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when i take a little more time to think through an issue…

democracy and its discontents…

There are few things I detest more than cynicism.

It’s not that I begrudge anyone’s lack of belief in the integrity of a system or idea.  That, I can deal with (been there myself, more than once).  It’s the inevitable tone of condescension you hear in the words of all cynics, and the patronizing smile those are words are being spoken through.  It’s the smug, satisfied way in which cynics express the presumed hard wisdom of their perspective — and not so much judging others for having a different one, but rather just pitying their naiveté.  It’s the fact that fueling this cynicism is almost always a self-crafted narrative that says, “How adorable that so many of you are still such sincere believers… if only you had my insight, you’d see how pointless it all is.”  It’s defeatist.  It’s downright nihilistic.  And I can’t stand it, in myself or others.

Salon.com‘s Andrew O’Hehir dropped a giant, smoldering bombshell of cynicism this weekend, aimed squarely at those of us determined not to give up this mid-term election without a fight.  The title (leaving nothing to the imagination):  Yeah, the GOP is evil and will win — but the midterms are meaningless.

The reader is then met with a piece of columnizing that perfectly demonstrates the yawning gap that occurs when an intelligent person considers himself (and may, in fact, be) insightful about politics, but has no notion of (or is simply ignoring) the very real challenges of actual governing.

There are three points that I found particularly problematic, beginning with the piece’s tagline–

1.) “It’s the Party of Fear’s turn this year, and that blows.  But the cast of clowns in DC doesn’t really run the show.”

I’m just going to look at the first part right now (we’ll get to the second half later).

There is a fundamental myth of electoral politics that Americans have got to disabuse themselves of, and that is the idea that when one politician, or party, is in power then the responsible thing to do in the next election is give the “other guy” a turn.  Well, to paraphrase The West Wing‘s inimitable Josh Lyman — this is politics, not tee-ball.  The “other guy” doesn’t just automatically get to step up to the plate, they have to earn it.  There should never, ever be any concept of “turns” in American politics (though, admittedly, that does seem to be the GOP’s preferred method of nominating presidential candidates).

Elections should — must — be won based on the party’s ideas, and the GOP’s ideas have been demonstrably proven, time after time after time, to be morally bankrupt and utterly destructive for the country.  Why on earth would we ever give in to the notion they are now due a “turn”?  Especially as the establishment-vs-Tea Party civil war continues unabated and their cohort of candidates seems to get more ludicrous with each passing cycle?

2.) “[The Democratic Party] has no clear mission or agenda beyond being less pathological than the opposition party, whose appeal rests largely on racial panic, xenophobia, and anti-government paranoia, and whose only visible agenda is obstructionism.  It should be obvious to everyone who isn’t a profoundly deluded partisan loyalist that nothing that could possibly happen in the 2014 midterm elections will change any of that.”

First, I fervently contest the notion that the Democratic Party lacks any singular vision other than being the “less crazy” ones.  There are myriad issues — the minimum wage, fair pay for women, the DREAM Act, renewable energy, climate change, gun safety, student loans, women’s health — which show the Democratic Party to be forward-thinking and far more willing to represent the needs of those Americans who lack the lobbying power of Wall Street or the NRA (even if Senator Warren has to drag some her colleagues kicking and screaming along the way).

But let’s move beyond that and consider O’Hehir’s declaration that the mid-terms won’t change anything.  Certainly, they will have no affect on those qualities of the GOP which he enumerates (and his description pretty much nails it).  But maybe — just maybe — the country has a chance to avoid, or at least minimize, the effects of the GOP’s theatrics, which have brought us such hits as just-for-show investigative hearings, constant debt-ceiling brinksmanship, and an all-out government shutdown.  (Remember the shutdown?  It happened just about a year ago.  The GOP stopped funding the government to try and keep the Affordable Care Act from going into effect.  It didn’t work.)

And, as a side-note, I can’t help but notice that disaffected liberal voters seem more interested in punishing the president for his, in their view, disappointing performance than in holding the GOP accountable for the absolute havoc they have wrought upon this country by their infantile, anything-Obama-likes-we-hate approach to governing.  Which is just irresponsible.

