Still screwed

2009 March 5

A couple of weeks ago, Decorina (of Decorina and Skylar) recommended a book to me, “Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class.” This isn’t the sort of book I would ordinarily read (what with it being nonfiction, and of a political nature), but since it was Decorina, I gave it a go and have just finished it.

On the big picture, this book reinforced what I already knew: that big money has bought our government and they are out to take us little guys for everything we’ve got. I sometimes feel silly saying this in public, since it sounds like some kind of crazy conspiracy theory. It’s nice now to know I’m not alone in my understanding of what has been happening in this country since 1980.

A bit of backtracking is in order. The saddest moment in my history with politics came when, after the 2004 election, I realized that it wasn’t just the Republican party which had been bought and paid for; it was the Democrats, too — my party, the one I thought was on the side of the little guy.

When the Democratic party didn’t fight to its dying breath to uncover the truth behind the 2000 election, I made excuses for them. I said, they are just too concerned about appearances and won’t get down and dirty like the Republicans. I decided they were a bunch of pussies. But in 2004, with John Kerry, and the way the party rolled over and played dead, I couldn’t make any more excuses. Bought and paid for. And I wasn’t about to listen to them wring their hands and pretend there was nothing they could do to stop those “evil” Republicans from wreaking havoc on our lives. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Still, I’d think back to Bill Clinton, and how much I liked him. I thought he had been a good president, though I had some concerns about his “welfare reform.” It seemed pretty heartless to me, but I figured I probably didn’t understand it well enough. There were other things I wished he had done, that he had promised to do, but I decided it was the Republicans who had held him back. I’d say, by god, at least the man had economic sense and balanced the national budget.

Ha! The joke’s on me. Turns out, I have learned from “Screwed,” that he continued the fine tradition, begun by Reagan, of pilfering the Social Security Trust Fund to make the national books look better. Apparently, they’ve all done it: Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. All ripping off our Social Security to make it look like they are spending less than they are. The fund is little more than a holding pen for a massive pile of IOUs.

Then there’s a heaping pile of screw you and me in the NAFTA and other trade agreements Clinton signed. Whatever. I don’t know if he was paid for, or coerced into it with all the crap they flung at him. Whatever. He, too, was in the pocket of big money and big business.

Maybe I should be sad about this latest bit of disillusionment. Or mad. I can’t seem to work up either one right now. I’m mostly just disgusted with myself for not knowing this already.

One particularly surprising bit of information in “Screwed” is that we have over 100 privately-owned prisons in this country, as of when the book was written. I had no idea. There is no world in which a privately-owned prison is a good idea. Not when there’s no accountability. I’m really flabbergasted by this. I did a quick search and Wikipedia says there are now some 264 privately-owned prisons in this country. Because the neutrality of the article is disputed, I took a short look at the web sites of some of the companies listed there. With only three of the companies, the count is nearly 200. I am appalled.

I don’t know what else to say right now about this book. After the 2004 elections, I finally threw my hands in the air and said fine, we Americans will get what we deserve. And boy have we.

Can we stop this? I don’t know. A vast segment of the American public are still utter morons who allow dirty politicians and douchebag shills like Limbaugh and O’Reilly to distract them with moral issues and nonsensical arguments, all the while seemingly unaware that their pockets are being picked.

I’ve spent a bit of time looking around the FEC site and OpenSecrets and there’s nothing there to prove that it’s not business as usual in Washington. I hate seeing, in a list of the top 20 contributors to the Obama campaign, names like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and UBS (look up UBS if you don’t know who they are — a Swiss bank with all sorts of stuff coming down. They greased lots of palms in the 2008 election. Be interesting to see what happens. Here’s an article from yesterday).

Big oil shelled out over $74 million in the 2008 election, mostly to Republicans. We love hating on big oil. God knows I do. And big pharma. We hate them, too. They gave to the tune of over $28 million, evenly split between the two parties.

Wanna know how much the finance sector donated to our fine politicians? Prepare yourselves. Over $279 million. And another $132 million from the real estate sector. Puts big oil and pharma to shame, doesn’t it? Oh, and the finance and real estate biggies spent evenly between the Dems and Repubs, not wanting to leave anyone out of the party.

