How Long Will The Excluded Wait?

Robert Reich begins his latest column this way:

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

Revolution? Ruckus? Well, why aren’t people making more election-changing noise? Reich gave three reasons, which I will list without most of his supporting material:

1) “…the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has…No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.”

2) “In prior decades students were a major force for social change. But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt…record numbers are still living at home.”

3) “Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible…It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.”

That last reason for a reluctance to raise a ruckus can be documented by the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, which found:

confidence in washington

As you can see, Republicans have done a good job of poisoning the well of governance, with their obstructionist tactics and willingness to sabotage the economic recovery and their refusal to do anything to address the income and wealth gap in America. But such tactics, although successful in bringing Democrats down, have damaged the Republican Party’s image profoundly. The poll found that only 36% of Republicans have significant confidence in their own party. Think about that.

But think, too, about the fact that a large part of the reason that even Republicans don’t have much confidence in their own party or their party’s leadership is that extremist teapartiers think the GOP hasn’t gone far enough in its obstructionism. Many of those folks think that John Boehner has sold them out. For God’s sake, many think that Mitch McConnell is too liberal.

As crazy as that sounds, things are actually worse. Consider the right’s reaction to Pope Francis. When the boss man of a gazillion Catholics dared to criticize increasing income and wealth inequality, when he called out “trickle-down theories” for their failure to deliver “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” his words were branded as “pure Marxism” by Rush Limbaugh. Other right-wingers called him a socialist and FoxNews.com annointed him “the Catholic Church’s Obama.” Just a few days ago a News Editor for FoxNews.com, himself a Catholic, said that,

Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.

Such feelings run deep on the right. That FoxNews.com editor went on to say that, “the only charity the pope supports is forced redistribution.” Ahh. That’s the real offense the Pope committed. He thinks, and he thinks Jesus thinks, governments ought to be involved in seeing to it that there is a more equitable distribution of wealth. He can see with his presumably holy eyes that if the world’s poor and underserved are to utterly depend on the generosity of the rich to keep them afloat, they are a most miserable lot indeed. The Pope says trickle-down economics,

expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

All of which leads me back to Robert Reich’s column. How long will the excluded wait? Reich listed three reasons why more people don’t make a bigger fuss about the breathtaking economic inequities we see here in America and the fact that “big money is corrupting our democracy.” But he should have included a fourth reason: the big money corruption itself. Rich people, particularly rich conservative people, are buying this republic and the politicians who manage it, as well as influencing low-information voters who fall for the slick and misleading advertising that big money buys.

If you have the stomach for it, I invite you to read one the most depressing articles I have read in a long time. The Mother Jones piece, titled “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left,” chronicles how a wealthy Michigan family, whose billions were acquired through the pyramid-like distributing company Amway, was able to purchase the votes necessary to pass union-crippling right-to-work legislation in a state that was once union friendly.

I will confess that after reading the article, my usual political optimism was shaken. I fear for our future if something isn’t done to restrain the flow of money into our politics. The 87-year-old Richard DeVos, who cofounded Amway, and his eldest son Dick DeVos should not be able to do what they did in Michigan. And what they did has effects beyond the obvious race to the bottom in terms of workers’ wages and working conditions:

Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle…So DeVos and his allies hit labor—and the Democratic Party—where it hurt: their bank accounts. By attacking their opponents’ revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state’s Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.

It’s pretty simple. Republicans believe that if they can weaken, if not destroy, labor unions, they can control the country’s politics:

the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left. Whereas party activists had for years viewed right-to-work as a pipe dream, a determined and very wealthy family, putting in place all the elements of a classic political campaign, was able to move the needle in a matter of months. “Michigan is Stalingrad, man,” one prominent conservative activist told me. “It’s where the battle will be won or lost.”

That Michigan fight is going on here in Missouri. The very first hearing this year in the Missouri House, which is dominated by right-wing Republicans, was used to promote anti-union legislation, in this case falsely titled the “Freedom To Work Act.” The only “freedom” written into this bill is freedom for workers who benefit from union representation on the job to opt out of having to pay any fee to the union for its collective bargaining services. In other words, this bill, and other so-called right-to-work legislation, establishes that there is, after all, such a thing as a free lunch.eric burlison

The idea, obviously, is to starve unions of needed resources, even though the Missouri bill’s sponsor, a Springfield Republican, claimed that the legislation “would make unions stronger.” Let me state the obvious here: If a right-winger tells you that a bill he is sponsoring will make unions stronger, he is lying through his gold teeth.

It’s equally obvious that if unions are starved of funds and can’t afford to defend the interests of working people, both on the job and during the election cycle, then rich Republicans will have their way. That is why rich Republicans pour so much money into these efforts, with 24 states now having such laws as the one being crafted here in Missouri. And if more states follow the trend and engage in a race to the bottom, the situation Robert Reich described—sinking middle incomes, growing poverty, and rich people realizing most of the economic gains—will get worse.

