Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fraud By Any Other Name

In a recent speech, Noam Chomsky told his audience, "The level of anger and fear in the country (the United States) is like nothing I can recall in my lifetime [and] unfortunately, these attitudes are understandable."

For over 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the population have stagnated or declined, social indicators have steadily deteriorated since the mid 1970's after closely tracking growth in earlier years, work hours and insecurity have increased along with debt. Wealth has accumulated but into very few pockets, leading to probably record inequality. These are, in large part, consequences of the financialization of the economy since the 1970's and the corresponding hollowing out of domestic production.

Thus, when the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goldman Sachs with fraud last week, a collective cry of indignation was heard around the world. The SEC charges offered a vivid illustration of what Chomsky was talking about -- and the bluest chip on Wall Street became the target of international anger. It will be interesting to see if Goldman -- which has very deep pockets -- fights to the bitter end, or settles.

But there is another kind of anger stalking the land and its institutions. It is more troubling than the anger directed at Goldman. It found expression last week in a fund raising video produced by the Republican Governors Association. Claiming the mantle of Guy Fawkes, the governors encouraged their viewers to "Remember November" and the day Fawkes tried to blow up the British Houses of Parliament:

This, from the party which claimed that the president's health care bill would institute "death panels;" and which also claimed that the proposed financial reform bill was just a guarantee of more bailouts -- forgetting to mention that the massive bailout of The Street was the work of one of their own presidents -- a bailout they voted for. Interestingly, after claiming solid 41 vote opposition to the bill, the Republicans turned on a dime, saying they could support the legislation if it were tweaked a bit. As Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times, after discovering "a Pew poll that even in a divided America 61% favor financial regulatory reform, the unity pledge in McConnell's pocket was now worth as much as a mortgage backed security."

Fraud, simply defined, is misrepresenting what you are selling. It is a bald faced lie. The Republicans have become very good at selling lies. Or, more precisely, they have become masters of the simplistic solution. For, as H.L. Mencken wrote, "For every complex, human problem, there's a neat simple solution; it's just that it's wrong." An example of one such solution is the one Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, Sue Lowden, is suggesting (seriously) -- that the way to pay for health care is through a barter system.

The Republicans have anger on their side. They just can't find any wisdom -- and they have very few ideas -- to go with it. And, at the end of last week, the Republican governor of Arizona signed a law which allows police to stop someone on the street -- in this case, Latinos -- and demand that they present papers showing that they are legal residents of that state.

Chomsky and his relatives -- immigrant Jews -- recognize the tactic all too well. It is the equivalent of having to wear the Star of David. Those who support the new law call themselves patriots. That is the biggest fraud of all.


Zero said...

A nice posting!

Thanks for your link to Chomsky's speech. I've always admired his work, whether it broke new ground in the psychology of linguistics, or argued for political action.

The connection you made between Chomsky's expose of how American politics works and the Tea Party's discontent might be portentous.

First, from Chomsky's perspective, the Tea Party's anger, if properly channeled, could result in badly needed economic and social reforms for average Americans.

Second, Democrats could be making a huge mistake if they dismiss the Tea Partiers as just another Republican tool, and leave them in the arms of the Republican Party. The Old Guard waiting there will surely use them for its own selfish purposes.

Zero said...

Thanks for the opportunity to read Chomsky's Madison address: I've always admired his work. The speech strengthened my long-time hunch that American(and Canadian) political governance is controlled by the selfish interests of a wealthy few, regardless of which party is in power - the American Democrats and Canadian Liberals included.

The Democrat's self-described "big f-ng deal" was no big deal. It was a shameful sellout to big business.

The failure of health reform together with Chomsk's speech provide more justification for Americans to rebel against their current governance by turning to an activist movement like the Tea Party, which by its numbers might force at least a few just reforms.

Unfortunately the Tea Party seems closely aligned with the Republicans, probably enjoying their financial support.

That's another shameful sellout.

If the Tea Partiers deliver themselves into the arms of the Republicans - clearly the party of even greater wealthy interests than the Democrats - the Old Guard waiting there will be only too glad to receive them.

Americans need an independent third political party with a social conscience.

Owen Gray said...

Unfortunately, the history of Third Parties in the United States does not point the way to redemption. Even when a former president -- Teddy Roosevelt -- ran for the Bull Moose Party, he did not succeed.

I've always admired Chomsky's honesty. He refuses to tailor his remarks to the self interest of his audience.

What the United States needs is a politician of national stature who is not afraid to do the same thing.

Whether or not enough people would vote for him or her is an open question.

ChrisJ said...

Obama has had to compromise, perhaps too much, but is still preferable to the monied interests and the wingnuts who so dishonestly oppose him.

Owen Gray said...

I still have great hope for Obama. Winning the presidency was an uphill battle. Governing is an even tougher slog.

His winning the election and the new law in Arizona speak to the anxiety many white Americans feel when they are faced with people who don't look or sound like themselves.

The truth is that most of the world's population doesn't look or sound like them. I guess that's what they mean when they use the phrase, "American Exceptionalism."

Anonymous said...

Don't you wish all politicians wore open microphones like Gordon Brown?

James Bowie said...

A bald faced lie? Or a bold-faced lie?

Owen Gray said...

I just finished watching a newscast about Brown's aside -- or perhaps soliloquy is the more appropriate term.

Scholars have expended a lot of ink on Shakespeare's soliloquies. It's nice to see that the device has not lost its usefulness.

Owen Gray said...

Actually, James, the definition of "bald faced" on Word Web is "unrestrained by convention or propriety," which -- I think -- applies to the modern Republican Party.

The definition of "bold faced" -- on the same sight -- is "fearless" or "daring." I'm not sure that today's GOP is either fearless or daring. Nonetheless, I appreciate your careful reading of my post.

As Mark Twain wrote, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter -- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

It seems you are a man after his own heart.