Thursday, March 24, 2011

Red Herrings

To be published in the spring Issue of Vermont Commons, a print journal and online forum for exploring the idea of Vermont independence – political, economic, social, and spiritual.

There are several red herrings flopping wetly in our midst. Boss Kiss is trying to sell a doozy with his admonition that “no one can be ruled out” as a partner in fighting climate change in Burlington. The Mayor insists we must pursue partnerships even with the likes of Lockheed Martin, a corporation that has done more to both create climate change through the carbon belching military and to perpetuate climate change inaction via their membership in the Chamber of Commerce than any other entity short of one specifically created to serve those purposes. To say nothing of the effects on homegrown green industry to inviting a politically highly favored financial behemoth like Lockheed to the party, to anyone serious about addressing climate change, this partnership is the anti-matter of sense. But wait, there’s more! Bob Kiss and the City of Burlington have another big plan in the works: they plan to expand Burlington International Airport, hoping to double the number of cars and planes that travel hither and yon each day. Given that air travel is one of the bestest ways to create climate change, methinks the mayor may be beating the oft mentioned plowshares over his own head. But this isn’t about climate change because, for reals, tiny Burlington VT can’t do squat about world-wide climate change. Even if every man woman and child in Burlington were to stop producing carbon emissions, there would be no effect on climate change. Frustrating as it is, only concerted action by whole nations can ameliorate the unstoppable effects of climate change. In light of this unfortunate reality, framing the Lockheed Partnership as a responsible answer to climate change is so nonsensical it suggests the purposeful obfuscation of the real agenda.  We can only retire to the fainting couch to speculate (money!) what Bob Kiss hopes to get from Lockheed in exchange (money!) for the massive green-washing benefits LM would extract from the arrangement (there is a great sucking sound coming from the general direction of Burlington Telecom!). Yet this fish is but a wee smelt in the wider sea of tantalizingly simple piscine rhetoric.

Another red herring on the ice of our national consciousness is the idea that we are, like, totally broke and must therefore give up all which separates us from the beasts of the forest. The winger elite tell us that we simply don’t have the money to keep all the frilly pretties we once held dear: jobs that pay well enough to support a family, a spot at the polls that isn’t crowded out by some lard ass corporation and an educational system that is more than an 12 years of industrialized torture by test. Yeah, we’re making the tough choices alright, at least in terms of non-military discretionary spending that makes up only 12% of our overall costs.  More to the point, what other choices have we made that might have had some role in emptying the national coffers?

We choose to indulge the Military Industrial Congressional Complex in their dogged prosecution of a perpetual war strategy to the tune of at least $1.2 trillion a year. In the midst of the current shrink-that government-baby-down-to-a-drownable-size hysteria, Boeing just got the green light for a $35 billion modified 767 tanker project, a plane designed for the midair refueling of nuclear-armed bombers intended for use in retaliation to a Soviet first strike. Like the trillion dollar F-35 program, this is a War Games era military program that has slogged its way through years of “meh” and one rather spectacular takedown in 2005 that sent Boeing’s chief executive officer to federal prison, to triumphantly re-emerge re-branded as jobs program for Boeing’s hometown of Everett, Washington. Not a single sound bite was used to argue that the plane is actually necessary. It bears repeating that the military sucks at job creation. One Congressional study estimated that moving money from the Pentagon to state and local governments would create two jobs for every job eliminated. Another recent example from the MICC is the $2.5 billion allocated to the purchase of additional C-17 cargo planes in 2010. Neither the White House nor the Pentagon wanted these planes but Congress ordered them anyway! Now the C-17 itself, at cost of $45 billion for the initial run, replaced 2 perfectly serviceable transport planes, the 121 C-5 and the 265 C-144, so the unnecessary procurement of more C-17’s adds insult to injury.

We chose to allow the banking class to expropriate $13 trillion in wealth during the financial crisis that their pathological greed created. The financial industry doesn’t create wealth, it just shuffles claims on existing wealth so the fact that they now claim $13 trillion dollars they would not have had but for the bailout represents a simple transfer of wealth from the people to bankers. Imagine for second what the State of Vermont could have done with just the $13 billion funneled to Goldman Sachs to cover their exposure to AIG, to say nothing of the $500 billion in low interest emergency loans they received? Maybe with that kind of money we wouldn’t have the worst railroads in the entire country and we wouldn’t be contemplating wishing our mentally ill citizens good bye and good luck managing that schizophrenia on your own.

We choose to allow corporations to hide billions of dollars in income through tax avoidance constructs like unrepatirated profits, retained earnings and undistributed profits. The tax value of these legally hidden assets is estimated between $37 and $100 billion per year. We chose to extend the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year, a deal costing $40 billion in revenue this year alone. We did this while persecuting 2 wars bought on credit to the tune of $200 billion a year. We did this during a brutal recession that has at least 16% of the work force either unemployed or underemployed and doesn’t take into account those that have exhausted their benefits. It is important to put this already terrible number into the context of a labor participation rate of only 65%. There are fewer people in the labor force today than at any time since 1984 and we can’t employ almost 20% of them.

We go forward with these indefensible uses of the people’s wealth while concurrently making a show of fiscal responsibility by proposing to cut $1 billion from Headstart; a program that has proven to be the most cost effective way to combat disparities in educational achievement by addressing the problem of poverty and cultural disenfranchisement. We depict public sector workers as lazy, greedy, as “the haves” to the private sector “have nots” and most ridiculously as the root cause of our spittle inducing, faux financial malaise. This argument is even less credible than Newt Gingrich’s recent exoneration of his wandering penis as a direct function of his boundless love for America. We choose to give the most destructive, least productive, least deserving and richest among us a king’s ransom at our moment of greatest vulnerability and task those least able to give a drop more with making up the difference. It makes even a wide and dewy- eyed optimist like me wonder: Do Republicans want the government to fail?

The final herring and choice: we choose war in the land of the tribalist isolationist, whacka doddle dapper dandy under the pretext of defusing a humanitarian crisis. Newsflash: Congo has been in the grips of a humanitarian crisis since 1996 and 5 million people have been killed there so if we are really feeling bad about all the deadness happening in Libya, why aren’t we discussing action in Congo, or Ivory Coast or Detroit or Baltimore? Of course this is a flimsy ruse that Tom Ashbrook thought up to pump our empathy glands. The powers that be couldn’t give a shit about dead Libyans and won’t even acknowledge the growing pile of dead Bahrainians and Yemenis. Hell, we can hardly get it up for dead Americans these days unless they happen to be rich people caught up in the mother of all Darwin Awards ceremonies off the coast of Somalia.

Our willingness to consider an entanglement in another Middle Eastern civil war reeks of desperation as does the suggestion that we drain the strategic reserve to combat gas prices that have yet to hit $4 a gallon, a price that would be welcomed like a cool breeze on hot day in Europe. This is a back handed admission of the current paradigm’s inability to react rationally or responsibly as the world tips into a pick your poison sampler of resource decline that our elites cannot acknowledge without assenting to their own extinction. Enter the red herring: a device to ensure that confusion reigns, that manufactured bitterness divides and that reckoning is delayed long enough for the necessary changes to be made and the scene set for feudalism v2.0.

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