Pondering the Politicizing of Tucson

Walt Kelly's Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."Even before the dead are buried and the survivors have healed physically from their wounds – seemingly before the blood was washed from the sidewalk — the left and the right stepped in with pointed fingers, wielding the same tired old clichés of their respective rhetorics. The survivors – both the wounded and those who lost loved ones and friends – have barely begun to grieve, and yet the wounded and the dead have already become American political pawns.

I don’t believe for a moment that right-wing rhetoric caused Jared Loughner’s mental imbalance, but I think it’s undeniable that he was influenced by that rhetoric in his choice of victims and the way in which he chose to attack them. The strategic editing and sanitizing of Sarah Palin’s website and Twitter stream in the wake of the shooting is telling; the fact that right-wing mouthpieces immediately went on the defensive even more so.

It’s utterly reprehensible and disgusting.

What’s also equally utterly reprehensible and disgusting is the way the left immediately began pointing fingers and crying “See, see! Your fault!” From the mainstream media all the way down to my Facebook page, index fingers were flexed within hours.

The real shame of it is that there was opportunity in this tragedy – an opportunity to perhaps wrangle a bit of meaning out of otherwise senseless death. Both sides could have taken a thoughtful and nuanced approach and suggest that maybe we as an American culture should examine the nature of the current political discourse in the wake of this tragedy.

But no. The left resorted to the same tools that they claim to loathe when wielded by the right: rhetoric founded on baser emotions rather than logic, and finger pointing. And the right immediately began defending their own choice of rhetoric by spouting the same – an excellent opportunity for more of the same angry polemic pontification that they love so much.

Well played, left and right. You have met the enemy, and they are you. These days I fear we have already given up the ship.*

So many people lamented the right-wing politicizing of 9/11; here those same left-wing people are politicizing another tragedy, albeit a smaller one (at least to those of us who didn’t lose a loved one in Tucson). And here we have the right-wing polemicists refusing to even accept the possibility that they may have influenced Loughner’s choice of manifesting his insanity.

Have we learned nothing? Will we ever?

I’ve said it before; I’ve no doubt I’ll say it again. There is only one thing more disgusting than a Republican, and that’s a Democrat. But today I think it is the other way around. People on the right played to type. People on the left, however, for all their claimed enlightenment, should conceivably have known better, and conducted themselves accordingly; they did not.

I might say they chose not to, but I don’t think it was actually a matter of choice, unfortunately.

If we want to find someone to blame for this tragedy, as Americans, we should each of us look in the mirror.

*Apologies to Walt Kelly and Oliver Perry.

P.S.  Editorial cartoonist Matt Bors has an interesting take on the Tucson tragedy, most of which I happen to agree with. Plus this sadly amusing comic:

Matt Bors' take on the Tucson Tragedy and what's happening in its wake.

Bailout: Lulled by the Sound of Congressional Fiddles

Fiddling while America burns ... Oh yes, I mean, Rome, of course. God(ess(es)), I don’t know why I keep writing this stuff. But somehow it makes me a little less angry with my elected leaders. Venting into the electronic ether provides some cold comfort, I guess.

Let’s review, just for my own sorrow/amusement.

So deregulation – a dismantling of the banking and financial regulations the government put in place after the stock market crash of October 1929 that precipitated the Great Depression – took place in the 1980s under Reagan and the Republicans. Deregulation essentially expanded since then under each administration to one degree or another, as I understand it, with Clinton – a Democrat, mind you – getting in his administration’s two cents/lack of sense in 1998. This was in spite of the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s (remember that, Generation X? No, I didn’t think so).

This in turn lead to all manner of financial investment schemes that became so complex that even the people that are paid to understand them confess that, in the wake of the implosion of said schemes, even they don’t understand these schemes. This is what the much-heralded free market has begat. But at the root of the current disaster is the problem of subprime mortgages and speculation in and selling of said mortgages – and leveraging, I believe is the financial industry term. I gather leveraging is Wall Street code for “in debt up to your freakin’ eyeballs with no clear way of how to pay it off.”

The Foxy Investor Guards the U.S. Hen House

Now Henry Paulson used to be the head of Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs until 2006, when Dubya invited him to become the U.S. treasury secretary. Goldman Sachs, along with Morgan Stanley, is essentially one of two Wall Street firms left standing, and the only reason they are standing is because the government let them be recognized as bank holding companies – essentially, they are getting into the commercial bank business, so they can fix their balance sheets with bank account deposits, which they couldn’t do as investment banks. That was one of the results of the regulation that came after the Crash of ’29: delineating between commercial banks and investment banks.

