Show us the money.

When the housing market crashed bringing down the financial industry along with it (or was it the other way around?), trillions of dollars vanished.   The question is where did the money go?

The Federal Reserve along with the Bush administration started propping up the financial industry and the economy beginning in 2007.  Mostly this was done quietly with little to no media attention.  By the time President Obama was sworn in, taxpayers had already shelled out more than $3.46 trillion and the world economy was on the verge of collapse. 

Since Obama’s inauguration, the federal government has committed another $3.77 trillion in loans, bailout funds and stimulus spending to stave off what most economists concluded would be a 2nd Great Depression.   

And people are outraged!  Not at the ones who created this mess and originally hid it from the public.  But at the administration who inherited it.  That kind of logic could only be demonstrated by the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Armey.   Where are their “Teabagger” demonstrations against CitiGroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo?  Where’s the right-wing fury for AIG?  Where are the posters calling Bush and Cheney Socialists and Communists for having allowed (or encouraged) this to happen?   

More important, where’s the money?

Of the $7.244 trillion total, $168 billion was mailed to taxpayers in the form of stimulus checks.  $787 billion is dedicated to stimulus spending on infrastructure and new jobs.  $275 billion is targeted at foreclosure relief.  And $15 billion is aimed at supporting small businesses. 

The rest of the money ($6.167 trillion) went to prop up the very institutions that created the mess.  For example, $234 billion went to CitiGroup, $137.5 billion to AIG, $118 billion to Bank of America and $29 billion went to Bear Stearns.   Another $700 billion was dedicated to the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  $1 trillion was set aside for the Term-Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to make it less risky for banks to lend money to businesses and consumers.  $720 billion was set aside to help banks remove toxic assets from their balance sheets.   Indeed, almost all the rest of the money has been allocated to help our banks recover from their own risky behavior.

And it has worked really well…for the banks.  Thanks to government aid, the CEOs, fund managers, and other financial executives are still able to afford new vacation homes, yachts and other “necessities” with their bonuses.  They’ve been able to raise fees on checking accounts and interest rates on credit cards.  And they’ve been able to return to the risky behavior that led to this mess in the first place.

Best of all, thanks to their lobbying efforts, paid for in large part by taxpayers’ money, they’ve so far been able to fend off serious regulation.   

Sowing the seeds of violence

In the early 70s, Nixon and Agnew began a culture war.  They rightfully guessed that they could win the White House by dividing the nation into the Far Left, the Far Right and the Great Silent Majority.  By labeling the educated who opposed many of their ideas “effete intellectual snobs” and castigating the media as biased, they essentially declared war on those who were educated, anti-war or anti-big business.

Since then, there have been many right wing politicians to continue the fight:  Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.  They have been gleefully aided by those who learned how to make money by siding with them.  Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have made millions by inciting the angry rabble to “take back America.”

Their actions have (either directly or indirectly) resulted in the threat of violence against those who they politically oppose.  Timothy McVeigh reportedly was whipped into a murderous rage by the Turner Diaries and the ranting of conservative talk radio.  It’s likely that O’Reilly’s constant references to Dr. Tiller as a “baby killer” and websites, such as that operated by The Army of God, incited Scott Roeder to act.  Glenn Beck, Fox News and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks rallied the torch and pitchfork crowd to interrupt town hall debates on health care.  And, on several occasions, right wingers have been inspired to bring guns to Presidential events.

Most recently, a part-time Census worker was found hanged with “Fed” scrawled on his chest.   That wouldn’t have anything to do with Congresswoman Michelle Bachman’s rant against the Census as an administration plot to spy on conservatives would it?

It appears the constant verbal attacks on the Left are increasingly becoming violent attacks.  Gun and ammunition sales have skyrocketed following the election of President Obama.  The Secret Service, which is charged with defending the President, has disclosed that threats against the President are at an all-time high.  And the rhetoric is angrier than ever.

Where does it stop?  When does freedom of speech become incitement to riot? 

Before deregulation, radio and television stations were held to higher standards.  Stations were forced to show that they were acting in the public interest in order to keep their broadcast licenses.  The necessity to prove their worthiness precluded stations from knowingly broadcasting lies and hate speech. 

But Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck and company are mere megaphones in this assault on political opponents.  As a result of its constant drumbeat against regulation and government intervention, the organization most responsible for the current level of public discourse is the Republican Party.

