Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Uncle S(h)am Wants You (For His Next Scam)!

Just Make Sure You Ask For A Gift Receipt

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, the world’s opinion of the United States has plummeted, with the largest short-term drop in American history. The United States now garners as much international esteem as Russia. "

--Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.), Foreign Policy, May/June 2006

"Not for a long time will people listen to US officials lecture on the virtues of free financial markets with a straight face."

--Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, 12/12/2007

"It hurts to see our national pastime ripped apart by allegations and scandals. I am seeing former teammates and opponents go under the HGH/steroid crosshairs, and it makes me wonder what else was happening in the 15 seasons I was part of [Major League Baseball.]"

--Doug Glanville, ESPN.com, 12/20/2007

As the Bush Administration counts down its final months, we Americans can look forward to picking ourselves up and shaking off a bit of the dust. It has been a rough few years for our country; a period of self-examination is in order. And what we find on the threshold of 2008 is the following: a foreign policy that inspires revulsion across the globe (witness the string of electoral defeats suffered by key Bush allies such as the sitting governments of Spain, Poland and Australia, as well as the retirement of Britain's Tony Blair); a financial system that will face dozens if not hundreds of lawsuits over the coming months for fraudulently presenting packages of subprime mortgages as "investment grade" to international clients; and a national pastime -- baseball -- whose fans literally cannot believe their eyes because so many players have been artifically pumped up on steroids. Even for a nation where the snake oil salesman has thrived for centuries, and where millions believe that a New York farmer named Joseph Smith found gold tablets left on his farm by God, this is a lot to take.

Yet one can assert that there is no reason to be pessimistic. The US has put its disheveled house in order countless times before, following the Civil War; the Great Depression; Vietnam; Watergate; and the S&L crisis. Next up for resolution are the grotesque aftermath of the housing bubble and the morally (and financially) disastrous occupation of Iraq. As the country goes about tackling these issues, it seems the best advice for the citizenry is to be reticent to trust its self-anointed "leaders," and instead insist that humane and intelligent policies percolate from the enlightened grassroots upward. Because when Uncle Sam comes strolling down the sidewalk, eager to tout a needless war or to sell a bundle of worthless paper, the best thing is to grab the kids, check the wallet, and cross over to the other side of the road to join your neighbors.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Minnesota's Own Version of "Verjudung," or How Somali Refugees Threaten Christmas In The Upper Midwest

Germany's Pro-Christian, Anti-Semitic Adolf Stoecker:
Would He Win Votes in Present-Day Minnesota?

A substantial number of Minnesotans have developed an hysterical fear of Muslims. The main Minneapolis newspaper regularly reports on the purported social infractions engaged in by the local Somali community, who arrived in the city in the early 1990's as refugees fleeing civil war in their home country. The latest outrage to rile the native population involves the creation by a local community college of a designated place for Somali-origin students to observe their daily prayer ritual.

In a blog discussion about the prayer site, one participant asserted the following:

“This is just another step in the Islamification of our country. This will be the civil war of our lifetime. America vs. internal and home-grown Muslims.”
Apart from evincing paranoia, the commentary -- not at all unique in the blogosphere, or in the nation's capital-- is also reminiscent of a sinister belief from Germany's past: Verjudung.

Verjudung held that 19th century German culture was being corrupted by the newly-emancipated Jews. One of its foremost proponents was Adolf Stoecker, who -- according to Wikipedia -- was "upset with the dislocating social effects brought on by rapid industrialization" and so "called for German society to rededicate itself to Christian faith and return to Germanic rule in law and business." Stoecker founded the Christian Social Party, designed at once to beat back socialism and deprive Jews of their civil rights. The CSP found that the more it attacked German Jewry, the greater its success at the ballot box.

Along with increasing xenophobia in Minnesota, directed not only at Somali Muslims but also at Mexican immigrants, the US Congress has swung into action to revive explicitly a principal part of the CSP philosophy, last week passing House Resolution 847: "Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith." While the Iraq situation festers and a global financial crisis unfolds, our House of "Representatives" found time to assert officially by a vote of 372-9 that "on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ." Stoecker would have been proud.

Another major piece of the context that helped spawn the German CSP also is on the rise in present-day America: economic anxiety. The subprime mortgage crisis threatens not only to throw millions of people out of their homes and cause the US economy to contract, but also to provoke a worldwide financial meltdown. The blame for this, according to Martin Wolf of "The Financial Times," ultimately falls on the shoulders of the financiers of London and New York who are guilty of poisoning international markets with a "mixture of crony capitalism and gross incompetence." Even so, substitute "liberal" for "socialist" and "Muslim/Mexican" for "Jew" and my money is on our nation's latter-day Adolf Stoeckers to continue diverting anger from worthy targets onto bogeymen.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Latest Republican "Debate" & America's Ostrich Complex

Unfortunately, Viagra Works Magic On Only One of the Above

"The Economist Intelligence Unit sees at least a 40% chance of a recession in 2008, with overall GDP growth of not much more than 1%."
-- The Economist Intelligence Unit, 11/30/07

"As much as $362 billion in U.S. subprime home mortgages with adjustable interest rates are due to reset at potentially higher rates in the coming year . . . Losses related to bad mortgages already have reached the tens of billions of dollars and have led to turmoil in the world's financial markets."

-- The Wall Street Journal, 12/1/07

"Any of you want to tell us about your gun collection -- roughly how many you own; what your favorite make, model and caliber is . . . ?"
-- A question posed to Republican presidential
candidates during their November 28 "debate"
The incongruity of the quotations above points up the extremely poor health of American democracy. Our nation seems unable to apprehend much less confront and deal with the social, economic and political complexities of the 21st century. Our citizens are losing their homes; our college students are drowning in debt; our children have insufficient health insurance; the value of the dollar is plummeting; totalitarians like Chávez, Putin and the Chinese politburo are in the ascendancy; and our government remains mired in the massively expensive and deadly Iraq debacle. Yet it is deemed important to ask our presidential aspirants about a quirky, anachronistic hobby. Worse still, these "leaders" -- rather than condemn the very question itself as fatuous -- trip all over themselves to provide an answer. How humiliating, both for them and for us.
In 2000 I had a chance to watch a re-run of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Not only did I not notice any of the infamous beard stubble on Nixon, but I found him to be every bit JFK's equal as an orator, policy analyst, and intellect. Each man spoke in complete paragraphs, citing concrete data, and putting forth a coherent vision for the nation's future. In retrospect, of course, I knew that both men eventually would get a turn in the presidency and that Nixon would turn out to be a morally defective "crook." But I did not get the sense that either one was condescending to the viewer, or immersed in irrelevancies, or that I would be ashamed to have him represent me -- as an American -- abroad. Today, though, one questions whether either JFK or Nixon would put up with the trivialities and constant insults to his intelligence required to run for the White House.
And so, while 2008 promises to be economically problematic and possibly catastrophic, we learn that a particular Republican presidential candidate believes that allowing gays in the military is inconsistent with Judeo-Christian tradition. (Although neither Britain nor Israel has a problem fielding openly homosexual soldiers!) And, while the US struggles with the most unequal distribution of income since the roaring '20's, we learn that the Republican candidates somehow balance an unwavering devotion to Jesus with a fervent belief in capital punishment.
The fact is, we citizens no longer get real answers to serious questions from our politicians. Instead, truth from Washington probably will continue to trickle in like this: a friend of mine was recently informed via a mundane letter from the Social Security Administration that her promised federal retirement benefits would likely be reduced 25% by the time she was old enough to qualify for them. In other words, hard reality will be impressed upon Americans anonymously and without any room for political accountability.