 3.) “It’s Political Punditry 101 to view widespread public apathy as both cause and symptom of a diseased political culture, and that’s at least partly true.  But declining to participate in an empty ritual that changes nothing is an entirely rational response…”

Here, O’Hehir cites fellow Salon columnist Joan Walsh’s description of politics as “an endless feedback loop of futility:  little or no policy change leads to a discouraged electorate, which ensures little or no policy change, which guarantees more voter apathy.”  Of course, O’Hehir believes that the lack of progress on matters of policy is not a fault of a broken political system, but is instead that political system’s actual goal (this points back to how “the cast of clowns in DC” aren’t really running things… don’t worry, we’ll get to that at the end).

But regarding the apathy, and the “feedback loop of futility”, there is a question that goes unasked (perhaps because O’Hehir doesn’t believe it’s worth posing):  namely, who bears the burden of breaking that cycle?

My answer, at least, is that it must be the voters.  It is the voters who must constantly engage in the process of weighing and measuring our political representatives, and sending them home when they have been found wanting.  But it is an ongoing process.  Rather than putting all their electoral hopes and dreams into one candidate, or one election — believing that this one, this time will change things “for good” — and then turning away disgusted when those hopes and dreams aren’t fully (or even remotely) realized, American voters have to stay committed to the process, year to year, cycle to cycle, understanding that each election is just one step in an unknowably long journey.  It is demanding, and it is frustrating.  But it is the cross we bear for the privilege of self-government.

*****

Why all this pessimism?  Are elections really so entirely incapable of accomplishing anything?  For O’Hehir, the response is undoubtedly yes, because elections only affect the people occupying Congress and the White House, which are not, in fact, the power centers of our American government.  The real power — and this view is not O’Hehir’s alone — lies in the “deep state”, a semi-official conglomeration of private and government bodies manipulating world events, just barely out of sight, based on a set of priorities that remain unperturbed by electoral outcomes.  (For more information, start with Mike Lofgren’s vital essay on the subject, which O’Hehir cites as well).

This, then, is why the “cast of clowns in DC” — and, by extension, the process by which we put them there — is a gigantic waste of time to O’Hehir.  Because the decisions they make, or fail to make, won’t change the course of events being dictated by the NSA-Wall Street-Silicon Valley ménage a trois.  Further, because the deep state is so inextricably embedded, and it relies for success on continuity in policy (we mustn’t rock the boat!), the American people are guaranteed a lifetime of political stasis.  No proposal of substance that dares disturb the deep state’s steady course will ever be considered even on the table — though we’ll still get pretty diversions like gay-marriage and reproductive rights.

“If we were voting,” writes O’Hehir, “for or against candidates who were willing to address the power of the deep state, or at least to disclose and discuss it openly, then the midterm elections might mean something.”

Really?  Nothing else matters?

I don’t mean to minimize the significance of the issue — the depth and breadth of the national security apparatus in post-9/11 America is, to me, as much a threat to democracy as any external enemy.  But to argue that it is the only issue worth the effort of voting?  That’s simply a bridge too far for me.

*****

O’Hehir calls elections an “empty ritual.”  And he’s entitled to feel that way.  But I maintain that elections only become empty rituals when Americans decide to accept them as such.  And, ironically, it is when Americans have accepted them as such that dangerous institutions — like the deep state O’Hehir is so concerned about — are truly free to do their will, no longer bothered by pesky, educated voters who actually give a shit.

And, as far as I’m concerned, liberals refusing to vote while saying “it doesn’t matter anyway” are just the same as the conservatives who campaign on the ineffectiveness of government then spend their time in office doing everything within their power to make government ineffective — all they do is declare prophecies which they themselves fulfill, and all the while saying snidely, “I told you so,” as the rest of us continue striving for something better.

 

 

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#JeffCo, pt one

There are many things to say about the educational debacle that has unfolded in Jefferson County, Colorado over the past couple of weeks — and I hope to touch on at least a couple more — but I want to start with an observation that has stuck with me from the beginning.