Bush League Economy

In baseball, bush league refers to the lowest level – a metaphor that perfectly fits the economic performance of the George W. Bush administration.  It’s even more appropriate given that Bush made millions by gaming the City of Arlington and its citizens as “Managing Partner” of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

In short, the people of Arlington got screwed.  Not entirely unlike what Bush did to the people of the United States as our 43rd President.

This is no longer just opinion.  It’s fact.

According to a recent report by the Census Bureau, the median household income in the U.S. declined 4.2 percent during Bush’s two terms.  At the same time, the number of Americans living in poverty increased 1.9 percent to 39.8 million (the most since 1960).  More disturbing is the number of children now living in poverty:  When Bush entered office 11.6 million children were living in poverty.  When Bush left office, that number had swollen to nearly 14.1 million.  That’s an astonishing increase of more than 21 percent!  Under Bush, job growth was a dismal .28 percent – the worst performance since World War II.  The number of Americans employed in manufacturing dropped beneath 10 percent for the first time in history.  And the number of Americans without health insurance increased to 15.4 percent.

On every major measurement, the economic condition of American people declined during the Bush administration!  The housing industry crashed, the financial industry collapsed under the weight of its own risky gambles, stock markets crashed and two out of the Big Three U.S. auto makers faced bankruptcy.   About the only people who didn’t suffer under Bush’s watch were oil executives, military contractors, hedge fund managers and the extremely wealthy.

Predictably, the Republicans are now trying to reassign the economic blame to President Obama.  They accuse him of increasing the size of government, increasing the size of the federal debt, and taking over private businesses.  Let’s look at the facts:

The government, the deficit and the national debt all grew under President Bush.  The Department of Homeland Security represented a huge growth in government.  But the growth of government under Bush wasn’t confined to just the one department.  (In the first 3 months of 2008 alone, the federal government added 13,800 jobs under Bush.)  The deficit and debt under Bush increased in large part as the result of Bush’s misadventures in Iraq.  The real cost of that war is estimated at anywhere from $2-3 trillion, and some estimate that the cost of the Afghan war will overtake the Iraq war in 2010. 

The bailout of financial institutions is estimated at $3 trillion.  Approximately one-half of that was approved by the Bush administration.  And none of the money would have been necessary if not for the Republican’s aversion to regulation of financial institutions.

Finally, you can’t blame President Obama for the takeover of the U.S. auto industry.  Indeed, we all should thank him for it.  Had the Bush administration not allowed wild speculation of commodities, oil would not have spiked as they did in 2008.  Had that artificial spike not been followed by the collapse of our financial institutions, the auto industry would never have experience such severe problems.  And had the Obama administration not stepped in to help, the economy may well have fallen into another depression.

A Christian Nation?

There’s an element of this country that is fond of dismissing anyone who fails to tout his or her “Christianity.” They talk about returning this country to its Christian roots, the way the Founding Fathers intended.

To bolster their argument, they point to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and to the slogan “In God We Trust” that is displayed on our nation’s currency. Never mind that these are not references to Christ, but to God. And never mind that these words weren’t authored by our Founding Fathers. They were added at the urging of fundamentalist members of The Fellowship, aka The Family, in 1954. And when you think about it, it’s beyond ironic that the words “under God” which replaced “indivisible” in our Pledge of Allegiance should now be used as a wedge to separate us.

Truth is, very few of our Founding Fathers were Christian. It’s well known that Thomas Jefferson was a Deist (someone who believes in a higher being, but not in a “revealed doctrine”) having rejected Christianity. James Madison and John Adams were also known Deists, and it is believed that many more shared their beliefs, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

The very notion that our Founding Fathers would have dictated or supported a particular religious belief is simply ludicrous. Many of the Europeans who invaded and settled this land were driven from their native lands as the result of religious persecution. (As Huguenots, my own ancestors were faced with the dilemma of leaving Europe or being slaughtered in the “cleansing” of France, Germany and Switzerland by the royals and the Catholic Church.)

Most of these people had no intention of imposing their own religious beliefs on others. Indeed, that’s why our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution provide for separation of Church and State.

Another popular myth used to support fundamentalist politics is the notion that our Founding Fathers placed tablets of the Ten Commandments in public places, most notably courthouses. However, most of these tablets were actually distributed around the nation by Cecil B. DeMille as a promotion for the opening of his epic film “The Ten Commandments” in 1956. Moreover, if Christian fundamentalists actually followed the teachings of Christ they could never be comfortably allied with the present-day Republican Party which panders to the rich and the powerful.