This is what Lehman Brothers wanted to do – even as it sought millions of dollars in golden parachutes for its execs – but the government told it no, and it promptly folded. Goldman and Morgan Stanley would likely have met the same fate, eventually, were they not given this federal lifeline, if the journalists who cover Wall Street are telling it correctly (I certainly couldn’t say for sure).

So, Congress capitulated to the fear mongering that it had to pass this bailout measure or else, promptly handing over $700 billion in taxpayer money to someone — Mr. Henry Paulson — who up until 2006 was directly part of the problem. Goldman Sachs made some tidy sums off of the whole subprime mortgage speculation, with Paulson at the helm.

Does This Make You Angry? It Makes Me Angry

But wait, it gets even better/worse.

Who does Paulson appoint today to oversee the newly-created Troubled Assets Relief Program and U.S. Office of Financial Stability? One of his own: Neel Kashkari, a 35-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive, who came to the U.S. Treasury with Paulson, serving as the assistant treasury secretary for International Economics and Development.

So Congress, in its infinite wisdom and at the insistence of the Bush administration, which has done such a great job low these eight years, watches the financial industry meltdown, and then hands over hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to fix it to two people who were part of one of the institutions that caused the problem.

Er, um. What? I still don’t understand how the hell any of this is not anything but bat-shit insane. The world has clearly gone barking mad.

Congress and Dubya hand $700 billion of public money – our money – to people that have literally been part of the problem, and gotten rich off of it too boot. There were dire warnings that if this quick fix didn’t come to pass, everything would continue to go to hell. That if we didn’t rescue (reward) those who combined greed and bad decision making and in the process put a government that is on its own wobbly financial legs on even more precarious financial footing, that things would get immeasurably worse.

So what happened? The market didn’t exactly react as everyone supposedly thought it would; it promptly got worse.

The ripples of the American financial collapse are being felt around the globe, and investors aren’t buying the idea that the bailout is going to fix things. And the same president that warned that we had to do this right away because the industry and the economy is in peril is saying that the economy is “just fine” (really, he said this here in Cincinnati today) but that the recovery will take a long time. And all of the talking heads are telling us that it could be months or even years before credit loosens up – when frozen credit was the boogie man the administration – and the two presidential candidates – used to sell everyone on the bailout.


I had held out hope for a moment that Congress would take its head of out of its collective ass when it refused the bailout the first time, but no. I had hoped that it might actually do something to address the root cause of our current economic crisis, rather than apply a $700-billion bandage that will do nothing to keep the wound from festering and rotting. That our elected leaders might actually do something that resembled leadership.

But no.

So what did Congress do once it passed the emergency bailout and a spending bill Friday? It went on recess. The next session of Congress isn’t scheduled to start until November, after the election.

Congress went on vacation.

Those with seats up for re-election have to rush home to do what they can to make sure they get re-elected, of course – never mind the fact that the country is winging its way to financial ruin, if the financial press is to be believed.

So, America burns, and our leaders collectively fiddle. I know, I know; that’s cliché. But it’s apparently an apt one.

Way to go Congress. You too, McCain and Obama. Well played. Two thumbs up. To borrow a phrase from Bush: you’re doin’ a heckuva job. But please remind me: what exactly do we elect you and pay you to do again? I forget. …

Perhaps a Not So Futile Election …

Well, it looks like I was happily wrong about the election. I remain skeptical that anything is going to change in any substantial way, but I’m heartened by the fact that people did finally opt to send a message to our fearless, peerless leaders. So, we shall see …

Speaking of fearless, peerless leaders, didn’t Dubya just give Rummy a boost of confidence just a week or so ago? I’m too lazy to look it up right now – I’ve been dinking around with editing photos and my flickr account all night, and now it’s closing in on bed time. But I’m happy that Rumsfeld is gone and Gates is in, but like the change of hands in Congress, I’m skeptical that anything will be different. And I just really don’t understand why we have yet another secretary of defense with NO military experience. Yes, Robert Gates has a lot of intelligence experience, which will serve him well, no doubt. But isn’t it just simple logic that you want someone leading the military who has military leadership experience?

