In this edition: Rush in retrospect, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s on public assistance, the turning points in the journey to oligarch rule, Hobby Lobby says “corporations are people, my friend,” and have religious freedom.
Closer to the Heart
And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart
Written by Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Elwood Peart, Peter Talbot
Recorded by Rush, 1977
Read more lyrics: Rush – Closer To The Heart Lyrics | MetroLyrics
In “Closer to the Heart,” Rush offers just four stanzas to make their point. The “men who hold high places,” the “blacksmith and the artist,” and the “philosophers and ploughmen” must each work to create this new reality. Then the artist can captain the metaphoric ship to the chart that the everyman creates as the society moves closer to the heart, and by inference, away from the selfish and material in life.
Rush was never a favorite band of mine (sorry guys) because at this point in time I was getting into the British New Wave and the dramatic renderings of the prog-rock groups clashed with the back-to-basics sound of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and a little later Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, Blondie and the Talking Heads. I’m not alone in this, check this article on why Rush is the most hated rock band (including their lack of appeal to female fans, characterized as a “low clitoris count” at concerts). However, in retrospect the band gains appeal for me. The power trio lineup, the intelligent lyrics, and the theme of the plight of the individual against the pressures of conformity have all fermented well in the barrels of time. Now that I’m not hearing “Tom Sawyer” every 15 minutes I can settle back to enjoy them once in a while. Add in Neil Peart’s lyrics involving humanism, the journey of understanding the nature of life, and the metaphysical elements and I’m right there!
The themes Rush developed more than 30 years ago were in response to a world just revealing itself. They could not have envisioned that 6 members of a certain family would have an amount of wealth equal to 40% of the rest of the American population and that the corporation that provides such wealth–the largest employer in the U.S.–would offer its employees tips on subsidized healthcare and housing paid for by taxpayers. (Wal-Mart in case you didn’t pick up on it.) Check out this video of another large (700,000 U.S. employees) low-wage employer’s internal site advising employees to stretch food budgets by breaking food into smaller pieces and selling gifts on eBay for extra cash.
In the last post I wrote on the topic of lost American ideals. Americans seem less inclined to care about the environment, the growing problems wrought by income inequality, and the loss of privacy we face. It is as if we are a defeated people willing to accept numerous indignities as long as we can keep our lives rolling along with moderate success. I think it’s clear how we got here and I think it’s clear how we regain our strength.
These are the “turning points” in my take on things:
1981 – Ronald Reagan convinces everyone “government is the problem.” Before that people operated under the assumption that it was just bloated and corrupt. Reagan Democrats and old farts of all stripes believed his earnest demeanor was authentic and turned against government. The wealthy would-be kings and corporate America seized on the opportunity to start fighting unions, privatizing whatever they could get their hands on, gambling with workers savings and livelihoods, reviving the greed that 65 years earlier had filled factories with child workers and 120 years earlier filled fields with slaves, cutting away at the safety net for the poor, and taking a lot of momentum out of upward mobility.
1994 — Following mid-term elections, Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. Gingrich and Dick Armey wrote, and heavily publicized, a “Contract with America” offering many proposals that became law under Democratic President Bill Clinton and a template for today’s GOP Representatives. Gingrich, as Speaker, piloted the House to two government shutdowns (5 full days and 21 full days) and was successful in impeaching Clinton in the House, although it was overturned in the Senate. Under the leadership of Gingrich and the principles of the Contract with America, Capital Gains taxes were reduced, welfare was reduced and even eliminated for mothers 18 years old and younger, prisons were funded as sentences became harsher, payments for UN peacekeeping operations were cut, tort reform benefiting corporations in product liability suits was instituted, and citizen’s protections against illegal search and seizure were weakened. Conflict between the parties on Budget talks was nothing new, animosity toward a president of the opposing party was not new, but Gingrich’s disdain for compromise and disregard for the essential role of Congress, purely on ideological grounds, was new, ugly, and precedent-setting (and is currently being repeated).
1996 — FoxNews channel launches. Funded by Rupert Murdoch and run by Roger Ailes, a Republican political strategist, the channel promotes extreme conservative thought to the point of skewering mainstream Republicans like Gov. Chris Christie and promoting the wildest extremes of the GOP (e.g. Ann Coulter). Using tools such as repetition and framing, combined with titillating graphics and bootylicious contributors, the channel successfully functions as the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Of course, this was all it was intended to be: an outlet of extreme conservative viewpoints that went well beyond what an already corporatist press was willing to promote. Entire media organizations developed just to identify and document their misrepresentations of Democratic policy and politicians. How did the channel get to the point of being available to 85% of cable and satellite customers? Rupert’s wealth allowed the station to pay cable systems on a per subscriber basis (rather than the opposite) to give the station an audience it would otherwise not have developed so quickly.