And if it gets bad enough, the ruckus, or the revolution, will come.

Sequestered Billy Long

Here is Ozark Billy making us shine here in southwest Missouri:

billy long and salon

According to KOLR10 News, the millionaire auctioneer was speaking at the Springfield Rotary Club, for God’s sake, when he said this:

The people that I’ve talked to seem to be doing well. In fact, when I got out in restaurants here in town, people come up to me. They want to see more sequestration, not less. So I think that’s different than it could be in some parts of the country, but we haven’t seen any measurable affect here at all.

Yeah, you tend not to see any negative sequestration effects when you spend your time in Rotary Clubs and fancy eatin’ places like the Metropolitan Grill in Springfield. But that’s our Ozark Billy. Wildly out of touch with his constituents, most of whom are too busy working their asses off just trying to survive, rather than hoping to catch a glimpse of a steak-chomping Billy Long in order to tell him about sequestration, whatever the hell that is.

Most of those folks can’t go to Metropolitan Grill and order the “Merlot demi-glace glazed filet Wellington with Gorgonzola in a puff pastry topped with a black pepper shitake supreme” for a mere thirty bucks. Some of those folks are worried about whether their kids will get booted out of Head Start or whether they’ll get another bite to eat from Meals On Wheels.

So, I would bet that where Billy Long goes to dine in Springfield or in Washington, D.C., or, heck, in his favorite gambling and watering hole, Las Vegas, unless a knowledgeable and brave member of the wait staff speaks up, Billy never hears a goddamn thing about sequestration from the people it is affecting. Thus, I would bet that those folks who “want to see more sequestration, not less” are not waiting tables or serving our congressman cocktails in some restaurant or casino. Those people more likely own the damn place.

The sad thing about all this is Billy Long will never hear from the folks he needs to hear from for at least a couple of reasons. One, unless you have a lot of money to contribute to his relection, your voice doesn’t exactly move him to action. billy long at rotary in springfieldSecond, he doesn’t hold town hall meetings around here, where the hoi polloi can bend his ear about their troubles. He runs from those brave enough to interrupt him and attempt to ask him critical questions, like the last time I ran into him.

In short, I have no doubt that Billy Long has met people around here who have the time and luxury to figure out what sequestration is and who, because it doesn’t affect them, want more of it. It’s those other folks, those other folks he is also supposed to be representing, those other folks who don’t have cash to stash in his campaign pockets, those folks with little time to mess around with figuring out what terms like sequestration mean, who he needs to hear from.

And the last time I checked, those folks don’t attend Rotary Club luncheons.

Ayn Rand Would Laugh At Him

Eric Burlison, a state legislator from Springfield, Mo., spoke at Saturday’s Joplin Tea Party rally.  During his speech he mentioned that he couldn’t wait to see the new movie, Atlas Shrugged, which was released last Friday.

As most of you know, Atlas Shrugged is a novel by Ayn Rand, the pro-choice atheist philosopher whose childishly tidy philosophy argues that selfishness is a virtue and altruism is a weakness, a deadly weakness. 

I can’t be the only one who finds irony in the fact that a man like Eric Burlison—a “pro-life” Christian who advertises that he gives back to the community by “serving” and “volunteering“—is behind a podium at a Tea Party event extolling the philosophy of a godless “baby-killer,” who would openly ridicule and scorn Mr. Burlison’s work on behalf of Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Ronald McDonald House.

Except that when you think about it, what is the Tea Party movement about, if not essentially about selfishness?  At the Joplin Tea Party event, the crowd was mostly made up of older folks, many of them, no doubt, on Social Security and Medicare, who nevertheless enthusiastically applauded speaker after speaker who spoke about a too-large government, a government that takes too much and redistributes it to those who don’t deserve it.  These folks essentially epitomize a version of Randian selfishness philosophy:  They’ve got theirs and to hell with everyone else.

Isn’t that what is happening in Tea Party America?

Just look at the Tea Party’s favorite candidate these days.  Donald Trump, the Ugly American, is riding high on a wave of paranoia, perverse pride, and petty grievances.  His appearance this past weekend at a Florida Tea Party event was both clownish and vicious, both absurd and revealing.

What Trump’s well-received appearance in Florida—as well as his other public statements that have impressed teapartiers—reveals is a disturbing development in American politics. That there are people who take this egotistical, uninformed fool seriously says more about America than I care to acknowledge.  The fact that he is cheered as he denigrates America and brags about his intelligence and his business acumen—despite much contrary evidence—is symptomatic of how far a significant slice of the American electorate has fallen into a sort of Randian trance, where all but the self-described “producers” are leeches who deserve an ill fate.

And here in Joplin I watched a conservative Republican from Springfield, a man who boasts of his volunteer spirit and his “pro-life” credentials, a man who claims he shows “humility and humbleness in an open setting,” salivate over the release of a movie based on the philosophy of a woman who would mock him and his Christian beliefs.

As I said, absurd and revealing.

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