This seems like hiring Mario Andretti to be your chief mechanic. Yes, he’s one of the best drivers in the history of auto racing, and he surely knows a lot about how cars run. But I’d rather hire someone who has a ton of experience being a mechanic. … But then, this is politics, and politics and logic are mutually exclusive of one another.

Exercising My Right to Participate in American Futilism (or Democracy)

I farted, or rather, voted today; it amounts to the same thing in American democracy.Nothing like starting out an inaugural post for a new blog with a bang.

I’ve debated about whether or not I should indulge in self-censorship here, or talk about things like politics, given the fact that this journal is connected with my personal site that houses my resume and clips from my journalism career. But in the end, I’ve just decided to follow conventional wisdom: don’t post anything you don’t want people to read or otherwise see. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be hired by someone that would have an issue with my politics anyway.

So today I participated in American democracy, or as I’ve taken to calling it of late, “American futilism.” Get it? Futlism, as in futility, as opposed to feudalism. Puns rule. Anyway, apparently unlike some other polling places here in the great state of Ohio, my polling place was rather quiet; we didn’t have any of the electronic voting machines, although we did have a scanner to scan the paper ballots.

However, there were a lot of older people that were a bit confused about the ballot. It consisted of boxes that had to be completely filled in with blue or black ink, so that they could be scanned – to anyone under the age of 40 that has taken standardized scholastic tests, I’m sure this was clear. But to anyone who has not, it wasn’t; there were a lot of people there asking if they had to place an “X” or a checkmark in the box.

The ballot instructions, while explicitly stating that the boxes on the ballot had to be completely filled in, didn’t actually provide a picture of an example, unlike the directions for every standardized, computerized test that I’ve ever taken.

Again, given the election problems we’ve had in the recent past, one would think that this would have been a no-brainer, to provide an actual example in the ballot instructions. But no. Sigh …

Democracy: Providing the Lowest Common Denominator

As for who I voted for, well, let me just say that I’m a registered independent. I think political parties are the bane of democracy, and I tend to think that the only thing worse than the Democratic Party is the Republican Party (nothing personal; some of my best friends and family are registered Dems and Reps).

I’m conservative to the point of libertarianism on some issues, liberal to the point of radicalism on others. My father once told a young and impressionable me that “all politicians are crooks.” The older I get, the more I come to believe that.

Most of the time, when it comes to voting for candidates running for public office, I am forced to choose the lesser of however many evils are on the ballot. Just once – one time in my life – I’d like to vote for a candidate, even if it’s for some local office, that I actually like, that actually believes in some of the same things I do. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

That’s the problem with democracy; we end up with the lowest common denominator. Democracy is like advertising-supported broadcast radio and television; it tends to be lackluster because it has to try and please the greatest number of people, in order to appeal to advertisers – it is essentially watered down on purpose. Similarly, at best we end up with watered down, lackluster candidates that appeal to the broadest number of people. Not a candidate that most people would prefer, perhaps, but one we all can supposedly live with.

Of course, the last several years have made me want to reconsider the concept of anarchy. I’m kidding, of course. Sort of.

One more thing. We’ve all heard by now about how voters are angry, and there’s going to be a big change in the status quo, etc. Blah blah blah. We’ve been hearing this in every election since 2002: voters are unhappy, there’s going to be a big turnout – young people will vote in record numbers – and there’s going to be dramatic changes.

And it never happens. Voter turnout is lackluster, most young people don’t vote, and nothing changes. I want to be on record: I’m not buying it this time around. I don’t believe the polls the clueless pundits quote. I won’t get my hopes up this time; I won’t be fooled again.

Incidentally, this afternoon I stopped into the local coffee shop where I frequently hang out, and a server working there asked me if I had voted today. She is a young woman in her late teens/early 20s. She suggested that voting day should be a national holiday, and that by law, people should be given time off from work to vote, and that there should be public transportation that takes people directly to the polling places –all of which I think are good ideas.

Not sure how feasible the transportation option is, but I like the idea of a federal holiday for voting – no more excuses for the slackers. As it is, my server said she works two jobs and has no car, and therefore most likely won’t make it to vote.

I pointed out that this is the primary problem with American democracy; people who should vote, don’t. In Eastern Europe, at the first sign of corruption, people riot in the streets. Here, most of us can’t even be bothered to vote, even in the face of widespread corruption in our government. No matter; she doesn’t have time between her two jobs to take the bus and make the subsequent walk to the polling place.

And tomorrow, on Nov. 8, I suspect all across America, it will be the same: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.