I won’t rehash all the details that have led to this point, because there has been some excellent reporting already — particularly from the Denver Post — and there’s very little I can add in the way of that.  The short of it, though, is that a conservative bloc on this Colorado school board has been considering a proposal that would establish a new curriculum review committee (in addition to the the two that already exist within the district), with its first assignment being a closer look at the new AP US History Framework.  This framework has been bugging conservatives since its release (for largely invalid reasons), and this effort by the JeffCo school board is very much a part of the backlash.  The original proposal — and, in particular, some of the jingoistic language it employed — fired up the student body and resulted in days of walk-outs and protests.  The proposal was initially tabled, some minor revisions made, and it was placed back on the agenda for the board’s October 2 meeting.

Naturally, given the groundswell of student and parent protest, the meeting attracted a sizable crowd and included over two hours of public comment (most in opposition).  The superintendent submitted a compromise proposal, which the minority members agreed was a good first step but requested more time to study it.  The majority then approved the compromise with a 3-2 vote.

Which, I have to say, was pretty infuriating to watch (the school board, laudably, livestreams its meetings).  The overwhelmingly negative response to the board’s proposal should have been a giant red flag — a signal to the board that they should slow down and take the community’s concerns into consideration.  Of course, the board president, Ken Witt, had already indicated his lack of interest in the student and teacher response by publicly calling the student protesters “pawns” of the teacher’s unions.

So the student-teacher effort clearly wasn’t going to suffice.  As reported in the Denver Post:

Michele Patterson, head of the Jefferson County PTA… “If the teachers and students don’t move you, do 13,000 angry parents get your attention?” she asked.

The answer, of course, is no.  We know that because the board majority forged ahead in spite of the overwhelming opposition demonstrated at the meeting.  And that is all the evidence needed to prove that these three individuals are more interested in serving their political agenda than in serving their community.

Which brings me to the first observation I made on this whole issue:  if so many people are opposed to the actions of these three board members, who are the people who actually voted to put them there in the first place?  All three members of the conservative majority were elected by exceptional margins — in fact, Julie Williams, the author of the original proposal, won with 61% of the vote! 

But here’s the catch:  that election saw just a 33% turnout.

I have to say — as much as I support the parents and community members who have contributed to this protest, I’d be interested to know how many of them bothered to vote in the board election last November.  Where was this opposition then?

This is a hard lesson that, frankly, I can’t believe we’re still having to learn.  But I hope it sinks in before November 4…

Democracy means showing up.

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on election night…

After the last two presidential election cycles ended, I had to put myself in a media blackout.  Particularly after Bush’s re-election.  In the fall of 2004, I had gotten to the point where I was consuming political information at such an overwhelming rate that I wasn’t even processing it even more.  I would eagerly monitor the changing electoral projection map in each new issue of Newsweek.  My evenings began with Crossfire and ended with The Daily Show.  I had a blog then, but my posts ended abruptly mid-October, simply because I couldn’t take the time to stop and reflect on what I was consuming.

So when it all came to a screeching halt after Sen Kerry’s concession speech, it was a complete shock to the system.  I stopped reading the newspaper, and didn’t turn on my television for any type of programming whatsoever until well after Christmas (once the Southeast Asian tsunami hit and I was shamefully reminded that there was more to the world than American politics…).

2008 wasn’t much better.  Up until late October of that year, I had been working nearly full-time as a caregiver for an elderly gentleman who did little more than change the channel between C-Span and CNN.  I didn’t exactly discourage him, either.  I was addicted to the coverage, craved more of it every day, and even when I left his house I’d rush home and check the HuffingtonPost and MSNBC before doing anything else with my evening.  Granted, I had more reason to be optimistic then.  So much so that my husband and I threw and election night party (figuring we’d probably feel the need to drink regardless of the outcome — luckily the drinking was celebratory).  But I still had to cut myself off from most media for several days at least.  I gave myself one exception:  as I cleaned up from the party the night before, I played, as loud as I could stand it, the original Broadway cast album of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s virtuosic masterpiece Caroline, or Change.  I had always loved that piece, but its truth rang more fully that day than it ever had before.

