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American Sins Against Socrates September 27, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Uncategorized.
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David Schneider laments our lack of self-reflection:

I’ll give one thing to the demagogues – they sure know something about basic human psychology. For those of us waterboarded by the economy, we’re close to Depression desperation. It’s a commonplace that depression is “anger focused inward”; and the cheap-and-easy way out, if you’re too cash-strapped for the shrink or the meds, is to displace that anger outward to the nearest, easiest target.

O America, if there’s anything we suck at, it’s adequate self-reflection. Oh sure, we love looking at ourselves, we paragons of self-flattery on the flat screen; but thinking about ourselves (by which we mean, interrogating history) – well, that’s injurious to our self-esteem. After all, we tried it a couple times: Jimmy Carter, and what the right-wing called the “politics of resentment” in the “radical left-wing” academy of the ’80s and ’90s. Reagan’s “Morning in America,” and the Neoconservative revels after Communism’s collapse, sure showed those liberal pantywaists. The power of positive thinking. Huh.

I’ve thought a lot about the acolytes of that cipher, George W. Bush, as the last decade broke and darkened. And I thought of my father, who, as I was growing up, could do almost anything but admit he was wrong. I thought about hard-line Communists in the Politburo, as the Soviet Union dissolved: what happens when everything you’ve believed in is a lie?

When the economy collapses and your phallus is your finances, you’re getting kicked in the nuts. Pretty humiliating.

So you can actually feel really embarrassed, humiliated and ashamed – and pledge to reform, and actually reform – but that involves a lot of thinking, and gee, there’s so much to think about already. On the other hand, you can get angry. Throw that anger away from yourself, as far as you possibly can: to the Other: socialists, terrorists, illegal immigrants, and the mythical chimaera of all three, the President of the United States of America.

In Britain, August is “the silly season”; in America, we scapegoat. It’s a necessary action, according to the Old Testament – all the sins of the Israelites, placed upon a goat’s head, which is then thrown off a cliff or banished to the wilderness. It’s the prerequisite to Atonement, which Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck pantomimed before the giant of Lincoln, in the shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. Only then, after the scapegoat is cast out, and the ceremony of Atonement is complete, can you re-establish the Covenant, and be written into the Book of Life again, as the new Republican Pledge attempts.

Tragedy is the goat’s song.

I’m theorizing here, with no more or less credence than the Beck himself. (Heck,he made bank off his conspiracy theories; why can’t I?) I’m only trying to dig into the deep substrata of our national mythologies, attempting to discover any rationale for America’s persistent avoidance of self-knowledge: that we were taken for fools. Every day, we are confronted by our own financially fatal gullibility and the deceit of our neighbors. The litany is so omnipresent, so perpetual, that we are apt to plug our fingers in our ears and shout “LA LA LA!” In the last month alone, I’m appalled to read about Nevin Shapiro, who pled guilty to defrauding investors across America of $880 million; George L. Theodule, “man of God,” who stole at least $4 million (and as much as $23 million) from his Haitian-American church congregation; Marcia Sladish, a Giants Stadium ticket collector, who collected $15 million from a Reverend Sun-Myung Moon-afilliated church congregation and is now serving 70 months in prison; the trio of miscreants who, until recently, ran North Providence, R.I., blackmailing and cajoling bribes out of anyone who wanted to do a bit of honest business; and the entire city council of Bell, California, which ran their poverty-stricken town like malevolent lords over a provincial fiefdom.  

It’s pretty much the same story across the board, from John Farahi in southern California to Scott Rothstein in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale: be charismatic and charming, promise the world to your fellow believers, take their money, buy some hot cars and chic restaurants and maybe a mansion or three. Beat the Johnsons. Repeat as necessary until you’re in the dock, blubbering for leniency, very LiLo-like.

It’s sickening.

And it’s easy to get angry.
It’s easy to be misanthropic.
It’s tempting to look for easy answers.

But the fact is, many of the fraudsters who’ve downed our economy are being exposed due to the diligence of the Obama administration, and quite perversely, we don’t like it.

As far back as 2004, the FBI was complaining that mortgage fraud was a major threat to the American economy. The Bush administration had shifted the vast majority of the FBI’s manpower toward counterterrorism efforts (a fact often emphasized in The Wire), leaving the agency unable to respond to financial crimes. Each year, the FBI petitioned the Bush administration for more agents; each year, the requests were denied.

Under the Obama administration, the FBI radically stepped up investigations and prosecutions of financial fraud, according to last Wednesday’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. For a mere three-and-a-half months, the FBI’s been engaged in a sweep called Operation Stolen Dreams, arresting 525 people allegedly responsible for more than $3 billion in losses. And, if you read the report, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We, the people, are furious (according to the mainstream media); we decry “porkbarreling” and “sweetheart deals” in Congress; we are terrified that the economy will not “recover” to its “previous level.” The fact is, the economy was never at its “previous level.” Scuppered by our own self-aggrandizement (which we euphemize as “self-esteem”) we have defrauded ourselves to believe that we are worth much more than we are. Often, we’ve deluded ourselves and others. Some of us have done so to a degree that is criminal. And those that have done so are guilty, and ashamed, and in denial, and are angry at themselves, and may well take shelter under the right wing of the tea partiers, who repent for us all, and champion the unbounded freedom to hoodwink us to our national ruin.

After all, one must protect one’s own interests. That’s the American way.