These people should take their own advice and ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do?” The Jesus described in the Bible who embraced and cared for the poor, who turned the other cheek, and who threw the money-changers out of the Temple.

I believe that no one group should feel superior or feel as though they have a corner on patriotism in the United States. There’s room for people of all faiths as well as those who have no faith. Since its founding, this nation has welcomed Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Deists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Shamans, and more. The sooner we’re all willing to accept that, the sooner we can end the senseless bickering and address the real problems we’re facing.

“Teabaggers”, “Birthers” and other racists.

Demonstrators at this past weekend’s rally at the U.S. Capitol carried a powerful message. They toted signs with photos of President Obama wearing a Hitleresque moustache. There were signs that called Obama a socialist, a Marxist and even a Nazi. There were signs calling him a “Muslim Kenyan” and an “African Lyin’.” There were signs stating “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy” and “We came unarmed (this time).” The only things they were lacking were torches and pitchforks.

These messages were not just tasteless and threatening. They were revealing. They exposed those who carried them as a rabble of misinformed racists who are angry and aren’t going to take it anymore. But they can’t even say what “it” is. All they seem to know is that President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are the problem.

Could it be that these people simply can’t accept an African-American and a woman as our nation’s leaders?

Of course, Republicans dismiss any such claims. They’re fond of pointing to the demonstrations against President Bush. However, there’s a significant difference. During the Bush administration, political opponents attacked his policies. During the Obama administration, the opponents seem to want to attack Obama. And not just with words. Why else would the demonstrators feel it necessary to threaten violence? Why else would they feel the need to bring guns to demonstrations?

If it were economic policy that concerned these people, they would be protesting against Bush for overseeing the first real decline in median household income in recent history. If the issue was spending, these people would have brought out the torches and pitchforks during the Reagan years or as the result of the $2 trillion war in Iraq. If it were the housing crisis and resulting financial meltdown that concerned them, they would be looking to lynch Bush, Greenspan and Henry Paulson. And if rationed health care was the problem, they would be surrounding the headquarters of United Health Group, Cigna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

No, these people are not angry about policy. They believe their country is being taken away by a black man and a powerful woman. They’ve been fuming for many years as they’ve seen African, Asian and Latino immigrants arrive in large numbers. They’ve been told that their “values” and religions are under attack. They’ve been told that President Obama hates white people. They’re easily manipulated by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and organizations such as Fox News Network and Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. They’re encouraged by elected officials like Dick Cheney, Sen. DeMint, Rep. Boehner and Rep. Cantor. Worse yet, they’re given publicity and credibility by a media too lazy or afraid to expose them for what they really are.

Rewarding unreasonable behavior.

On the anniversary of 9/11, Republican spokesperson and renowned liar, Rush Limbaugh, chastised President Obama for trying to turn 9/11 into a day of public service.  Wow!  How dare the President want to commemorate the attacks on U.S. soil with something positive!  How dare the President try to encourage Americans to serve their nation! 

Certainly, the past President never encouraged public service and sacrifice.  In the wake of 9/11, Bush asked us to go shopping.  And while our young people were serving and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, he pushed for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  (I guess he believed that only the middle class and poor should sacrifice for their country.)  Bush refused to allow press coverage and photographs of the true cost of war.  Indeed, Republicans treated war much as the Wizard of Oz would.  “Pay no attention to what’s behind that curtain.”

But, in reality, Republican criticism has nothing to do with President Obama’s statements and actions.  He’ll be criticized by Republican pundits no matter what he says or does.   That’s not surprising.  After all, we’re talking about the same people who accused then-First Lady Hillary Clinton with murder relating to the so-called Travel-gate.  They’re the people who spent $60 million of taxpayers’ money to investigate Clinton’s investment loss in Whitewater.  They’re the same people who called Democrats “whack jobs” and “conspiracy nuts” for crying foul over the 2000 Florida election.   (Never mind the findings of an independent group of journalists who stated, “It’s clear that a significant majority of Floridians intended to vote for Al Gore.”)  And these are the same people who attacked the patriotism of a Vietnam War hero while supporting a candidate who got his powerful daddy to help him avoid the draft by getting him into the Air National Guard. 

