Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Big Finance & Big Oil -- Teabaggers and Racism

The news coverage would suggest that President Obama and the Democratic Party should just give up now; the teabaggers and the Republican naysayers have convinced the American people and we all now believe in – what was it again? No taxes? No health care? That regulating banks is likely to increase the probability of having to bail them out? No matter; Scott Brown in Massachusetts was the leading edge and soon the entire Senate will be Republican (although if passing a bill with only 59% of the votes in the Senate is “undemocratic” what do we even care? Oh yes; 59 Democratic votes is a minority while 51 Republican votes is a smashing mandate!) Yes, the Repubs claim the mandate (although the Democrats are out-fundraising them).

Nonetheless, it seems pretty amazing that President Obama, whose victory 18 months ago seemed to usher in a new era in politics, now appears so significantly weakened, and on the defensive. I’d suggest that there are several issues. The first is, to recall the Bill Clinton election reminder, the economy (stupid!) It has taken, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, a tremendous blow, brought on by the selfish misdeeds of a bunch of evil financiers abetted by government non-regulation, begun under the same Clinton and exacerbated by the administration of the Worst President in History (WPH), George W. Bush. For whatever reason – his personality, his actual beliefs, his political calculations – Obama never loudly, consistently and firmly put all the blame on his predecessor, the WPH, missing the potential benefit from a tactic that worked so well for Franklin Roosevelt. When things are economically terrible people are upset and angry. We are told that the economy is getting better, and it is clear that stocks are improving and Goldman Sachs is doing great (unless they are actually indicted on criminal, as well as civil, charges (Nelson D. Schwartz, Goldman’s earnings fail to shift focus from case, NY Times April 20, 2010), but lots and lots of people still don’t have jobs, or the houses they once had. And of course, President Obama’s appointment of so many ex-Clintonite Friends of Wall Street (FWS’s) to leadership on his economic team has created the impression that he is sympathetic to them, which maybe he is. Except he is in the process of trying to pass a bill that increases regulation on the banks, which the Republicans, as much the party of wealth as they ever were, are opposing with nonsensical claims that it will increase the probability of bailouts (see Paul Krugman, NY Times April 16, The Fire Next Time, and especially Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, "The Feds vs. Goldman", April 26, 2010).

The health reform bill recently passed, the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, is another target of attack. I have recently written about the contents of this law (PPACA, The New Health Reform Law: How will it affect the public's health and primary care? , April 22, 2010),and of the many ways in which it will actually help people as well as the many flaws. The flaws include that it doesn’t have a coherent mechanism to control costs, and the cost of paying for it is one of the bases upon which it has been attacked. While I clearly would rather see a Medicare-for-all single-payer system, not least because of the enormous immediate savings and potential for long-term cost control, as well as, um, the fact that EVERYONE WOULD BE COVERED BY THE SAME SYSTEM, putting us all in the same boat where we belong, the cost argument doesn’t work for those who opposed health reform and wanted to keep the same system. The new law is flawed because it deals the insurance companies in, with millions of new customers, but it at least puts some restrictions on them. Continuing the same non-system that we are currently in, with increasing numbers of people unable to afford coverage, losing coverage when they get sick, and even more and more of the middle class “squeezed” by costs (“The Squeeze on the Middle Class”) was financially, as well as morally, unsustainable. Attacks on the bill because of the cost from those who are not single-payer supporters are ridiculous.

And, of course, there is racism. Make no mistake; there are a lot of people who are still racist, who are furious that a black man is President of the United States, and will do and say anything to make him unsuccessful. This issue is being addressed by many columnists; they are articulate and correct: see the excellent pieces on the tea party movement by Charles M. Blow (A Mighty Pale Tea, NY Times April 17, 2010) and Welcome to Confederate History Month by Frank Rich (NY Times, April 18, 2010). The “whitewashing” of the motivation of the secessionists in the Confederacy (it was about slavery, St-pid!) is a very disturbing counterpoint to the current racist attacks on the President. Blow writes from Grand Prairie, TX about the fact that the teabaggers are almost all white, while it is blacks and Hispanics, at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, who are most negatively affected by the economy. I recently was in Hawaii, and driving to the airport in Lihue, Kauai, passed a demonstration and immediately knew it was teabaggers because, unlike a roadside collection I’d seen the day before which turned out to be a rally for a mayoral candidate, the whole crowd was white! Lest you think this might have to do with the demographics of the area, Kauai County has only 32.9% non-Hispanic white residents (and an astounding 21.3% who identify themselves as two or more races).

The governments of most countries of the developed world, led by the US under administrations of both parties and with Congresses of both parties, deregulated the financial industry with the expectation that it would do well for the economy. (Interestingly, the one G8 country that probably suffered the least because of financial regulation, Canada, has now elected a Conservative government led by Stephen Harper that is trying to out-do the US Bush administration!) The economy did do well, for a while, better for the wealthy than the working class or poor, until it all came crashing down, burying the most vulnerable but letting the perpetrators escape to their yachts. Maybe (if there is any ironic justice) they will be ruined by the oil slick from the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, but probably not; it will again be the poor and working people, minority or otherwise, and the environment, that take the big hit. Oil companies were also deregulated, allowed to drill offshore, and probably not well examined to make sure that their safety was as tight as it could be. But heck, we needed the oil! And now we will pay the price.

Who could ever have imagined that big finance and the oil industry could not be trusted to be responsible and do their part to care for the rest of us? Well, of course, lots of people but not the ones with the money to get the attention of legislators and the administrations. And apparently not the teabaggers, both their cynical leaders who continue to support these big industries and oppose regulation, or their troops, overwhelmingly white, who yet again are being taken in by a racist divide and conquer strategy.

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