At any rate, I’ve deliberately taken a different tack this year.  Yes, I’ve had more than my share of spats on Facebook (who hasn’t?).  And I still definitely spend a disproportionate amount of time at my computer reading as many news sources as I can stand.  But there’s definitely a change.

I’m more willing, and able, to stop.  To shut the laptop and call it a night.  To get up and practice at the piano for a couple of hours instead of trolling Facebook for a fight.  To let the world of political punditry go on without me (I doubt they’ve noticed, anyway).

Today, I was folding and putting away some laundry, and it occurred to me, “No matter who wins this election, I will still have to wash, and fold, and put away the laundry, tomorrow, next week, next year.”  Just like that.  Life will go on.

Now, it might not go on entirely as I’d like it.  I have not lost my conviction that elections can, and do, have a real impact on our day-to-day lives.  But — and this expanding perspective is likely the ONLY thing I appreciate about getting older — I feel more certain than ever that the world will keep turning, and that the human race will keep trying, however haltingly and imperfectly, to achieve a free and just world.

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did i hear that correctly…?

About a week ago, the political commentariat was all in a tizzy over the fabulously candid remarks Mitt Romney made at a Florida fundraiser earlier this year.  In case you have no idea what I’m referring to, you can visit Mother Jones (which first broke the story) for the full video.

What has gotten the most attention over the last seven days is Romney’s “47%” figure, referring to the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes.  Most commentators have gone to great length to analyze just who makes up this “47%” — ie, the elderly, the poor, and veterans.

These same commentators have also pointed out the numerous logical inconsistencies in Romney’s use of the number.  Pointing out, for instance, that not every Obama voter is collecting some form of government support.  Or, that not every tax unit without tax liability votes for Obama.

Or, even better, that not every person who is collecting government assistance sees themselves as “victims” who can’t be convinced to “take responsibility and care for their lives.”

So while the “47%” gets parsed over and over, another part of Romney’s remarks seems to have gotten overlooked.  By which I mean the part where he claims, with an amazing degree of incredulity, that these people consider themselves “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Personally, I find it disturbing just how much Gov Romney finds it disturbing that people feel entitled to basic needs.  But I’m glad he said it.  First, because it accomplishes what the Romney campaign has so far failed to do:  show us what the candidate actually thinks.  But second, and more important, without realizing it, Gov Romney may have actually managed to shift the conversation of the presidential race to what it needed to be all along — the proper role of government in the lives of individual Americans.

See, Americans do feel they are entitled to healthcare, food, housing, and all those other things that make life, well, livable.  As well they should.  In spite of our economic difficulties, we remain the largest, strongest, and most robust economy on the planet, and there is simply no excuse for any American to go without having their basic needs met.

Now, I don’t think that Gov Romney necessarily disagrees with that.  I’m sure he does believe that every American should have these things.  In addition to which, he also believes that every American should be willing to work in order to provide these things for themselves.  That, in itself, is not unreasonable.  What is lacking in Romney’s perspective, however, is the recognition that there are circumstances beyond an individual’s control.  His remarks suggest he believes each and every American collecting government assistance chose to do so, wants to do so, would rather be doing so than earning a paycheck.

Perhaps Romney can’t comprehend not choosing to take advantage of government assistance, since he chooses (we must assume) every year to take full advantage of the tax code to reduce his tax bill to its absolute minimum.  And he chooses to utilize the special status of the Cayman Islands in order to avoid taxation even further.  And he certainly chose to virtually blackmail the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation into writing down his firm’s debt in what amounted to a ten-million dollar bailout for Bain Capital.

But I’m getting off topic.

The point is that, at several points in our nation’s history, we have decided, collectively, as a nation, that it is simply unacceptable that anyone in this country — with its wealth, with its resources, with its alleged espousal of Judeo-Christian values — would be allowed to go without food, medicine, or shelter simply because they are unable to find or perform a paying job.  And furthermore, we have decided that the only way to ensure that these provisions are made to everyone who needs them is to provide them through the one institution that is accessible to every American citizen — the federal government.

