Archive for September, 2009

Congress Gone Nuts

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Congress voted a couple of days ago to cut off federal payments to a private anti-poverty agency, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known more commonly by its acronym, ACORN. Concentrated in urban areas across the country, ACORN is a membership organization of about 400,000 people, whose principal object is to empower residents of poor neighborhoods. ACORN registers voters, lobbies public officials for improved services, assists those in need of housing, and generally helps people who are disadvantaged by insufficient income.

Lately, right-wing news-mongers have been airing bits of video showing a handful of ACORN employees engaged in corrupt practices, prompting Congress to act. ACORN gets several million dollars each year in grants from the federal government to administer various social programs, and Congress wants to cut off those payments. No hearings have been held, and there’s been no reliable fact-finding, but the conduct of the employees in the video clips, all of whom have since been fired, was so shocking to our esteemed legislators that the situation was deemed an emergency.

This is the same Congress that can’t or won’t rein in corrupt bankers, the omnipotent prescription drug cartel, war profiteers, or insurance swindlers. The initiative to debar this poor people’s lobby originated with right-wingers, but it attracted enough self-described Democrats to pass both houses. That’s your Democrat majority in action, tolerating just enough dissent to ensure that the right-wing, hypercapitalist agenda always prevails.

Nobody knows what Obama will do with this legislative atrocity, but odds are that he’ll sign it. He doesn’t want to be accused of favoring blacks, and he no longer sees government as a protector of the underprivileged from hunger and want. He”ll probably accommodate the bigots, as he’s done repeatedly since he launched his campaign for the presidency. His election was apparently sufficient to fulfill all the dreams of King, Dubois, and Douglass; nothing more will be required of anyone, and the residues of bigotry are expected to evaporate with the passage of time.

Obama doesn’t understand that bigotry is self-indulgence. Ungenerous, unvirtuous people use bigotry to create delusions of superiority by disparaging others. Bigots are mean people who see life as a zero-sum game, in which more for you means less for me. With bigotry these folks can conveniently identify groups and individuals who are worthy of denial, leaving more for them. Bigotry is not going away.

Don’t confuse bigotry with hate, which is an emotional state. Bigotry is cold. Hate is hot. The modern bigot doesn’t hate his targets; he resents their accomplishments and covets their possessions. You can’t hate somebody you don’t know. The bigot’s hatred is mostly directed inward, and it’s masked by a feigned hatred of others. And don’t confuse bigotry with racism, which may be an outdated concept. No sentient 21st-century adult actually believes that skin color confers superiority or inferiority, any more than anyone really thinks the position of the stars determines the personality of a newborn. Some of us pretend to believe that light skinned people are superior, but the truth is that racism is a cover for general meanness and self-loathing. It’s a heck of a lot easier to deny Mexicans and Haitians a decent living if you can pretend to believe they deserve less than you.

The media are all on board for the repudiation of ACORN, and the rest of us are under pressure to follow suit. Don’t do it. Powerlessness is always compounded by foolishness, and this is foolishness. If we’re going to start holding people accountable for corruption, the wise move would be to start with Congress, a racketeering outfit of the first water. And let’s not give Democrats a pass. They’re every bit as bigoted as Republicans, and their sins are multiplied by their dodges and deceptions. Give your member a call and let him know—even if he voted against this hypocritical measure—that you’re holding him accountable for a Congress gone nuts.

Too Frail to Beg

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

About a year ago, we experienced a major interruption in the process by which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As in the past, it was an indisposition of the rich and not a windfall for the poor that upset the economic balance. Suddenly, the rich, who require credit to enhance their holdings, got stiffed by their financiers when it was discovered that a considerable portion of their assets had little or no value.

Trillions of dollars turned out to be nothing more than gambling debts and bids in fixed auctions, backed by absolutely nothing of value and financed by insolvent guarantors. Nobody had any intention of paying any of it, and it was simply erased from the economy, like penciled entries in a crook’s ledger.