Makes me even more disgusted with the bailouts. Makes me wonder about the latest housing plan. I’m wondering all sorts of things. And none of it is good.

P.S. for Decorina — about “Atlas Shrugged,” which you mentioned when you recommended “Screwed.” I do not agree with Ayn Rand on everything, mainly her fervor that industry be completely unfettered from government control. Rand idealized her capitalists, in much the same way that her Communist foes idealized the working man. What I do agree with is her conviction that cronyism and rewarding incompetence is a straight path to ruin. Just so you know, if you read it. Didn’t want you thinking I buy into that total free market crap.

9 Responses
  1. 2009 March 5

    Great, insightful article!

    I, too, was totally bummed out when I finally understood the implications of NAFTA. That was the reason I voted for Perot (Colorado was a goner anyway – for Shrub). And I too thought well of Clinton without realizing that he was stealing from SS.

    I’m on to Naomi Klein’s book now, “Shock Doctrine”. I can only read for about an hour before I’ve got to put it down for awhile. It is the “globalization of Screwed” in a nutshell. With many gory details – too many for the faint of heart.

    I’m with you – can the US survive? Who knows – I don’t, but Obama is giving them the best he has. I’ve always thought that the old, rich, white guys own and really run this country – and Obama is a product of politics like any other. I only hope that more and more people can read books like Screwed, and listen to Thom Hartmann so they understand how compromised the system is and how rigged our supposed “free” elections are. A real change would start with campaign finance reform so that politicians weren’t sold to the highest bidder – and thanks for looking up those statistics on donations.

  2. 2009 March 5

    We are so fucking screwed, y’all. But even more than we are screwed, my kids are screwed. And that makes me physically ill.

  3. 2009 March 5

    Before you completely buy the “we (meaning Obama) are totally screwing our children” argument, you really need to understand that federal spending (deficit spending) is the ONLY way to get out of this hole we are in. Your children’s future was not sold down the river overnight by Obama, it was sold piece by piece by the free-market nut jobs that “privatized the profits and socialized the losses” so that the corporatocracy could rule
    the planet.

    As usual, the GOP con artists are trying to spin this to say Republican deficit spending = GOOD, Democratic deficit spending = BAD. Dig deeper and see how we got here before you get behind the whitewashing of the last 30 years of empowering the corporatocracy at the expense of the middle class.

    Oh, and Hedon: Shrubs signing statements attached to legislation set my hair on fire. He should be in prison just for that little exercise in abusive executive “power”.

  4. 2009 March 5

    “Oh, and Hedon”, by damn I meant Stace. Sorry, still early here and I haven’t had enough coffee…

  5. 2009 March 5

    I guess I need to read that book because I had no idea… I’ve been on a news fast for a while because it’s just so damned depressing and I really didn’t want to be carrying all that around in my head on a daily basis. I get the newspaper but don’t read it all. And of course, they don’t tell you everything anyway.

  6. 2009 March 5

    I can relate, LoveBites. The more I read out there, the more nauseous I get.

    Sayre, I feel a news fast coming on myself.

    I agree, Decorina, that nothing real and lasting can be accomplished until we get the right campaign finance reform. Then we must change our voting system. Without these two changes, other goals can’t be reached. But how can it be done? In Washington, they don’t want these changes. They like the puppet show the way it is. I suppose we could try the old “pitch ‘em all out and put in people who will do what we want,” but flippancy won’t make it happen.

    Over the last 28 years, the powers-that-be have done their best to divide us, and no one can doubt they’ve accomplished their goal. I don’t know what it would take to bring us together. Recognizing we have a common enemy would be a nice start.

  7. 2009 March 6
    Belledog permalink

    I believe in

    (1) public financing of elections and free TV air time for candidates — the airwaves serve the public interest. As it is, campaign season is a windfall for broadcasting outlets, which jack up the rates.

    re public $$: including small donor internet financing with rapid disclosure, not just money handed over by the govt.; (Let’s face it, Obama got LOTS of public financing in 2008, lots of small donors who gave again and again.)