I have said this more times than I can count, and I will continue to say it until I die — the government is not separate from us, it is us.  It is the organ through which we act, as one.  We may not always approve of what we do, but that does not change the fact that government, at its best and worst, is nothing more, or less, than a representation of us.  So when the poor are given food stamps and Medicaid, the elderly given Social Security and Medicare, the unemployed given financial support while they find new work — it’s not some foreign entity called “the government” that’s doing these things.  It’s us.  We, the people, using government to act on our common sense that no one should go without.

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religious freedom and the job market…

I recently had a short exchange with a Facebook friend 0ver a Washington Post column — “HHS Mandate: An Attack On All People of Faith” — that she had shared on her page.

While I found my friend’s defense of the column troubling (and I’ll get to that in just a moment), the piece itself — authored by Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of theNational Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — is rife with problems.

Take, for instance, their explanation of what conditions religious organizations must meet to be exempt from the contraception coverage mandate —

In order to pass the strict guidelines of the exemption, our services as religious institutions must be provided primarily to people of our faith, and we must primarily employ people of our faith to perform these services. Most religious organizations, including hospitals, social services organizations, publishing houses, schools and more, will fail to meet the required provisions and will thus be subject to this mandate.For the first time in our country’s history, we will have to impose religious tests on those we employ and those we help, in order to maintain our status as exempt religious employers.

It is interesting to me that Harrison and Rodriguez focus on just these two criteria for religious exemption, and that they do so in order to suggest that the criteria place an undue burden on the types of religious organizations they mention.  This is misleading.  According to the final rules,

…for purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that:  (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033 (a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the [Internal Revenue] Code… [these sections refer] to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

Taking a look at the four criteria as a whole, it becomes clear that any organization meeting the first and last are almost certainly going to meet the remaining two (the converse being true, as well).  In other words, the criteria seem to operate on the assumption — and a pretty solid one, I would argue — that a house of worship for a particular faith community is going to employ and primarily serve fellow members of that faith community.  Meeting the two criteria Harrison and Rodriguez cite would, then, be a natural consequence of meeting the two criteria they duly ignore.  Thus, their concern that they will have to execute a “religious test” is not only completely unfounded, but intellectually dishonest.

After attempting this argument, Harrison and Rodriguez then present the reader with the following awful prospect:

A multitude of religious organizations will be forced to carefully consider if they can in good conscience continue to provide services because they cannot and will not go against their fundamental convictions to provide service to all regardless of whether those served share their beliefs… Nursing homes, hospices, counseling and rehabilitation centers, after-school programs, food and shelter efforts for the poor, homes of refuge for victims of violence and abuse, hospitals, schools, thrift stores and more would no longer be able to contribute to our society. The care provided by these organizations, which are currently operating out of faith communities in every state, city and town, provides a vital web of life-sustaining support for people in need.

This, too, is grossly misleading, and in a far more insidious way.  They go to great length to portray religious institutions as having a terrible choice thrust upon them — do we continue in our noble mission to serve all who come to us, regardless of their faith; or do we restrict those whom we serve so that we may retain a religious exemption?  But this is a manufactured dilemma.  The Obama administration has made perfectly clear that even non-exempt religious organizations will not be subject to the contraception coverage mandate, and that, instead, the employees will be offered this coverage directly by the insurance issuer.

And yet, religious organizations (the Catholic Church, in particular) have rejected this compromise as being not good enough.  Perhaps it’s because Catholic hospitals and universities don’t even want the insurance issuer they contract with offering contraception coverage, even if said coverage is not provided by the specific plans they contribute to.  But surely this begs the question:  just how many degrees of separation are we supposed to establish before the Catholic Church is satisfied that its religious liberty is sufficiently unmolested?

*****

Now, after reading this piece, I commented on my friend’s page:

[O]ne question I am still trying to wrap my head around is why it is more important that a Catholic employer be able to refuse coverage of a certain service than it is that a non-Catholic employee have access to that service. In other words, is it necessary, and just, that a non-Catholic seeking employment at a church-affiliated business would have to waive their equal protection under the law (in this case, access to health services) in order to be given a job?

