Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012

Four years ago, I got the assignment of driving around some friends out to celebrate the victory of Obama and a lot of other Democrats.  It was actually a lot of fun because everyone was so damn happy / drunk.  The crowd at the official St. Paul celebration was especially joyous.  At one point I began to wonder if the joy wasn't going to morph into a spontaneous orgy because some of the passion had gotten pretty brazen.  Think election night in the movie "Shampoo."

As a sober observer, a lot of this revelry was pretty ridiculous to watch.  As I rounded up my passengers for their rides home, it began to dawn on me that most of these drunks actually believed that they had voted for serious change—and that the throbbing hangovers and the who-are-you-and-did-we-really-have-sex questions the next day were going to be far from the biggest disappointments of that election night.

I wanted my happy friends to be right—even though I personally did not expect to see any of the hope and change promised by Obama.  So I am not so much disappointed by Obama's first term as utterly furious that four more years have been wasted and NONE of the major problems facing the country have been meaningfully addressed.  Yet, I voted again today—not because I harbor any illusions about the national Democratic Party but because I had made promises to some down-ticket candidates.

I would try to be more profound than this, but considering how much energy I have put into political activism over the years, I find I no longer have the necessary fire for this sort of thing.  I put a LOT of energy into this blog so I must apologize to absolutely no one if I don't want to sit through boring meetings or pounding lawn signs as a sign of my civic engagement.  Been there.  Done that. Got the T-shirt.  Besides, I found two brilliant essays I want you to read on the reality of this absurd and largely meaningless election.

If Augstein's idea of "total capitalism" sounds a bit clumsy to your ears, just try to understand it as a description of what happens when capitalism loses its moorings in the real economy and becomes an unhinged example of purest runaway greed.  I love the way he mentions wooden utility poles—because for me, there is a no more perfect example of a corner-cutting, slum-landlord mentality than overhead wires.  I mean, who really thinks that electricity is a temporary thing to be hooked together with such a flimsy bubble gum and baling wire grid?  How long are we going to allow the "total capitalists" stand in the way of doing the job right?

Destroyed by Total Capitalism

America Has Already Lost Tuesday's Election

A Commentary by Jakob Augstein  11/05/2012

Germans see the US election as a battle between the good Obama and the evil Romney. But this is a mistake. Regardless of who wins the election on Tuesday, total capitalism is America's true ruler, and it has the power to destroy the country.

The United States Army is developing a weapon that can reach -- and destroy -- any location on Earth within an hour. At the same time, power lines held up by wooden poles dangle over the streets of Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy ripped them apart there and in communities across the East Coast last week, and many places remain without electricity. That's America, where high-tech options are available only to the elite, and the rest live under conditions comparable to a those of a developing nation. No country has produced more Nobel Prize winners, yet in New York City hospitals had to be evacuated during the storm because their emergency generators didn't work properly.

Anyone who sees this as a contradiction has failed to grasp the fact that America is a country of total capitalism. Its functionaries have no need of public hospitals or of a reliable power supply to private homes. The elite have their own infrastructure. Total capitalism, however, has left American society in ruins and crippled the government. America's fate is not just an accident produced by the system. It is a consequence of that system.

Obama couldn't change this, and Romney wouldn't be able to either. Europe is mistaken if it views the election as a choice between the forces of good and evil. And it certainly doesn't amount to a potential change in political direction as some newspapers on the Continent would have us believe.

A Powerless President

Romney, the exceedingly wealthy business man, and Obama, the cultivated civil rights lawyer, are two faces of a political system that no longer has much to do with democracy as we understand it. Democracy is about choice, but Americans don't really have much of a choice. Obama proved this. Nearly four years ago, it seemed like a new beginning for America when he took office. But this was a misunderstanding. Obama didn't close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nor did he lift immunity for alleged war criminals from the Bush-era, or regulate the financial markets, and climate change was hardly discussed during the current election campaign. The military, the banks, industry -- the people are helpless in the face of their power, as is the president.

Not even credit default swaps, the kind of investment that brought down Lehman Brothers and took Western economies to the brink, has been banned or even better regulated. It is likely the case that Obama wanted to do more, but couldn't. But what role does that play in the bigger picture?

We want to believe that Obama failed because of the conservatives inside his own country. Indeed, the fanatics that Mitt Romney depends on have jettisoned everything that distinguishes the West: science and logic, reason and moderation, even simple decency. They hate homosexuals, the weak and the state. They oppress women and persecute immigrants. Their moralizing about abortion doesn't even spare the victims of rape. They are the Taliban of the West.

The Winner Makes No Difference to Europe

Still, they are only the symptom of America's failure, not the cause. In reality, neither the idealists and Democrats, nor the useful idiots of the Tea Party have any power over the circumstances.

From a European perspective, it doesn't matter who wins this election. Only US foreign policy is important to us -- and Obama is no dove and Romney no hawk. The incumbent president prefers to wage his wars with drones instead of troops, though the victims probably don't care if they're killed by man or machine. Meanwhile, despite all the criticism, his challenger says he wouldn't join Israel were the country to go to war with Iran because the US can now no longer afford such a thing.

In any case, it is wrong to characterize Republicans as the party of warmongers and Democrats as the party of peace -- or even to call the latter a left-wing party at all. After all, it was Democratic presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who started the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon ended these wars. And Ronald Reagan, who Europeans see as the embodiment of both the evil and absurd aspects of American politics, was a peaceful man compared to the standards we have since become accustomed to. He only ever invaded Grenada.

