Friday, July 24, 2009

Issues and Answers


The Health Care Reform effort was derailed by some chatter about the arrest of Harvard Prof Skip Gates at his home in Cambridge for "disorderly conduct." The arresting officer had been dressed down by Gates, and at his Health Care news conference, the President himself dressed down the cop by calling the arrest "stupid" and reminding Americans that Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately detained by the police as they have been historically.

Consequently, nobody's talking about healthcare, everybody's talking about Gates and the police.

Yes. Well. Why not? The Health Care Reform issue has essentially been taken out of the hands -- and interest -- of the People by those who are so busy crafting a "reform" measure that, at least to this observer, is primarily intended as a giant wealth transfer from the bottom and middle to the top, yet another one. The People may get a few benefits from this "reform" -- and they may not. In fact, so far as anyone can tell at this point, the centerpiece of "reform" is a mandate that everyone purchase healthcare coverage, coverage that initially will only come from private extortionists, also known as insurance companies. There may -- or may not -- be a so-called "public option" at some point (say four years down the road, or maybe never) by which people can be covered by a government sponsored plan, but by that time, most everyone will be compelled to be covered by private insurance. So, it's hard to see how the public can get very enthused about simply handing more money over to the insurance companies, a lot of it no doubt being tax money and extortion.

I've always seen the course of Health Care Reform in this country as following the pattern set by Medicare Part D, which -- yes -- has provided prescription drug coverage to many elderly and disabled Americans at little or no cost to them (if they're lucky) through miriad private insurance companies, in an extraordinarily complicated format that confuses the heck out of a lot of recipients, and that pays drug companies fortunes, hundreds of billions of dollars, in what amount to windfall profits.

Likely, that's what's going to happen with Health Care Reform, something immensely complex and costly to the government and to individuals -- who aren't lucky enough to qualify for subsidized care -- all to the benefit of insurance companies and the Medical Industrial Complex.

So let's talk about Gates instead.

At least with that incident, you can get a handle on what's going on, and you can opine to your heart's content, no harm no foul, no matter what your Position on it is.

But I'd rather deal with one of the burgeoning economic issues that seems not to penetrate the Versailles Bubble of Washington, nor does it seem to be of more than passing interest to the various progressive powers that be.

It's unemployment, and the continuing skyrocketing unemployment statistics, and the utter absence of any jobs programs to get people back to work. I've been harping on this since last year, to no apparent effect. Indifference is the standard operating status of nearly everyone in the field of economics, no matter what their political persuasion. Just like the crippling household debt loads that keep dragging down the economy, the vast ranks of the unemployed do not rise to the level of attention that requires action by the High and the Mighty. No crisis. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

There has, after all, been "action." Unemployment benefit extentions, for example. Never mind that at least half the unemployed don't qualify for benefits at all. And the other half are lucky if the benefit they receive amounts to half their employed salary (usually it's much less). Each extension has new qualification rules, more stringent every time, so that ultimately, the rolls are further reduced, and unemployed people are required to take any job offered, no matter what the pay/benefit scale.

As for those who don't get benefits at all, "tough luck, suckers!"

The absence of any jobs program, and the utter indifference of most "progressives" to this absence is striking. The point of putting people back to work, after all, is to provide them with income so they can spend money on necessities and luxuries and contribute to economic recovery. But for whatever reason, the groaning load of unemployed, now around 7 million "officially" -- and 14 million + in actuality -- and their heavily reduced household incomes are just fine for most economists and seemingly for most "progressives", too.

The expectation is that unemployment will continue to rise through the end of the year, maybe into next year, and there will be no substantial reduction in unemployment for years to come. A 10% or 11% unemployment rate by the end of the year, which means an acutal unemployment rate of as much as 20%, may continue indefinitely, and economists and "progressives" seem to be fine with it.

