Watch out for the flying dark money

I never heard of “dark money” until this election. Maybe the term existed before, but suddenly it’s become commonplace, like “fracking” and “carbon footprint”—just ordinary 21st century parlance.

Dark money must be something like dark energy and dark matter, which together account for 95% of the universe, but about which we know nothing.

Physicists theorize that dark energy and dark matter affect the known universe—that is, us—profoundly, but we don’t know exactly how.

With dark money, even though we don’t know where it comes from, the effect of this huge force on our political universe is easier to gauge. Just look at the U.S. Congress, now dominated by Republicans who have gleefully accepted vast sums of dark money.

How vast? We’re talking big money. Here is what the New York Times had to say in a somber editorial on the topic:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

“The $11.4 million spent anonymously for Mr. McConnell…didn’t even make him the biggest beneficiary of secret donations, a phenomenon that grew substantially in this election cycle. In the 2010 midterms, when this practice was just getting started, $161 million was spent by groups that did not disclose donations. In this cycle it was up to at least $216 million, and 69 percent of it was spent on behalf of Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“In Colorado, at least $18 million in dark money was spent on behalf of Cory Gardner, the Republican newly elected to the Senate; $4 million was spent on behalf of Senator Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent. In North Carolina, $13.7 million in secret donations was spent for Thom Tillis, the new Republican senator; $2.6 million went to Senator Kay Hagan, who was ousted.”

What a mockery this makes of our so-called democracy! Our electoral politics is all about manipulation and spin, attack ads and redistricting, fueling armies of canvassers on the ground. It really is war, and wars have always been won by those with the best weapons, the smartest strategy and the most boots on the ground. That’s what money can buy. The worthiness of the candidate herself is really quite beside the point. She just needs to follow the playbook, stay on message and get out of the way of her handlers.

What kind of despicable political system do we live in? No wonder President Obama is looking so terribly grim lately. He came to office vowing to remain uncontaminated by Beltway corruption, to represent the interests of ordinary people and to repair the terrible damage the Republicans wrought the last time they held power. He knows, as we do, that though he still has his finger in the Republican dyke, the pressure will be tremendous and he may not be able to hold them back for long.

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a luncheon for bi-partisan Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House in Washington, November 7, 2014.  REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a luncheon for bi-partisan Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House in Washington, November 7, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

What’s on their agenda? Undoing the health care law that has done so much to protect and subsidize health care for low and middle-income Americans. Approving the Keystone XL pipeline and opening up more public lands, including oceans, to fracking, drilling and mining. Keeping the minimum wage as low as they possibly can, closing family planning clinics and continuing a hardline, harsh approach to immigration.

I am not spinning or exaggerating here. This is what we’re going to get in the next two years, and it’s going to take every ounce of strength and determination Barack Obama has to stand firm and pursue the mandate for which he was elected.

I don’t recognize this America. Just as Bill McKibben says we’re now living on Eaarth, the extra “a” signifying the brave new world of climate change that is radically changing our environment, we are also now living in Aamerica—the extra A standing perhaps for addled, alarming, asinine.

There’s not a damned thing ordinary small fry like me can do about it as the political Titans throw their dark money at each other over our heads, except maybe to duck and hope we can avoid being spattered by their sh*t.

It’s time to Occupy Congress!

What is happening in Washington, DC these days could lead not to anarchy but to monarchy, says political philosophy professor Michael Lynch in a New York Times op-ed piece today.

“Should shutdowns, debt-ceiling fights and the radical political legislative gridlock they represent really become a fixture of American political life, it will be more tempting, more reasonable, to think that someone should  “step in” to make the decisions,” Lynch says. “The chorus calling for action — for the president, for example, to go around the Congress — will only increase. If you are on the left, and Obama is still in power, you may even tell yourself that is a good thing. But it is a bad precedent, the type of precedent that causes democracies to erode.”

To me it seems clear that the someone who should be stepping in here is WE THE PEOPLE!!!