The truth is that we simply no longer understand America. Looking at the country from Germany and Europe, we see a foreign culture. The political system is in the hands of big business and its lobbyists. The checks and balances have failed. And a perverse mix of irresponsibility, greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion.

The downfall of the American empire has begun. It could be that the country's citizens wouldn't be able to stop it no matter how hard they tried. But they aren't even trying.  more 

Divided States of America

Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation

By SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff   11/05/2012

The United States is frittering away its role as a model for the rest of the world. The political system is plagued by an absurd level of hatred, the economy is stagnating and the infrastructure is falling into a miserable state of disrepair. On this election eve, many Americans are losing faith in their country's future.

The monumental National Mall in Washington, DC, 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) long and around 1,586 feet wide at its broadest point, is a place that showcases the United States of America is in its full glory as a world power. A walk along the magnificent swath of green space, between the white dome of the Capitol to the east and the Lincoln Memorial, a temple erected to honor former president Abraham Lincoln, at its western end, leads past men in bronze and stone, memorials for soldiers and conquerors, and the nearby White House. It's a walk that still creates an imperial impression today.

The Mall is lined with museums and landscaped gardens, in which America is on display as the kind of civil empire that promotes the arts and sciences. There are historic sites, and there are the famous steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King once spoke of his dream, and of the dreams of a country to be a historic force, one that would serve the wellbeing of all of mankind. Put differently, the National Mall is an open-air museum for an America that, in 2012, is mostly a pleasant memory.

After a brilliant century and a terrible decade, the United States, in this important election year, has reached a point in its history when the obvious can no longer be denied: The reality of life in America so greatly contradicts the claim -- albeit one that has always been exaggerated -- to be the "greatest nation on earth," that even the most ardent patriots must be overcome with doubt.

This realization became only too apparent during and after Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm that ravaged America's East Coast last week, its effects made all the more devastating by the fact that its winds were whipping across an already weakened country. The infrastructure in New York, New Jersey and New England was already in trouble long before the storm made landfall near Atlantic City. The power lines in Brooklyn and Queens, on Long Island and in New Jersey, in one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, are not underground, but are still installed along a fragile and confusing above-ground network supported by utility poles, the way they are in developing countries.

No System to Protect Against Storm Surges

Although parts of New York City, especially the island of Manhattan, are only a few meters above sea level, the city still has no extensive system to protect itself against storm surges, despite the fact that the sea level has been rising for years and the number of storms is increasing. In the case of Sandy, the weather forecasts were relatively reliable three or four days prior to its arrival, so that the time could have been used to at least make improvised preparations, which did not happen. The only effective walls of sandbags that were built in the city on a larger scale did not appear around power plants, hospitals or tunnel entrances, but around the skyscraper of the prescient investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Large parts of America's biggest city and millions of people along the East Coast could now be forced to survive for days, possibly even weeks, without electricity, water and heat. Many of the backup generators intended for such emergencies didn't work, so that large hospitals had to be evacuated. On the one hand, these consequences of the storm point to the uncontrollability of nature. On the other hand, they are signs that America is no longer the great, robust global power it once was.

Europeans who make such claims have always been accused of anti-Americanism. But now Americans themselves are joining the chorus of those declaring the country's decline. "I had to catch a train in Washington last week," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose columns are read worldwide, wrote last April. "The paved street in the traffic circle around Union Station was in such poor condition that I felt as though I was on a roller coaster. I traveled on the Amtrak Acela, our sorry excuse for a fast train, on which I had so many dropped calls on my cellphone that you'd have thought I was on a remote desert island, not traveling from Washington to New York City. When I got back to Union Station, the escalator in the parking garage was broken. Maybe you've gotten used to all this and have stopped noticing. I haven't. Our country needs a renewal."

Such everyday observations are coalescing into a new, tarnished image of America. Screenwriter Aaron Sorken, the creator of many legendary television series, has come up with a new, brutal look at America. The 10-part drama, "The Newsroom," tells the story of a cynical news anchor who reinvents himself and vows to do everything right in the future. In the show's brilliant premiere, he is asked at a panel discussion to describe why America is the greatest country in the world. After a few tired jokes, the truth comes gushing out of him. "There's absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world," he ways. "We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined." more


  1. Another great post. Thanks.
    I read this site every day.
    Just lurk most of the time.
    But really appreciate what you do here.

  2. I echo someofparts and thank you and Tony for your postings here. This is exactly the missing sense of balance and good logic that is missing in political discourse here after 30 years of divisive social issue partying.

    One of the first social media responses I saw this morning about 'what to do now that MN has won the house and senate' was about pushing for gay marriage, which of course would just continue the divisive discourse.

    How about--
    1) We just take a 2 year break from social issue politics to focus on restoring our economy; in fact how about a 2 year break from party politics in order to focus on restoring our economy.
    2) What economy? How about creating a State Bank of Minnesota that will--
    3) Fund MN students who stay in MN to solve our need for--
    4) Restoring our existing infrastructure, and
    5) Making serious progress into Greening our energy infrastructure, and
    6) Fulfilling the need for economic reform and healthcare reform for all Minnesotans.

    If we create stable longterm commitments to local MN banking, healthcare, and green energy programs; if we even put on our big-boy pants to seriously focus and try to work out the issues in these critical areas...that alone would make us the envy of every state in the nation.