Republicans are good at attacking.  In fact, they’re great at it.  Many of today’s Republican strategists learned at the knee of the masters; Tricky Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew.  Republican attacks and tricks should not come as a surprise to anyone – least of all Democrats.

What is surprising is that Democrats continue to try to reason with them.  And, by doing so, they continue to encourage their bad behavior.  It’s astounding that Representative Joe Wilson can bellow “You lie” to President Obama in an address to a joint session of Congress.  It’s even more astounding that Democratic Senators reword the health care reform bill because of Wilson’s outburst.  (Despite the fact that the bill already clearly stated that health care coverage will be denied to illegal aliens, the wording was strengthened in response to Wilson.) 

The message to Republican extremists is that their extreme accusations and tactics work. 

So Republicans and their media supporters will continue to scare citizens with fabricated issues like “Death Panels”.  They’ll continue to raise fears that a Presidential speech to school children is an attempt to indoctrinate them.  And they’ll continue to compare a centrist African-American President who continues to search for bipartisanship to Adolph Hitler.  (How can anyone actually believe this stuff?) 

Someone once said, “You can’t reason with unreasonable people.”  Yet Democrats continue to try to reason with Republicans.  Why? 

The revealing nature of Republican attacks.

Following Representative Wilson’s outburst during the President’s address before a joint session of Congress, I believe we have to ask ourselves some questions:  Is it a coincidence that the first such outburst was aimed at our first African-American President?  Is it a coincidence that the outburst came from a Congressman from South Carolina?  Is it coincidence that this is the first President accused of being born in another country despite indisputable evidence to the contrary?  Is it coincidence that this President is accused of creating death panels for senior citizens despite the facts?  Is it coincidence that this President is accused of trying to “indoctrinate our children” by merely encouraging them to work hard?  And is it coincidence that the number of death threats against our President has increased dramatically?

The conclusion is inescapable.  The attacks against President Obama represent more than a mere difference of opinion or ideology. 

From the moment he was sworn in, President Obama has been faced with an unprecedented combination of crises – a floundering economy, a failed financial system, a collapsed auto industry, millions of foreclosed homes, out of control health care costs, skyrocketing deficits and two wars.  These weren’t crises of his own making.  These were crises created under the previous administration.  Yet rather than rallying behind the President in the face of these crises as Democrats rallied behind Bush after 9/11, the Republicans have done everything possible to undermine Obama’s attempts to right our ship of state.   

Granted the attacks against President Obama are coming from a small, angry minority in Southern states.  (Okay, okay, I know I just described the Republican Party.)  But, in my lifetime, no President has faced such venomous and personal attacks.  Not Richard Nixon following the cover-up of the Watergate burglary.  Not Ronald Reagan following the cover-up of the sale of weapons to Iran.  Not George W. Bush following the lies that led to the unnecessary invasion of Iraq. 

Perhaps the real lesson of a Republican shouting “You lie!” at President Obama in the House chamber is this:  Pathological liars often assume everyone else is like them. 

The end of hope?

President Obama campaigned for office with a message of hope – of changing the political climate in Washington.  And he has tried mightily.  He has consistently reached out to Republicans for ideas and support.  Not since Lincoln has a President tried to appoint so many members of the opposition party to his Cabinet. 

Yet in the issues that matter most, President Obama has not garnered a single Republican vote.  Not on the much-needed stimulus package.  Not on the loans to automakers.  And, so far, not on health care.

Indeed, the Republican response to his efforts for bipartisanship may be best summarized by Congressman Joe Wilson’s outburst, “You lie!” screamed at the President during his speech calling for health care reform. 

In the charade of bipartisanship seen at most Presidential speeches before a joint session of Congress, Joe Wilson’s rant was rude and outrageously disrespectful.  Yet compared to the stone faces and scowls of Republican legislators sitting on their hands, it had a certain authenticity.  All Wilson did was bring the ugliness that has been displayed at so-called “Town Hall Meetings” and on conservative talk radio into the Capitol chamber.   

Were other Republicans so forthright, we would have been treated to shouts of “Socialist”, “Nazi”, “Communist”, “Death Panels”, “Pull the plug on Granny” and “Show us your birth certificate!”