She replied:

That person knows the beliefs of the Organization for which they are intending to work, if they don’t agree with those beliefs they have the freedom to seek employment elsewhere. These are not life or death issues. This is contraception, which is a moral choice, and, not that expensive if the cost has to be born on their own.

There are a couple of major problems with this argument, not least of which are the legal implications.  What my friend is essentially advocating is a de facto “non-[insert faith here]s need not apply” sign outside any religiously affiliated organization, which would be a blatant violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  While religious liberty in hiring practices recently received a vigorous defense from the Supreme Court, the right of an organization to hire according to religion is still quite narrowly defined.

The most obvious qualification, of course, is that the nature of the organization’s work must be religious, not secular.  Granted, this is not always a cut-and-dried distinction to make, but I wholeheartedly disagree with those who would argue that Catholic hospitals and universities are engaging in primarily religious activities.  While I accept that, for instance, Catholic hospitals are founded in order to put into practice the teachings of Jesus Christ, it does not follow in any way that one must be an adherent to those teachings to be an effective employee in that hospital.  One need not feel motivated by the Sermon on the Mount in order to be a good and caring nurse.

Beyond the legal ramifications of the attitude expressed in my friend’s comment, there is the troubling fact that it is rooted in hypocrisy.  It says that, on the one hand, an individual who makes the choice to seek employment at a religiously-affiliated institution must submit to that institution’s creed (whether or not the creed is necessary to fulfilling the job) or else seek employment elsewhere; whereas, on the other hand, a religious institution that makes the choice to engage in the wider world of secular activities (all those services listed by Harrison and Rodriguez above, and more) should not have to submit to the rules and regulations governing those activities.

That is not an arrangement I accept.

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in which i make a stir…

I seem to have touched off quite a mini-storm on the Occupy Wall Street forum — you can read my post and the fascinating responses here.

Here’s what has happened:

I have stopped paying my credit card bills.  All of them.  Just stopped paying them.

This wasn’t initially my plan.  I mean, yes, I sort of threw up the idea for argument’s sake over the summer.  But I never took the idea too seriously.  I’d been thinking for some time about how to tackle my credit card debt more aggressively (transferring them to a zero-interest card, taking a debt consolidation loan, &c) because, frankly, I simply don’t make that much and, being self-employed, my income is incredibly variable.  Thus, throwing four to five hundred dollars a month at balances that simply refused to go down —  due to obscenely high interest rates and my inability to make more than the minimum payment — was quickly becoming unsustainable, and just plain stupid.  My intention was still to pay down the debt I had accrued, just hopefully on better terms.

Occupy Wall Street changed all that.  It became clear that it was time — past time — to start thinking more creatively about how to reclaim my — our — financial future.  So I decided, after much discussion and with the support of my spouse, to deliberately default on my credit cards and let the chips fall where they may.

I should reiterate, I did not take this course lightly.  Taking into account the impact on my credit rating, our ability to borrow in the future, and the sheer aggravation of collections calls, we still decided it was the best way to go.  If my goal had simply been greater financial flexibility, I probably wouldn’t have come to that conclusion.  I can’t deny that the extra four hundred a month has made it easier to meet our household expenses, and I don’t regret having the ability to put money into the local economy.

But it’s about more than the money.  It’s about protesting a fundamentally unjust system that I, and millions of other Americans, have become completely fed up with.

As I have argued on many, many occasions, it is simply absurd that American taxpayers essentially fronted seven-hundred billion dollars to the banking industry so that it could clear its books of bad assets while at the same time those same taxpayers have been left on their own.  Banks have been all but washed clean of their reckless behavior, but individual Americans are expected to nobly suffer the consequences of their own.

When I say that, am I implying that individuals engaging in reckless behavior should face no negative repercussions?  Quite the opposite.  What I am saying is that is absolutely intolerable that we must watch while the industry that drove our country to near-ruin has not borne its share of the punishment.  And if they are getting off scot-free, then why, in any sort of just world, are Americans not offered at least some shot at redemption?