Judging by the Republicans’ abysmal and rapidly sliding approval rates, the obstructionists in Congress no longer represent the will of the people.  It’s up to us to show them the door and get on with all the much more important issues that face us.

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Where is Occupy when you need it?  Why haven’t any progressive groups been calling for a march on Washington to demonstrate on behalf of what we believe and what we want to see our elected representatives doing for us?

It seems like social media has frozen us in the sidelines as spectators rather than actors in this political tragi-farce that is unfolding day by depressing day.

Expressing one’s outrage to one’s circle of Facebook friends is like looking at one’s own reflection in a hall of mirrors.

Let’s get out of the funhouse and go march on the State House!

And not a tame weekend march, either.  Let’s march on a weekday, calling a general strike of work and school and civil business as usual until the Congress gets its act together and unclamps its stranglehold on Federal business as usual.

If there was ever a time when the President needed us to turn out and support him it is now.  Not just in donations, not just in approving tweets, but in the flesh.

Let’s Occupy Congress and stay there until the job is done.  Who’s in?

Here come the health care refugees

It is stunning—and revolting–the depths to which ultra-conservative Republicans will go to harm their fellow Americans.  Particularly fellow Americans of color.

Living in Massachusetts, a state with an especiallly progressive health care safety net (thanks in part to the efforts of then-Governor Mitt Romney, a then-moderate Republican), I hadn’t been paying that much attention to what was happening with health care reform out in the rest of the country.

This morning’s headliner in The New York Times—“Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law”—was a real wake-up call.

How could it be that “two-thirds of poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of low-wage workers without insurance” will be left stranded by Obamacare?

Simple.  The Supreme Court, although it upheld the health care exchange idea, also allowed states to choose to opt out of the expansion of federally funded Medicaid benefits.  Even though the federal government would cover the cost of the expansion through 2016, and at least 90% of Medicaid expenses thereafter, Republican-controlled state legislatures have balked at the prospect of picking up the tab for even 10% of an expanded Medicaid program that would provide health care for millions of people in their states.

It seems they’d rather let those people suffer and die.

http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/liberalia-and-teapartystan-divide-over-the-aca/

According to The Times, “The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides.”

What would happen if those working poor, the minimum wage earners who clean those Republican legislators’ houses, take care of their children, cook their meals, and tend to their aging parents in nursing homes—what would happen if they just up and left?

I have a vision of a vast migration of health care refugees, fleeing the red states just like they did after it became clear that the end of chattel slavery did not mean the end of bondage—it just morphed into debt bondage and serfdom.

If states can say “No thanks” to Federal Medicaid coverage, citizens should be able to say “No thanks” to states.  Let’s see how they like it down in Mississippi and Alabama when there’s no one left to flip their burgers and shine their shoes.

Shades of an American Kristallnacht?

Tonight at dinner the conversation turned to politics, although it seemed that everyone at the table was reluctant to mention the name “Obama”—a sign of the deep disappointment in our erst-while hero.

There was some enthusiasm for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who are probably doing more to educate young people in politics than most high schools in America today.

There was derision for the spectacle of the Republican primaries, which I, for one, have been unable to stomach watching—not even for a moment.

And there was deep sadness over the unavoidable truth that now, in the wake of Citizens United, it has become totally legal for rich people to run politicians the same way they might run horses or greyhounds.  Just like that.

Maybe that’s what provides the eerie, zombie-like atmosphere in politics these days. You really have the sense that most politicians, especially the ones at the top echelons of power, are like old-fashioned Kabbalistic golems, animated out of clay by skilled magicians who can control them from afar.

Of course, that’s been going on for a long time.  Remember George Bush, a wind-up man getting remote control instructions through his earphone in the 2004 Presidential debates?

But it’s getting worse and worse.  That’s why I can’t stand to watch Gingrich and Santorum and all the other Republican wax model men mouth their lines on the stage these days.  You know they’ll say whatever they’re told…whatever they think it will take to win.

