Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What debate?

The debate? Tonight I just cannot bring myself to watch the Presidential debate. It will be painful enough to get tomorrow’s rehash….

Nothing that happens tonight at Hofstra will result in changing my mind about Obama. In any case I have already voted today, and, while in Nevada over the weekend, I will put in some more phoning or canvassing or whatever needs doing.

Everybody was touting Mr. Romney’s magnificent performance at the first debate.. I found him hyperactive, rattling off talking points very fast, as if fearful of being interrupted, or of hearing his little inner voice telling him what nonsense he was saying. He probably knows it, but rationalizes the whole process as those senseless, meaningless things that you have to say if you want to become President.

To me he sounds like an “idiot savant”, those people (remember Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman”?) that know a lot about one thing and cannot stop talking about it, and understand nothing  about what the real people in this world  do, feel, and worry about. That immense experiential vacuum has to be hidden in a flurry of words, reduced to semiotic markers, repeated over and over. 

Take that expression that Mr. Romney has been so frantically repeating lately: “trickle down government.” What does it mean? Nothing at all: government is supposed to trickle down because it is our emanation, the famous “of, for, by the people”. Everything the government does is in our stead, government is our stand-in, and all it does belongs to us.

No, “trickle down government” is a blanket of fog to debunk and counteract the very real Republican doctrine of “trickle down economics”, that posits that the rich deserve to get everything, because if they have a lot, some of it will inevitably trickle down to the rest of mortals. By repeating the one trickle down phrase, we are supposed to forget about the other. It never happened, it was wrong anyway, and look, they, meaning the Democrats are doing the reverse, “trickle down government.” But it is not the reverse, it is a non-sequitur, a nonsense noise, a cloudfuscation.

I was wondering the other day why Romney brought up the Spanish economy, where, according to him 42% of citizens depend on the government for handouts. Spain is supposed to be a basket case on a par with Greece, and the reason is that nobody does any work but receives bounty from the government. And he then contrasted that with the 47% figure that he had used in Boca Raton as recorded on the infamous and ubiquitous video. See, we are even worse that Spain.

It so happens that Spain is in a deep crisis, but it is not a debt crisis, nor an entitlement crisis. It is a banking crisis. The Spanish government’s level of indebtedness, after two grueling years of recession, high unemployment (and support to the unemployed) as well as precipitously collapsing tax revenues, is only 90% of GNP, on the level with France and not far from Germany. Spain is still able to finance its debt at below 6%, which is bad enough, but not catastrophic. 

Why go into debt at all? Because the government has to pay for the large investments that nobody else wants to do but that are essential for the functioning of the economy, of the citizens’ daily life, like roads, railways, schools, police, firefighters, army and bookkeepers. The purpose of the debt is to make progress possible; it cannot be eliminated, it has to be managed. The bonds issued by governments, the so called “sovereign debt”, have maturities, and when that date arrives, they are paid off and new debt issued. Just like refinancing your home. I have always found all this talk of “burdening our children and grand-children” highly demagogic. Future generations will do as we do, manage the debt by rolling it over.

And let us not forget another thing: Spain may have, as the Spanish novelist and activist Perez Reverte has pointed out, more politicians per capita that any country in Europe. The point that he was trying to make is that politicians, even if honest, cost money. The seventeen regional governments, roughly equivalent to what we call states in the USA, all had their infrastructure projects and the capacity to access the international banks, the so-called “markets”, which were only too glad to finance any project, as harebrained as it might be. The indebtedness of the regional governments was very high, accumulated during the last ten years when most of them were run, in contrast to the central government, by Spain’s conservatives, the PP party.

On the strength of the crisis the PP last December won a landslide election and is now in charge of the central Treasury. And immediately, in spite of the crisis, it has begun to dismantle a perfectly viable and functioning European style “State of Wellbeing”, cutting and chopping and privatizing education, the Health Service, civil servant’s salaries, and bailing out the banks to the tune of many billlions of Euros. Why let such an opportunity to cut loose the neediest people at the time of greatest need go to waste?

That is the agenda of the oligarchs, democratically clothed in the accoutrements of necessity. And, I suspect, that is also Romney’s agenda: to help his peers, the only class he really understands and admires.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Whither the despondency?

We are wallowing in despair because our champion, Barack Obama, did not step and quash Mitt Romney's fallacies and airy attitude, during the first and most recent debate on Wednesday October 4th.

Patently the President was unprepared for a sudden lurch to the center by the aspiring candidate, who had described himself very recently as "seriously conservative". The Romney campaign is counting that after so many changes of position, opinion, coloratura, nobody would be able to remember whether Romney said or did not say his tax plan included a 5 trillion cut for the wealthy. Those words may never have crossed his lips, but neither had we heard previously his assertion that he did not intend to lower taxes on the upper 0.1%. He also did not say that he would increase them. Is that what he means by his crusade against loopholes in the tax system.?

David Brooks, today, celebrates the rebirth of Massachusetts Mitt. And he rejoices that Romney "....broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine Republican identity." What I find surprising is that anybody can claim any residual identity for Republicans and/or Romney after all the chameleonic show stoppers that we have witnessed. To me, Romney is so desperate to be President, that he will shed any clothing and adopt any guise in order to get there.

So, what does this say about the voting public? Will the Tea Party's thunder and brimstone prove to have been populist hot air? Their fearsome "grass-roots" dyspepsia will swallow, maybe even digest, this latest Romney iteration? Mitt seems to think so; he has ostentatiously walked away from "No, No, No"'s fearsome altar.

For the rest of us there is a whiff of calculation in the air. Behind all this "look-at-me-now" posture, all the budget and deficit flimflammery, the "etch-a-sketch" accommodation, there is a cynical pragmatism of just getting elected and then restore the predictable policies of asserting the will and preponderance of the upper 10%, the country-club fantasists, the old and new gilded age oligarchy.

I will remember that pious Spanish lady, consulting her confessor about the leveling Vatican Council II conclusions, who received the reply: "do not worry, Madam; as usual heaven is meant for the likes of us."

Obama may have come across as lackluster during the debate, but he was consistent. Nothing he said he has not said before. His positions have been thoughtful, tested and strongly held. In other words, statesmanlike. His words lacked novelty, and he might have used some fireworks to put them across one more time. But overall I find him intelligent and reassuring, if not quite the socialist I would like him to be.

As a sidebar, why did Mitt pick on Spain's economy during his presentation? Couldn't he have picked Greece, Italy or Afghanistan, to make his point?