2001 – The September 11th attacks leave Americans shaken. Acts of terror, particularly against the World Trade Center, provoked urges for retribution, misdirected hostilities to immigrants in the U.S. and Muslim people everywhere, created strong feelings of jingoism (the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries). We’ve now endured years of war at a great human cost (for all parties) and a great financial cost. We’ve built massive government entities in Homeland Security and the NSA. We have less privacy and less liberty than we did just 12 years ago and it wasn’t taken from us, it was given away. For many, the world was turned upside down and confidence in our safety and security was threatened. Then (in 2003) the Bush administration capitalized on this insecurity–even fearfulness–with the political decision to waste blood and treasure in Iraq in order to secure access to Saddam’s oil fields. Lawmakers understood this to be some sort of retaliation and most went along with the program. Every death in Iraq and Afghanistan produced dozens of enemies of the U.S. And gas prices still went up.
2007 – The Great Recession begins the nation’s descent into the deepest and longest Recession since the Great Depression. Unaddressed real estate bubbles and unregulated risky banking investment combined to bring the economy to the verge of collapse with millions losing their jobs. GW Bush had hoped that he could get out of town before the poop hit the spinning blades but he was splattered enough to initiate a bank bailout of epic proportions and hand his successor an economy hemorrhaging jobs at previously unseen rates (2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008 and by 2010 the total reached 8.8 million jobs lost from the pre-recession peak). If you didn’t lose your job you still felt the insecurity of the economy keenly. After 30 years of stagnant wage growth for most Americans, and an employer’s market for jobs, we quickly learned the advantage of putting up and shutting up.
2010 – FoxNews and conservative talk radio misrepresent the Affordable Care Act and other policies of centrist, corporation-friendly president Barack Obama to the point that a subset of Americans become activated to oppose his policies under the umbrella of the Tea Party. Billions are spent by Rupert Murdoch and David and Charles Koch to organize and promote Tea Party activism and Tea Party candidates. Dick Armey was pegged to run FreedomWorks, launched with $12 million from the Koch’s, to organize Tea Party branches and create the rallies that the press so adored prior to the 2010 midterms. FreedomWorks paid a million to Glenn Beck for his ongoing endorsements, and an undisclosed amount to Rush Limbaugh for the same. Many middle class people were easily led by these professional talkers to direct their anger against government, Obama, or liberals instead of to the group most responsible for their problems: the powerful multinational CEOs and the super-rich who were busy moving the workers share of income into the pockets of CEOs and dividend checks of investors.
Wolves at the door.
Step by step, those who are too greedy and selfish to understand the concept of acting for the greater good, (the enlightened self-interest that de Touqueville found in America in the 1830s), have shaped the country to our detriment (and their benefit). We are rudderless in many ways because we have surrendered national values.
Can we ask the questions that matter? What happens to the unskilled or lower skilled workers when the factories close? Should we retrain them, can we retrain them? What happens to the children of poor parents who have no early childhood support (educational, ethical, nutritional, emotional)? Can we expect them to find the way out of poverty? Is it good for the economy to see dividends going up while real wages are going down? Should the gap between CEO wages and average workers salaries be widening or closing? What happens when the seas rise, the desert overtakes productive land, and we find ourselves rebuilding again and again after violent storms? What happens when the temperature’s slow rise changes regional ecology, or deadens the oceans, or makes the air unbreathable? Should we sit and watch nature die because we didn’t want to put a price on carbon emissions?
I think I could have added Citizens United to the list above, but I had the sense that it was only extending the problem of “bought” politicians, not the primary cause of it. Last week the Supreme Court agreed to take up Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and many see this as part 2 of Citizens United. In that case, the Supreme Court said that corporations were people and money was speech, and therefore corporations could not be limited in political donations under free speech principles. The Hobby Lobby case, rather innocuous when viewed as the fight of a corporation against mandates to provide coverage of contraceptives, extends Citizens United to say that corporations have religious freedom as well. The owners of Hobby Lobby use the protections afforded by incorporating, but then balk at the responsibility to follow federal law with the premise that the corporation should be afforded freedom of religion protection under the Constitution. Not only that, but the exception is not based on religious beliefs generally, but their own zealot belief that Plan B One-Step prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb and is tantamount to an abortion. In the fashion of zealots, they misunderstand the functions of this pill as it does nothing to stop a fertilized egg from implanting. If Hobby Lobby was pacifist and wanted to avoid paying the share of taxes that finance the war in Afghanistan, how would that go over?
Well, I just remembered the promise (to myself) to end on a relatively positive note. So here I go. The good news, on a topic where good news has been hard to find, is on Obamacare. According to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the growth in health care spending (since Obamacare was passed in 2010) has slowed to the lowest rate on record for any three-year period since 1965. “If half the recent slowdown in spending can be sustained,” the report says, “health care spending a decade from now will be about $1,400 per person lower than if growth returned to its 2000-2007 trend.” Additionally, health care price inflation is at its lowest rate in 50 years.
The ACA also had many measures to curb spending on Medicare (which is 16% of the federal budget). Benefits were not reduced (they improved in fact) but spending was reduced through various measures to tighten up payments and experiment with alternatives to the pay-for-procedure model that creates incentives for healthcare organizations to perform more procedures and tests to make more money.
Projections suggest we will save $147 billion on Medicare and Medicaid over the next 6 years. These changes will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion from 2013 to 2022.