Sunday, May 20, 2012

Election (Hold-your-nose) Time

I have to tell you I’m not looking forward to the upcoming presidential election. Even though he has the advantage of incumbency, President Obama appears to be faltering already, with a recent poll giving Mitt Romney a 46% to 43% lead over the President. This is an ominous sign—a sign of an electorate fed up with incumbents and too susceptible to propaganda to be able to figure out the Republican strategy of crippling government at all levels to get gullible voters to conclude it’s really government that’s the problem. Not to mention the sheer racism that is a brisk wind at Republican backs. And the loony right that characterizes anyone left of Attila the Hun as a Socialist.

            Of course we know Obama is anything but. The man who seemed at least progressive has now revealed an inner core so concerned about making nice with power elites (due to his training at private schools and Harvard?) that he has compromised virtually everything he ever seemed to stand for. His health care bill is a joke, and probably about to be struck down. His response to the economic collapse is an even bigger joke. And he seems allergic to saying anything about the “poor” or “working classes,” both of whom have disappeared from his political lexicon. Two videos are key documents in this regard: both from Frontline, they are “The Warning,” and the more recent two-part series, “Money, Power & Wall Street.” Both show that Obama was totally mesmerized, if not poisoned, by the Clintons and their brand of democratic “pragmatism,” i.e. cozying up to money power. “The Warning” is perhaps the most infuriating, even though the action it depicts took place in the waning years of the Clinton presidency. It portrays the drama of Brooksley Born (brought into the government through her contact with Hillary, and named not the Attorney General [Bill found her cold and dull], but head of the sleepy Commodity Futures Trading Commission, charged with overseeing then-obscure over-the-counter derivatives trading). Born immediately saw big problems with this growing and totally unregulated market, and began to draft regulations to control it. The Clinton economic team—Robert Rubin as Treasury Secretary, Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chief and alleged economic magician, and Larry Summers as Rubin’s right-hand man and enforcer—went ballistic and tried every ploy to bulldoze her into silence. Greenspan early on took her into his office to convey his bizarre take on market fraud. As Born recounted it, “he explained there wasn’t a need for a law against fraud because if a floor broker was committing fraud, the customer would figure it out and stop doing business with him.” In short, the free market would take care of fraud, as it took care of everything else, no regulations needed.

            They were wrong, as the world found out in 2008, but as these economic geniuses found out even before then, in September 1998 when the huge hedge fund betting heavily on derivatives, Long Term Capital Management, nearly failed—for precisely the reasons Born had laid out. But did they change? Not on your life. Instead of now agreeing to regulations, the big three managed to coerce over a dozen banks to bolster LTCM with a huge infusion of cash, and “save” the system. They also saved their plan to get Congress to pass a moratorium on Born’s planned regulations. Notwithstanding Congressional hearings at which Born insisted that the LTCM collapse “should serve as a wake-up call about the unknown risks in the over-the-counter derivatives market,” the Rubin-Greenspan-Summers troika upped the pressure, and Congress passed the moratorium icing regulations. They got rid of Born in the bargain: Two months later, in April 1999, Brooksley Born announced she would leave the now-muzzled agency she headed.

            "Cassandra" (Born) finally did get her day of reckoning when she recently, and for the Nth time, warned about the danger of “Dark Markets,” still unregulated, whose size now exceeds $680 trillion dollars—more than 10 times the gross national product of all the nations of the world. And we were reminded of the hazards of these “dark markets” just this month when the nation’s largest bank, JP Morgan-Chase, reported that it had lost some $2 billion in a bad bet on derivatives, a loss that is now $5 billion and climbing.

            In light of all this, it’s worth remembering what Obama did when he entered office in 2008. He brought the unregenerate Larry Summers back to be his chief economic advisor; chose, instead of Paul Volcker, Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary; and thus cemented in place the noxious notions of Robert Rubin, by then back in business as CEO of Citibank, another failing behemoth on the dole (Rubin had earlier left his post as CEO of Goldman Sachs to become Clinton’s treasury secretary). With such people shaping his perceptions of what makes sense economically, there was no way Barack Obama could institute policies on behalf of ordinary people rather than the Bigs of Finance. And he did as he was told. Sadly, he has done this in virtually every area of government (including the most repressive areas: he has brought more cases against whistleblowers than even Bush did, and his drone warfare—simply killing suspects ala Israel, rather than trying to bring them to justice—has become a national scandal). It seems the president has serious trouble standing up to the established powers gathered around him, and that includes the Republican leadership with whom he continues, despite endless spittle in his face and stabs in his back, to try to compromise.

            Is there even a need to speak about the other guy, Willard (that’s his name) Romney? Bain Capital was his golden goose, being a takeover company that made billions in the go-go 80s and 90s by buying up overvalued companies, firing half their labor force to “make them profitable,” loading them with debt to finance their very takeover, and then selling them to gullible buyers or into bankruptcy. Such takeover artists are the creeps who helped eviscerate a once-productive economy. And yet, we find 46% of the American people aiming to put this raptor in charge of the entire government. Are there so many rabid idiots and racists willing to vote for anyone to get rid of the black man in the White House? So many who are willing to ignore the staggering hypocrisy of the man (a recent piece by Timothy Eagan about Romney points out that the candidate’s prating about his firm principle to marriage “as a relationship between one man and one woman” hardly squares with his illustrious Mormon forebears—a great grandfather, Miles P. Romney, who had 5 wives, and a great-great grandfather, Parley Pratt, who had an even dozen, yes, 12 wives!)? It seems there are.

            This leaves most of the electorate with the most odoriferous of choices. Either hold your nose and vote for the guy who betrayed almost every hope he engendered, with the promise of more to come; or vote for the latest oligarch tripping over himself to curry favor with the bat-shit crazies of the right.  

            Unless—one decides to vote Green. I have recently heard and read about Jill Stein, on the brink of getting the Green Party’s presidential nomination. I think she deserves everyone’s consideration. She’s an MD—a doctor who specializes in environmental health— and an advocate for everything we thought Obama might accomplish, or at least bring up: a New-Deal-type plan to create 25 million mostly Green jobs, at a price similar to what the bank bailout cost; a pledge to break up the big Wall Street banks, emphasizing smaller state development banks catering to local businesses and homeowners; and a vow to implement real single payer health care for all. In addition, she’s not afraid to call for some actual policy changes regarding the United States’ long-running support of Israel’s illegal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. She’s smart, not afraid to say what she thinks, and attractive and articulate in laying out her views. I am seriously thinking that Green might be the way to go this year, especially in light of what appears to be yet another “hold your nose” election. Even though the last time progressives made such a choice and the vote for Ralph Nader helped to elect the Bushwah, it may be time to try again. After all, how long can these stomach-souring, least-evil choices be tolerated? Obama may get beaten anyway; in which case voting for him would feel bitter indeed. But if millions of people vote Green, perhaps, even without winning, the long-term stranglehold over the electoral process—a voting trap between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dumber—can begin to be broken. Perhaps the related stranglehold of money and finance in our politics, of business as usual, can also be loosened. (For myself, I would like to see elections in which air time on TV is given free to major candidates; that is the least the corporations who hold rights to the people’s airwaves should pay back; and it would, at a stroke, eliminate the necessity for expensive ads.) At the least, the allowable limits of what can and cannot be said by a major candidate would change radically. To get more details, go to

            One thing is certain. Something has to be done to change the way politics is played and won in this country. Voting Green might just be a good beginning.

Lawrence DiStasi

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