Of course, Republicans like Sen. Kyl, Sen. Grassley, Sen. Coburn and Sen. Enzi prefer not to confront their Democratic colleagues with such unpleasantness.  They would rather make their disrespectful and inane rants in front of crowds comprised of uninformed conservatives, and on Fox News Network where no commentator or host would consider challenging such statements.

Now President Obama has drawn a line in the sand.  He has stated that he will hold opponents accountable for their distortions and lies.  However, I believe that the President will not give up on bipartisanship easily.  I believe he will keep trying to change the tone of political conversation for as long as he is in office. 

Despite his efforts, I can’t imagine that Republicans will cease their cynical and mean-spirited attacks.  They will continue to pander to their ever more conservative and uninformed base.  And, of course, they will continue to provide red meat to Fox News Network and conservative talk radio.  The only real question is whether or not the independents and moderates will reward such cynical and partisan rhetoric  by voting for Republicans. 

I am becoming less and less hopeful.

The other side of Reaganomics:

In a previous post, I stated my belief that Reaganomics was an utter failure.  That’s not entirely true.  It was a huge success for the wealthy.  It also successfully eroded the power of organized labor. 

When Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers who were members of PATCO, I believe he inspired his followers to launch an attack on all labor unions.  Since that time, there has been a steady outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs to places like China, India, Indonesia and Mexico.   This has forced unions to make concessions with regard to wages and benefits.  The recent troubles of GM and Chrysler are good cases in point. 

During the debate over auto industry bail-outs, the discussion seemed to revolve around the wages and benefits of United Auto Workers.  Never mind the decades of questionable decisions by the company executives, along with their inflated salaries.  In the minds of many, the real problem is that UAW workers were paid more than their counterparts at Honda, Toyota, Nissan and other import brands.  The claims were that while the workers for foreign brands were paid approximately $45/hr, UAW workers were paid $70/hr or more.  Outrageous!  Right? 

Well, hold on a moment.  My UAW friends tell me that the figure of $70/hr not only included wages and benefits such as health care.  It also included the cost of benefits for recent retirees, plus all costs associated with workers – overtime costs, Social Security, Medicare, etc.  It even includes the cost of tools used by the workers!  Take away all of those costs and the actual average hourly wage was $29.78. 

But it’s not just lower wages the Reaganites are after.   What they really want to do is to rid corporations of the obligation for health and retirement benefits.  And what better way to accomplish than to crush organized labor? 

It took a couple of wars, the Great Depression and many bloody management/labor clashes for conditions to improve for American workers.  I fear that Reaganomics combined with globalization and the greed of CEOs may be leading us back to labor conditions similar to those under the robber Barons of the early 1900s when work was more like servitude.

What would Jesus do? If Jesus were a fascist.

Lately, I’ve been reading The Family – The secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power by Jeff Sharlet.  If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.  It’s a fascinating read.  Yet Mr. Sharlet’s excellent account of the growth of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. is utterly frightening. 

It’s not that I fear Christians.  But I do fear this particular brand of Christianity.

You see, Sharlet’s account of the fundamentalism that took shape in the 30s and 40s and has been growing ever since is of a “Christianity” embraced by the rich and powerful.  It seems that these people worship Jesus, not for his teachings of love and compassion.  Instead, they appear to be attracted to Jesus because of the power and influence he wielded.  Followers of this perverse form of fundamentalism also are said to admire Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Pol Pot for the same reasons.  Never mind that they were dictatorial and murderous.  They knew how to influence others and get things done.

I’ve often found that many religious zealots are of the “ends justify the means” variety.  Too often, they believe that they can do anything they want as long as it’s in the name of God.  (Indeed, throughout the course of my career I’ve found that they are the most likely default on their bills.)  But the Family appears to take the concept a bit further.  It would seem that, for this “religion,” the ends are a world dominated by large corporations and the wealthy. 

It’s not surprising to learn that some well-known conservatives and religious leaders are affiliated with the group.  It is, however, more startling to learn that many current Senators, Congressmen, former administration officials and corporate CEOs are linked to the movement.  Two of the most notable members are Sen. John Ensign and Governor Mark Sanford who have gained publicity for recent sex scandals.  Both have been residents of a Family owned home known as “C Street” that is tax-exempt since it is listed as a “church.”

If you have an interest in politics, or even in the future of our nation, I encourage you to read Jeff Sharlet’s account of this organization.  When you see the list of advocates for the Family, I think you’re likely to have the same reaction as I have.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.