The effect, of course, of such a high level of unemployment sustained over such a long time is to put immense and relentless pressure on wages, driving them down, down, down for ordinary people -- at least for those who manage to find or keep jobs. We're already seeing significant wage cuts for workers in many fields. Cuts of 5%, 10%, 15% are common; if trends continue -- which there is every expectation they will -- wage cuts of 30% to 50% will not be unusual. And yet, even with such heavy wage cuts for workers already drowning in debt for which they receive no relief (unlike the banks and Wall Street speculators), those on top of the pyramid are strutting and boasting about their spectacular profits and bonuses. In other words, certain people and certain sectors of the economy are not suffering at all; they have their debts covered by the groaning workers, they keep their yachts and their mansions on various continents, and they see their incomes increase exponentially.

Something is desperately wrong with this picture, yet for whatever reason, most economists -- and most "progressives" -- are oblivious. Victory in the Class War has been won by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe, oh yes, and now it is being consolidated with enormous brio and vengeance.

Workers will be lucky to wind up at the end of this recession -- assuming there is an end -- drudging at minimum wage or less, with no job security, few benefits, and little future, still drowning in debt. Assuming, that is, they can find work at all.

Why do the Masters of the Universe hate America and hate Americans?

Because as their loot-fest shows, they clearly do.

But perhaps more to the point, why do Americans take it? At what point do Americans say "Enough!" and act on it? From appearances, at any rate, we're nowhere near that point. Workers, desperate to stay employed, essentially agree to anything their employers propose, and popular media essentially advise workers to be as creative as they can be in their submission, for it is only the cleverest submitters who will survive this bleak period. But submit employees must, or they will be out the door.

The anomaly is a workers' strike of any kind or (heavens!) a plant take over, so anomalous is it that it's regarded as bizarre, incomprehensible. When a strike is won, as still sometimes happens, you might not hear about it at all. Don't want to give workers ideas, after all. Unions are cutting deals -- and cutting members' salaries -- right and left, foregoing benefits, raises, job security, retirement, anything, just to keep the membership employed at all.

Workers' retirement funds have been looted and stolen by employers for years, and now those at the top of the pyramid are getting ready to raid Social Security, unwilling as they are to pay the taxes necessary to replenish the Trust Fund. They have been using that money to fund their wars and their tax cuts for generations, and now that the bill is coming due for their raids on the Trust Fund, they're making lots and lots of noises about being unwilling to pay. You mean the Treasury bonds that they insisted were good as gold are no good at all? Could be.

And still the People are passive.

Is it a lack of interest, a lack of knowledge, a lack of leadership? Or is it a lack of will?

I have no answer to that one but it is very clear where this period of economic restructuring is headed for most of us: down.


  1. More reinforcement of the idea that the kulturkampf is a means for the right to distract from the questions of political economy that they so hate. But it's not just us they want to distract. Most of all, it's their own base.

    The whole discourse on "social" vs. "fiscal" politics (i.e., whether one is "socially" or "fiscally liberal" or "socially" or "fiscally conservative") is Gramscian hegemony in action. The notion that one can be socially liberal while being fiscally conservative is, of course, nonsense (and you'll never find a "fiscal liberal/social conservative"). It's intended to obscure the role of fiscal policy in shaping culture, not merely via government monetary support for the arts, but the entire question of what cultural artifacts and forms of expression you'll be able to encounter in the course of your daily life. Lack of money means regular people get increasingly less access to culture that challenges the status quo and that culture is increasingly difficult to produce. Instead, they have to put up with the numbing, anaesthetizing drek that we get fed on the TV and on the radio. The struggle over network neutrality, intellectual property, and internet censorship are critical to the kulturkämpfer, because they provide them with the means to frustrate the propagation of alternative forms of culture that challenge that hegemony.

  2. I agree. The passivity of the People in the face of what has been happening and continues to happen is astonishing, but I realize it is intentional as well, brought on by a generation of Reaganism.

    The initial point of which was to ensure that the upheavals of the 60's were put down and that they would never be allowed to happen again. The means? Murderous brutality, control and then destruction of public education, restricted access to higher education, denial of the concept of "public interest."

    It's been very successful.

  3. Indeed it has. The extent to which it will continue to be so is, of course, the question of the day. The key to victory is organization.