Friday, October 29, 2010

The Eve of Elections

Less than a week before the 2010 midterm elections for Congress, anyone with a soul feels the need to expel some of the indigestion that has been building in the gut. Recent news affords ample material, even if it seems a bit disjointed.

Let’s begin with the types of candidates that are threatening to actually win—even above and beyond the idiots like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. Consider the lovely candidate threatening to unseat the blue dog Democratic incumbent in North Carolina, Ilario Pantano. Republican Pantano is a 38-year-old veteran of the Iraq war, but what a veteran! He had actually fought in the first gulf war as a marine, but after 9/11 decided to leave his job at Goldman Sachs (where else?) and re-enlist. Serving as a 2d Lieutenant, he was involved in an “incident” in 2004 shortly after the highly-publicized hanging of four American private contractors in Fallujah. As reported in the Oct. 26 Guardian, on 15 April, Pantano and crew stopped two unarmed Iraqi men in a car—suspects, as all Iraqis were. After a car search, he

unloaded a magazine of his M16A4 automatic rifle into them, before reloading and blasting a second magazine over them—some 60 rounds in total. Over the corpses, he left a placard inscribed with the marine motto: ‘No better friend, No worse enemy.’

A few months later, a member of his own unit reported him and he was charged with murder. Other facts emerged: the bodies of the two men, Hamaady Kareem and Tahah Hanjil, were found in a kneeling position, and they were shot in the back. But Pantano’s defense alleged that weapons had been found in the house the Iraqis exited, and the men had “turned on Pantano unexpectedly” as he was guarding them, so he fired in self-defense. It didn’t take long for the charges against Pantano to be dropped for ‘lack of evidence,’ though the officer in charge of the hearing did recommend non-judicial punishment for “extremely poor judgment.” In his campaign, Pantano has refused to defend himself “for something that happened five years ago.” As to the placard he left (which also became the title of a book he wrote, part of the reason for his fame), Pantano has said: “I don’t need to explain anything…If folks are alarmed, well war is alarming.”

Yes. War is alarming. First and foremost for the brutality it rewards—rendering to psychopaths like Pantano hero worship, a book, and now a chance to be a U.S. Congressman endorsed by Sarah Palin (she called Pantano “another dedicated patriot running for Congress”) and Pamela Geller (of ‘mosque at ground zero’ fame, whom Pantano, returning the praise, calls “a patriot” whose endorsement “thrills him”) all in return for his brave murder of unarmed, kneeling civilians. Second, for the brutality it inevitably brings not only to those who take part in it, like Pantano, but to those at home who cannot help but be polluted by its ethos. And this includes not just those in Pantano’s district, which, not unexpectedly, sits only a few miles from the main marine training center at Camp Lejeune.

No. I would include, among others, the sweet man from Arkansas who made the news recently. His name is Clint McCance, and he’s vice-president of the Midland School District in a place called (get this) Pleasant Plains, Arkansas. Allegedly upset over a gay rights group’s “Spirit Day” recently, that urged wearing purple to raise awareness about harassment and bullying of gay youth, Mc Cance commented on his Facebook page:

The only way I’m wearin’ it (purple) for them is if they all commit suicide. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. (Yahoo News, 10/29)

Faced with a firestorm, including, according to McCance, death threats that prompted him to send his wife and children into hiding, the school board VP resigned. He apologized, saying he’s “sorry” for what he wrote on his Facebook page. “I would never support suicide for any kids,” McCance is quoted as saying; indicating that perhaps he’s heard about the rash of gay suicides recently. Isn’t that gratifying? I mean, given the way our politics are going, it shouldn’t be too long before the Tea Party and Sarah Palin are endorsing the very contrite McCance for political office.

As if all this weren’t enough, a recent book and article by sociologist Gar Alperovitz (Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take it Back) puts what looks to be our late, great nation in perspective. You’ve all no doubt heard about how the financial gains of the last 30 years have gone disproportionately to the very rich, while middle class income has stagnated or dropped. Alperovitz points out that the United States now ranks with such advanced nations as Turkmenistan in inequality of income. That is, when measured for income inequality (the gulf between the rich and the rest of us), the United States ranks 77th out of 142 countries—this according to a recent estimate by the United Nations Human Development Report. It is tied not only with Turkmenistan, but also with such bastions of liberty as Tunisia and Georgia. That means that the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. today is more unequal than at any time since the 1920s.

How did this happen? Taxes, for one. Remember the great tax reforms of the Reagan, Bush I and II eras? including a reduction to 15% on capital gains? Well over the last 25 years, “IRS data indicate that the top 1% of American taxpayers increased their share of the nation’s total pre-tax adjusted gross income from 10% in 1980 to 23.5% in 2007.” What’s more, the gain has little to do with individual efforts. Writes Alperovitz:

…not only do income shares of the kind that flow to the top 1% have little to do with what anyone has actually done to deserve them; rather the flows are largely traceable to technologies that ultimately were either paid for by the public, or more importantly, that derive from our collective inheritance of scientific and technical knowledge. (Alperovitz, Huffington Post, 10/28/10)

Now, of course, the Republican mantra is always that ‘lowering taxes frees up capital so that the rich can invest in job-creating businesses’; but what Alperovitz points out is that top marginal tax rates stood at 91% during several Republican and Democrat presidencies (Eisenhower, Truman, etc.) and those high rates “coincided with the postwar boom, the greatest period of economic growth in all of American history.” The shame is that the pusillanimous Democrats of recent years—Clinton, Obama, and the rest, including, this year in California, Jerry Brown running for governor—have echoed this crap about no new taxes. The result (helped by war, of course) has been the devastation of not just the federal economy, but also the economies of most of the states in the union. The prescribed remedy, always, is to “cut spending.” In other words, cut the benefits to the poor and working classes, who will sink even lower relative to the rich already enjoying the lowest tax rates in history.

What can one say? We seem to be wallowing in an era best described by William Butler Yeats in the early part of the twentieth century:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.

The poem, The Second Coming, continues,
Surely some revelation is at hand;/ Surely the Second Coming is at hand
But whether its dismal conclusion is apropos now is anyone’s guess:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at least,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Lawrence DiStasi

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