Since the rich control almost all the world’s resources and all the world’s governments, they don’t have to accept major interruptions in the flow of wealth to them from the rest of us. If their usual financiers could no longer fund them, they’d simply have governments–especially the US government, which they own outright–print money for them. Calling their vast securities fraud a liquidity crisis, they arranged for the Federal Reserve, a cartel of private bankers with a license to create dollars, to funnel money directly to their financiers. “We’re too big to fail,” they announced, “and we’ll take you all down with us if you don’t meet our demands.” There was no way they could extort enough to get even, but it would be something.

The trillions that got erased never really existed, and the rich still own just about everything, so they weren’t hurt all that much.  Even so, they do like to keep their books in rough balance, so they made up the shortfall by trimming payrolls. They cut back on the number of people they employ as servants and they reduced the pay of the few lucky ones who were retained. They call this a recession, and it’s a win-win-win proposition for the rich. It preserves their assets by reducing expenses. It keeps their newly-minted money from losing its dollar value by controlling demand. And it acts as a form of insurance against the poor–so numerous as to be a potentially menacing force if empowered–ever managing not to get poorer and weaker.

Today, all signs point to recovery. That’s what the networks and NPR are saying, and they direct us to the rise in corporate share prices by way of evidence. They’re calling it a jobless recovery, because so few of us still have income-producing work. It’s a recovery because the rich are getting richer again, and the poor are still getting poorer.

None of this is happening in secret. It’s clear to everyone that we’re being robbed, but nobody’s doing anything. The robber barons are outnumbered a thousand to one, and we’re paralyzed. If you’re working, you don’t dare do anything because you might lose your job. If you’re not working, you can’t do anything because you’re too busy struggling to survive, often contending with other desperate people instead of the common enemy. The victims of this atrocity can’t even plead for succor, much less demand justice. Our malefactors are too big to fail, and we’re just too frail to beg.

Is it possible for a people to get strong when they’ve been reduced to a state of utter powerlessness, deprived of the protections of their laws, misled and disinformed by their news-mongers, separated from their meager assets by market predators, witness to the destruction of the planet their children must inherit, and mortified by their own weakness and lack of resolve? Does a day ever come when, in real life, people unite behind the determination not to take this anymore?

Law & Ordure

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

A candidate for the Connecticut bar is now asked on a state questionnaire whether in the last three years he or she has used an illegal drug. A friend of mine suggests that this is intended to be a test of basic intelligence, to find out whether anybody would be stupid enough to answer in the affirmative. He thinks it’s a way to cull out the obvious mental defectives.

My friend’s logic is compeliing, but I can’t help wondering what I would have said if I’d been asked that question in 1978 when I was admitted to the practice of law. How would this troubling qualification stand up to a cursory legal analysis? How would I advise a candidate for admission to answer the question?

I would recommend a long answer. The problem with the question is that it assumes that there is some black-letter distinction between legal and illegal. There isn’t. On the contrary, we have placed whole classes of culpable people above all law and used law to oppress and exploit huge numbers of blameless people. Enforcement tends to be strict against most of us and lax or nonexistent against the rich and powerful. Enforcement is often arbitrary, so that a mistreater of horses can call his endeavor the sport of kings, but a mistreater of dogs has do prison time. What’s kidnapping if you do it is preventive detention if done by an agent of government. What you know as torture is legalized by executive fiat as harsh interrogation.

A rational jurisprudence recognizes that arbitrariness in the enforcement of laws undermines the rule of law itself. When known offenders walk freely among us–torturers, killers, grafters and grifters–the rule of law must be considered in abeyance. As on the dusty streets of Dodge and Tombstone, the distinction between legal and illegal is blurred.

Consider the broad swath of personal conduct that might be considered illegal. Do I answer “yes” for having sipped a can of beer while driving to my mother-in-law’s birthday? What if my buddy mails me a couple of his Viagra? What’s legal? What’s illegal? If torture is legal, can a toke possibly be considered illegal? To answer the question “yes” or “no” is to set aside all notions of proportionality.

There’s a constitutional issue, too, complicated by the bizarre logic of the whole scheme. A state agency is requiring violators to incriminate themselves, and it’s also inviting them not to. Self-selection will tend to screen out the honest violators and accept the dishonest ones.

I’m no bar examiner, but from my point of view, this question explores, not whether anybody’s stupid enough to say “yes,” but whether anybody could be so devoid of principle as to answer the question at all.