, defeating Obama in the next election is more important than jobs, the debt, or avoiding another economic meltdown. It is increasingly clear that Republicans don’t want prosperity or even gradual improvement in the economy, because that would help Obama be re-elected. They would rather have disaster if it can be blamed on Obama.

This is the ultimate outrage. Obviously each party will run candidates and try to beat an incumbent of the other party in the next election, but to declare that as the most important goal is a gross perversion of the political system.  If something is “most important”, then you spend your time and energy on it and sacrifice other things for it.  That is simply unacceptable if you hold an office where you have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect the general welfare of the country. That oath did not say “protect and defend the Republican Party”.

This is not the first time that Republicans have been so myopic as to start believing that they were exclusively qualified to hold high office and so could do “whatever it takes” to prevent the candidate of the other party from possibly winning. One of those times was in 1972 – the Watergate scandal. After it had all come crashing down, former Attorney General John Mitchell admitted, “We thought the danger from the other side was so great that we could not take a chance on them winning.” This kind of thinking is the antithesis of democracy and the Constitution and is what leads to dictatorship.

McConnell and the troop of Tea Party Republicans need to remember that Barack Obama was elected by the citizens of this country, the same as they were.  This means that they are under just as much of an obligation to work with him as he is to work with them.  If both sides act like the Tea Party fanatics, then you get what we have been seeing – stalemate and dysfunctional government.

And that brings us back to the original point: the Republicans in general appear happy to have dysfunctional government if it will cause Obama to lose the next presidential election, nearly a year and a half away. To describe this with the old cliche, “cutting off your nose to spite your face” would be woefully inadequate. Instead, how about: “Sinking the ship because you don’t like the captain.”

Over the years, I have never been a strict partisan. I have and still do disagree with some of the planks of the traditional Democratic platform. I used to find some things to agree with in the Republicanism of Eisenhower, Goldwater, and Reagan. I have to believe all of those Republican leaders would be turning over in their graves right now if they could see the sorry state their party has come to. They had their political positions, of course, but they accepted the basic premise of representative government that you work with and compromise with the other elected representatives to get the job done, and the job is always to do what is best for the country, not sacrifice it for imagined political gain.

The Republican Wreckage