    (2) getting rid of system where victorious political party gerrymanders the districts — we need less safe seats for either party, and take drawing district borders out of political hands as much as possible. It’s incumbent protection at present, and current fundraising/PAC money does the rest.

    Schwarzenegger had an anti-gerrymandering initiative up a few years ago; it was voted down, to my sadness. Maybe the proposal was flawed; maybe voters were sticking it to him across the board (more likely). Anyway, an issue whose time has come.

    (3) Federal elections are too important to leave to the localities: Florida and Ohio were ridiculous, and Theresa LePore’s butterfly ballot design in Palm Beach inadvertently cost Al Gore thousands upon thousands of votes and made it easier for Bush to steal the election. (Pat Buchanan re Palm Beach on election night, 2000: Hey, those aren’t my voters.)

    Level the playing field. Election equipment with verifiable paper trails, early voting for any reason whatsoever, beginning up to a month in advance, and an “election day” that includes the previous weekend as well. Make it possible for as many people to vote as possible. Pennsylvania, with its terrible weather and elderly population, does not allow early voting and is restrictive with its absentee ballot eligibility and cutoff deadline.

    Am sure truck drivers are sadly aware of late changing schedules and how hard it can be to stay atop of local procedures. Voting is a right and a responsibility.

    Thinking on other reforms.

    Checked “Screwed” out of the library on Stace’s suggestion, but have not had the heart to read it yet.

    Let’s face it. Every day’s news is more “Screwed”, even with our phenomenally talented and aware new president of all the people in office.

    Silver lining in the hurricane clouds: finance sector (FIRE) won’t have buckets of money to throw around to politicians for years. I think….

    FIRE Finance, insurance, real estate. The folks who made fortunes on paper and blew up the house for the rest of us who like tangibles.

  8. 2009 March 6

    Speaking as someone with an MS in Criminal Justice Administration and extensive research experience in the industry, I can tell you the prison industrial complex is one of the most horrifying things I can think of.
    It is true that an increasingly high number of US prisons are owned by private companies. It gets worse. Private companies also own and operate many other systems associated with the criminal justice system. Medical care for prisoners, food service, probation and parole systems, substance abuse counseling services, etc… (Fuck, my blood is boiling just writing all of this.)
    We already know those with the most money to hire high powered lobbiest make our laws. The ‘anti-crime’, ‘anti-drug’ lobby is HUGE. They have managed to criminalize behavior that is (in my opinion) victimless (i.e. a set of very nice and loving parents who are hard workers, good neighbors and stellar parents who happen to keep a little bit of weed around for the weekends). Just behind that they have managed to get laws passed that are called ‘mandatory sentencing’ and leave absolutely no room for a sentencing judge to consider all aspects of the life of the convicted and come up with a good plan. (A judge in NY was actually removed from the bench for refusing to sentence a homeless man who had been found with a small amount of weed with a longer prison term than he would have had to have sentenced a repeat child molester.)
    This has resulted in the US having the highest incarceration rate in the world. We were 2nd behind Russia for several years. How great is it that we’ve surpassed Russia on this?
    Another excellent book is called ‘A Sin Against the Future’ by Vivien Stern. It is not fiction, but one of the scariest things I’ve ever read. All about prisons, incarceration rates, how prisoners are treated, etc… An excellent read.
    And, excellent post.

  9. 2009 March 8

    Belle and MG, thank you for your great comments. Amen to voting change.

    And this prison stuff. Ungodly. Should have guessed there was something behind all that talk about being “tough” on crime, then enacting a three strike rule. Honestly, it makes me sick.

    When I was looking up one of the companies listed in Wikipedia, I thought I’d gag when I saw that they listed a large number of what they called “residential reentry centers,” about which they say, “CEC partners with state and local governments to provide community-based adult residential reentry services to offenders released or diverted from prison.” Diverted. Interesting. Company calls itself Community Education Centers. A little “1984″ anyone?

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