There is certainly a good chance that one of the Republicans will win.  The Democrats are dispirited and grumpy, not much in the mood to get all fired up about yet another election.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are rabid to take back the White House.  They’ve been busy as hell redistricting to try to gain every electoral advantage, and I have absolutely no faith in the electronic voting machines that they’ve been installing in every town and city in the land.

It’s very possible that Mr. XY Zombie Republican could seize power in November, with the backing of endlessly deep pockets like the Koch brothers, Big Energy, and Big Finance, and the blessing of the Supreme Court.

What then?

If the Republicans controlled all three houses of government, they could ram through the legislation they’ve been concocting during the past decade or so: legislation powering up the assault on the environment, on health, on social services, destroying any kind of safety net for people, animals or the environment.

They could escalate the war on dissidents (like me), who dare to oppose their plans.  In short order, the United States could turn into just another big banana republic, with a military-backed regime of elites governing through the indiscriminate use of fear tactics, with violence applied as necessary to keep the people in line.

Lately I have been re-reading Margaret Atwood’s marvelous sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and finding it chillingly prophetic.  In Atwood’s dystopia, environmental catastrophe has rendered the elites infertile, and pushed them to withdraw into gated communities where food shortages are common, and people are regularly hung in the public square to keep everyone fearful and docile.

The narrator remembers how just before her world fell apart, there were signs of repression: books being banned and burned, identity cards being issued and required, mobility restricted, media censored.  All of a sudden, one fine morning, it was no longer possible for her and her family to get in their car and drive away to seek safety in Canada.  All of a sudden, they were trapped in a nightmare that went quickly from bad to worse.

Augusto Pinochet of Chile

This reminds me also of the many testimonials I have read from Latin America—true stories, not fiction—from the 1970s, when wealthy politicians wielding military power and complete control over the ballot boxes ruled their countries with iron fists, “disappearing” anyone who might remotely be a threat, including thousands of innocent students.  This happened in Chile and Argentina, in Guatemala and El Salvador and many other countries.  Often the shift from democracy to fascist dictatorship happened literally overnight.

As in Germany before the Kristallnacht, none of us here in the U.S. wants to believe that anything could happen to destroy our cherished freedoms, our vaunted  “American way of life.”  We don’t want to admit, even to ourselves, the extent to which our freedoms are already being encroached upon, day by day.

Just last week, for example, there was an outrageous episode in Arizona, where the government declared a whole long list of books by Mexican Americans to be unsuitable for school use, and went so far as to direct the school librarians and teachers to pull them from the shelves, box them up and put them into deep storage.

Among the authors banned are some of my favorite writers—Gloria Anzaldua, Elizabeth Martinez, Paulo Freire.

Paulo Freire

Yes, that Paulo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator and free thinker who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant analysis of the way that traditional education indoctrinates students into conformity and submission to authority.

Freire proposed that instead of a banking style of education, where knowledge is deposited into students, who are then required to spit it back upon demand, education worth its salt should empower students to think for themselves.

Such a simple idea, but so powerful, too.  Education should teach people to think for themselves, and to work with each other to come to consensus on issues of importance to the larger society.

Isn’t that just what the Occupy movements have been trying to do?  If Freire were alive, he would be out there in the thick of the Occupy action, inspiring the young to shake off the false animation of Zombiland, and insist on dancing to their own authentic beat.

This reminds me of another beloved science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where the sinister IT controls all the inhabitants of a city by forcing them to conform to ITS rhythm.  Their hearts pulse to ITS rhythm, their eyes twirl to ITS rhythm, their thoughts are entirely subsumed by IT.  The only way to break ITS control is to think for oneself, to be creative, resilient and determined.

The children Meg and Charles Wallace succeed in rescuing their father from the clutches of IT by dint of their own powers of creativity and love, with a little help from some eccentric and freethinking guides.

Will the science fiction tale we’re living through now have that kind of happy ending?

Oh yeah, it’s not fiction, is it.

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