Archive for February, 2015

Giving Back to the People

Posted: February 21, 2015 in Debate, Economics, Politics
Tags: , , ,

rant on/

I’m usually content to allow abstention to be my protest vote, but in the latest round of municipal elections here in Chicago, I have been sufficiently motivated to cast my protest vote (via absentee ballot, meaning it won’t even be counted until after all the shouting is done). So what motivates me to break my voting silence? Simply put, the mayor (small m, always small).

Chicago’s Feb. 24, 2015, municipal election might as well be called the 2015 Mayoral Re-Election considering what’s at stake and how the outcome is mostly a forgone conclusion thanks to modern polling practices. Besides re-electing the mayor, three other officials are running unopposed (varies by precinct/ward) and there are four pointless nonbinding referenda. Pretty slim ballot. We already know that four challengers to the incumbent mayor will mostly likely share the minority vote and thus be unable to force a runoff necessary to focus on just two candidates (or one viable challenger). My interest in removing Rahm Emanuel from office (an intent echoed plainly by his challengers) stems mainly from reporting in The Chicago Reader by Ben Joravsky. I trust Joravsky’s view of local issues, published in an independent newspaper, far more than anything that might appear in the city’s two leading rags (The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times — no links), both of which I ignore. The lesser influence is Kari Lydersen’s book Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%. I admit I haven’t read the book (I refuse to wade into that sewer) but I have read reviews, which are a nearly unanimous chorus of disgust at “Rotten Rahm.”

All this brings me back yet again to wondering why public office is a desirable destination. Half of the political rhetoric is about “taking back” (for the people), acknowledging that government at all levels has been hijacked, while the other half is “giving back” (to the people), a presumed bourgeois (Kennedyesque) devotion to public service shared only by those who are decidedly not bourgeois (read: rich, powerful, and insulated from the masses). It’s largely incumbents on one side, challengers on the other, but that’s not wholly true, as Illinois’ newly elected and installed governor (small g, always small) was a challenger. I find it difficult to judge motivations; results are more transparent. The nastiness of the results, judged individually and over time (since the early 1980s is a typical jumping off point when political economics are discussed), demonstrate that it’s been a radically uneven system of rewards and punishments. The underclass and minorities (large overlap there) are by turns abandoned to their fates and punished for their lack of success, the middle class continues to be squeezed out of existence by policies and practices that proceed with the inexorable power of demographics, and the rich get the spoils. It’s unclear whether any challenger to Chicago’s current mayor will act for or against the people, just as next years’ presidential (small p, always small) election will likely shape up as battle of political intents and promises, but I’m all for moving on from those whose results clearly demonstrate a different battle being waged and won.

rant off/

Update: Well, color me surprised! The incumbent mayor (small m, always small) failed to achieve a majority, so there will be a runoff election in April against top challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. I couldn’t be more pleased. Even the media is reporting on Rahm Emanuel’s flailing attempts to polish the turd that is his administration. I guess a $16 million campaign war chest and rebranding effort proved insufficient to overcome all the bad faith he has earned over the past four years.

Yes, we’re always still at war. With whom or what exactly, in the absence of formal declarations of war, is still up for grabs. While nominally a Global War on Terror or terrorism (shades of other not-really-wars on Drugs and Poverty — each made more important by using caps), our objective remains poorly defined beyond blanket justification for an expanded national security state operating both domestically and abroad, as well as the recognition that departure of U.S. forces from foreign theaters of war would almost certainly lead to even worse civil wars and power struggles among competing warlords and emerging nation-states. So the U.S. military continues to strike against diverse targets and still has boots on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Although Pres. Obama, the Commander in Chief, inherited our military escapades from his predecessor (as do most chief executives) and campaigned on promises to, among other things, close the U.S. torture site military base in Guantanamo Bay and end the wars, the U.S. has not yet abandoned its misadventures even after numerous timetables for withdrawal have been set and surpassed.

After more than a decade, the U.S. public has grown tired of news reports on wars on multiple fronts and the mainstream media no longer reports on U.S. operations with the same diligence or breathless excitement. We have all succumbed to war fatigue. I, too, no longer track or pay attention to such old news. The same inattention is characteristic of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, truly a gift that keeps giving (and giving and giving for a thousand years). Updates on Fukushima can be found here, though I hesitate to believe fully what is presented because the truth is normally spun before being released or is simply withheld. Updates and news on current operations relating to war can be found here and here, but the same caveat applies.

It’s not an innocent or passive question: why do these wars on multiple fronts continue to be prosecuted? Unlike Fukushima, they can be turned off, right? Well, in a word (or three), no, they can’t. The reason is that way, way, way too much money is made off war profiteering. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) consumes 22% ($496 billion) of the Federal budget for FY 2015:

This factoid is only the base budget for defense, however. Costs of foreign wars are kept on separate ledgers, such as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which for FY 2015 is an additional $64 billion. Like the DoD base budget, the actual amount depends on where one seeks information and varies considerably between proposed, asked for, granted, and actual (not yet known). This link actually dares the reader to “Guess How Much America Spends on Defense” with its subtitle. Exactitude is not especially important, but trying to obtain a clear and mostly accurate picture is certainly a trip down the rabbit hole. See, for instance, this graphic based on data collected from various sources, which adds the interesting category non-DoD defense spending:


All this is our tax dollars at work. If we spent these dollars on building a stable, equitable society instead of basically blowing up other people people’s shit, I wonder what the U.S. would now look like? Of course, that hypothetical is absurd, because other countries that have been content to allow the U.S. to almost single-handedly police the world and shoulder the costs, keeping their own security costs minimal, have not fared a whole lot better. Apparently, it is not necessary for a country to operate as a full-blown military-industrial complex to own its share of corruption and inequity.

Since the eruption of bigotry against Islam on the Bill Maher’s show Real Time last October, I have been bugged by the ongoing tide of vitriol and fear-mongering as radical Islam becomes this century’s equivalent of 20th-century Nazis. There is no doubt that the Middle East is a troubled region of the world and that many of its issues are wrapped about Islamic dogma (e.g., jihad) that have been hijacked by extremists. Oppression, misogyny, violence, and terrorism will get no apologetics from me. However, the fact that deplorable behaviors often have an Islamic flavor does not, to my mind, excuse bigotry aimed at Islam as a whole. Yet that is precisely the argument offered by many pundits and trolls.

Bill Maher did not get the ball rolling, exactly, but he gave it a good shove, increasing its momentum and seeming righteousness rightness among weak thinkers who take their cues and opinions from television personalities. Maher wasn’t alone, however, as Sam Harris was among his guests and argued that Islam is “the mother lode of bad ideas.” The notable exception on the panel that episode was Ben Affleck (Nicholas Kristof also made good points, though far more diplomatically), who called bullshit on Islam-baiting but failed to convince Maher or Harris, whose minds were already made up. Maher’s appeals to authoritative “facts” and “reality” (a sad bit of failed rhetoric he trots out repeatedly) failed to convince in the other direction.