We live in a two-tiered world, where a class of people (by which I mean corporations, who are considered people in the eyes of the law) are able to engage in practices so risky as to bring the economy to a screeching halt, and then essentially be rewarded for those practices with bailouts, while the rest of us are left no option but to suffer not only for our mistakes, but for theirs as well.

I have argued in the past, and will continue to argue, that across-the-board debt relief is the surest route to economic recovery.  Unleashing the consumer potential of the American middle class is an option that remains untapped.  And why?  Because there is simply no political will to force the banking industry to take a loss.  No political will to do this, in spite of the fact that, to put it bluntly, the banks owe us one.

There is a way to do this — simply, orderly, and responsibly.  I would much prefer to do it that way.  But in the absence of any assistance offered to individual Americans like myself, I am declaring my own debt-relief program.

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the richest man in town…

I realize that it’s likely the height of sacrilege to be writing a political post on Christmas Eve.  But I’ve just had an unexpectedly unsettling reaction to that most wholesome and uplifting all-American yuletide film, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.

You see, when I watched it as a young child, I understood the whole I-wish-I-was-never-born conceit, and how it was foolish to wish that, and how we all touch innumerable peoples’ lives in ways we can never possibly know. But, being a young child, I never quite got why George Bailey was all suicidal in the first place (it might also be because I’ve only ever watched it on Christmas Eve, in bits and pieces, amidst the madness of Christmas-present-wrapping, and Christmas-treat-baking, and so on…).

At any rate, I began to see a whole new side of the film tonight — one that had probably registered before, but never with such disturbing clarity.

We all know that George is the hero, and Mr. Potter the villain.  This is because George lives a life of quiet dignity, silently sacrificing his dwindling hopes and dreams for a life outside of Bedford Falls in order to fulfill the duties and responsibilities life has placed on him.  While, by contrast, Mr. Potter enjoys a life of great, though presumably miserable, wealth, putting business, profit, and greed above all else.

What I realized tonight, and what I found so unsettling, is that this movie could never be made today.  No, the Mr. Potter’s of our time are the heroes — revered as “job creators,” their immense wealth protected from progressive taxation by politicians who decry all taxes as “legalized robbery.”  The rest of us, the residents of Bailey Park, are lazy, entitled, socialist-commies just looking for a hand-out.

Now, the reason the film is so uplifting, of course, is that despite Potter’s incredibly criminal act of holding onto the Savings & Loan money Uncle Billy was to have deposited, George’s friends come through with more than enough cash and credit to make up for it.  Lesson learned:  if you’re a good person, and treat everyone with kindness and generosity, you will be taken care of in your time of need.  All of us in Bailey Park, we’re like family.  And we look after our family.

That’s all well and good.  But what about justice?

Left inexplicably unresolved at the end of the film is the fact that Potter is still holding onto the eight thousand dollars that rightfully belongs to the Bailey Savings & Loan.  As far as we know, that fact never even comes to light.  We’re simply left basking in the glow of family and friends singing “Auld Lang Syne”.  Good, decent, hard-working people, who’ve got each others’ backs, pooling their resources to help a friend in trouble is beautiful and inspiring, sure.  But, to be perfectly Frank (Capra… get it?), it’s ultimately a distraction from the fact that Mr. Potter has committed a serious crime (the very kind of fraud he was all set to accuse George Bailey of!) and, to our knowledge, is never held to account.

Okay, I promise I’m not getting this worked up over a work of fiction.  I’m getting this worked up because this story is, in many ways, our reality.  The vast majority of us have paid for this recession — in jobs lost, homes foreclosed, and opportunities diminished.  But we have yet to see a single major figure from the world of finance brought to justice for the gross mishandling of mortgages that led directly to this situation in the first place.  At the very least, chief executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are facing serious charges from the SEC.  But that bit of news just makes me think of that old joke about a lawyer at the bottom of the ocean — it’s a good start.

I guess, ultimately, I just want our story to be one where we can happily sing Christmas hymns and still throw Mr. Potter in jail.  Something along the lines of what Saturday Night Live so insightfully suggested here —

http://www.hulu.com/embed/Sw1TLtPVU6mgQT5aI1fIKQ

Joy to the world, with liberty and justice for all.

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