The press claims the upcoming election is a referendum on Obama’s economic plan. But Schneider is right that much of our current political debate is the politics of projection, avoidance and self-deception. The upcoming election is really a referendum on the American public and its capacity for self-reflection.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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The Same Old Game May 26, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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It has been said before but it is worth a reminder—if you want to know what is going on in politics follow the money.

The press has focused on the tea party crowd and portrays opposition to Obama as a grass roots phenomenon. But Obama haters are not limited to “ordinary folks”.

As Paul Krugman reports:   

Look, for example, at the campaign contributions of commercial banks – traditionally Republican-leaning, but only mildly so. So far this year, according to the Washington Post, 63 percent of spending by banks’ corporate PACs has gone to Republicans, up from 53 percent last year. Securities and investment firms, traditionally Democratic-leaning, are now giving more money to Republicans. And oil and gas companies, always Republican-leaning, have gone all out, bestowing 76 percent of their largess on the GOP.

These are extraordinary numbers given the normal tendency of corporate money to flow to the party in power. Corporate America, however, really, truly hates the current administration. Wall Street, for example, is in “a state of bitter, seething, hysterical fury” toward the president, writes John Heilemann of New York magazine. What’s going on? One answer is taxes – not so much on corporations themselves as on the people who run them. The Obama administration plans to raise tax rates on upper brackets back to Clinton-era levels.

Furthermore, health reform will in part be paid for with surtaxes on high-income individuals. All this will amount to a significant financial hit to CEOs, investment bankers and other masters of the universe.

Now, don’t cry for these people: They’ll still be doing extremely well, and by and large they’ll be paying little more as a percentage of their income than they did in the 1990s. Yet the fact that the tax increases they’re facing are reasonable doesn’t stop them from being very, very angry.

Nor are taxes the whole story.

Although many liberals are disappointed in Obama’s timid attempts to regulate Wall St. and the oil industry, corporate America is livid that the free ride they received from the Bush Administration is over.

From the outside, this rage against regulation seems bizarre. I mean, what did they expect? The financial industry, in particular, ran wild under deregulation, eventually bringing on a crisis that has left 15 million Americans unemployed, and required large-scale taxpayer-financed bailouts to avoid an even worse outcome. Did Wall Street expect to emerge from all that without facing some new restrictions? Apparently it did.

So what President Barack Obama and his party now face isn’t just, or even mainly, an opposition grounded in right-wing populism. For grass-roots anger is being channeled and exploited by corporate interests, which will be the big winners if the GOP does well in November.

If this sounds familiar, it should: It’s the same formula the right has been using for a generation. Use identity politics to whip up the base; then, when the election is over, give priority to the concerns of your corporate donors. Run as the candidate of “real Americans,” not those soft-on-terror East Coast liberals; then, once you’ve won, declare that you have a mandate to privatize Social Security. It comes as no surprise to learn that American Crossroads, a new organization whose goal is to deploy large amounts of corporate cash on behalf of Republican candidates, is the brainchild of none other than Karl Rove.

The tea party movement is nothing but the visible manifestation of this resurgence of corporate influence. And the corporations are quite of aware of how this game is played. FreedomWorks, the brainchild of former House Republican leader Dick Army, is funded primarily by corporations and is the main financial backer of the tea partiers. Instead of acting in their self-interest and working towards a federal government that has the resources to constrain corporations, the tea partiers are actively working against their own interests trying to insure that corporate America can operate with impunity.

The plutocrats with the money know that there are enough people for whom tribalism trumps self-interest, confident that they can kick up enough racism, fear, and resentment to sustain sufficient anti-government fervor to return us to the good old days when Wall St. whiz kids  and Saudi sheiks set the political agenda for the rest of the world.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

 

Meta-Paranoia November 22, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Matt Compton at Democratic Strategist calls our attention to another corner of the freak show.

“In October, Mother Jones reported on the creation of a popular, massive multiplayer game, in which conservatives launch a revolution in reaction to an attempt by the Obama government to merge the United States with Mexico and Canada to form a North American Union:

In the game’s scenario, 20 million armed American “patriots” begin seizing local and federal government offices. These are the same people whose earlier Tea Party protests had been ignored and dismissed by the mainstream media. Now, they post bounties for government employees. There’s fighting in every state.”

The makers call the game, “2011 — Obama’s Coup Fails” but they are careful to describe the project as an act of satire and fiction.

“Unfortunately, far too many Republicans believe the coup already happened“:

PPP’s newest national survey finds that a 52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately […]

Belief in the ACORN conspiracy theory is even higher among GOP partisans than the birther one, which only 42% of Republicans expressed agreement with on our national survey in September.

 Adam Serwer‘s analysis seems right:

The 2008 electorate was the most diverse ever–for some people, that is disenfranchisement by definition, since that means America is being increasingly populated by people who aren’t “real Americans.” Even if ACORN didn’t steal the election, those people did, and so whether ACORN literally stole the election matters about as much as literal “death panels”. It’s “true enough.” Hoffman workers in NY-23 mistook one of their own African-American volunteers for a member of ACORN, which wasn’t even active in the district.

None of this new far right mythology actually has to make sense. As long as the frayed pieces of the puzzle can be assembled in a manner that allows this part of the right to preserve in their minds the idea that they are the authentic representation of what it means to be American, any explanation will do.

There are an awful lot of people in this country who can’t seem to get their minds around the fact that people of color are real Americans. And Compton rightly worries about the dangers of delegitimizing Obama’s presidency.

Perhaps someday the U.S. will return to a two-party system instead of a single party confronted by an irrational mob.