Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When business has failed so utterly, it isn't "socialism" for government to set things right
by John Sugg
Georgia Online News Service

It's easy to make jokes about government. For example, there's a popular fable that when the federales in the 1990s took over a famed Nevada brothel called the Mustang Ranch, the bureaucrats so, um, screwed up the business that not even Viagra could save it from dysfunction. The only part that's true is that the government did end up owning the assets of the Mustang Ranch, some of which were auctioned on eBay. What's not true is that the government is so lousy at running things in a businesslike way, it couldn't even make a success of selling sex and booze.

But the point of the tale, as told and retold on blogs in recent days, is: Why would we trust the federal government to run a bailout (actually, multiple bailouts) where the operative descriptive word is "trillion" (actually, "trillions") when bureaucrats can't even run a successful whorehouse? Ignoring the glaringly obvious point that K Street lobbyists, Congress and federal regulatory agencies constitute the biggest red light district in this spiral arm of the galaxy (with our own best little whorehouse in Georgia, AKA the Gold Dome, an aspiring minor league farm team), there's a simple answer. The only hope we have of surviving the financial storm is by the deft intervention of the government, specifically Congress and the Obama administration.

That just absolutely galls some people. It's why the Blowhard Brigade, led by Rush Limbaugh, Neil Boortz, Sean Hannity and their corrosive cohorts are spewing vitriol by the gallon. "Socialist!" Boortz rants daily about Barack Obama, over such surely Marxist sins as the Prez calling bonuses paid to potentates of bailed out companies "shameful." I guess for Boortz that even the slightest chiding of the brigands of big business equates with unrestrained Leninism.

"I hope he fails," sputters Limbaugh, apparently so blinded by hate that he can't see that he's clamoring for the disintegration of the nation.

Hannity took a more subtle course; more deceitful, too. Along with guest history revisionist Rudy Giuliani, he last week declared that the Great Depression was actually caused by Franklin Roosevelt (an epiphany to throngs of scholars who have generally concluded the fault was an early model of Bush economics under Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover). Moreover, with characteristic swagger, the duo proclaimed that it's really Obama who is the culprit behind the current economic malaise (as if the mere prospect of his election prompted the Wall Street boys to begin looting their companies and clients), and that, if things get worse, it's not the fault of all of Bush policies that led up to the crisis but instead the blame belongs to whatever the Big O does.

Nice tidy logic for really, really stupid people.

What's behind all of that is brutal partisanship. The nation's welfare be damned. Unfortunately, many people have been trained by Pavlovian methodology to say "bad" whenever the demagogues say "gummint." There's a certain irony in that. The broadcasters who so fervently denounce "socialism" have become wealthy because they operate in comfortable arms of corporate socialism, sometimes called corporatism. Boortz, for example, headlines his blog with a quote by the libertarian madonna Ayn Rand: "Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others." But, of course, broadcasting consists of giving an unearned benefit (in the form of controlling supply), extorted by force, to some men (in the form of station licenses). It's called the Federal Communications Commission, and long ago the "public airwaves" became property stolen by a few mega corporations. Socialism is bad if you want it, but very, very good if Boortz and friends get it.

You hear real fear among the right's on-air dissemblers, not to mention all of their fellow travelers – like those of our Georgia congressional delegation who have an "R" after their name. They know that after years of crowing about the "failure of Communism," someone might suggest that the current world economic crisis is a failure of capitalism.

It isn't.

But it is a failure of corporatism, a system where the giant conglomerates have grown so powerful and large, government is reduced to being a mere enabler. There is nothing "free" about "enterprise" under such an economy. It's merely vicious predation. And ultimately what Obama's administration has to do is reverse the pecking order: the people, as represented by a democratic government, taking the control levers away from insanely rapacious corporations. After almost three decades of adopting the corporate mantra – slap-happy deregulation, reduced taxes for the wealthy, reduced liability for companies that kill and pollute, disinvestment in the infrastructure, etc. – we now have a nation in economic ruin.

The message on talk radio? Ignore the cause of the problems.

Consider: The average pay of CEOs was about 30 times that of average employees in 1970. Today the boss gets about 110 times more than the serfs. Is the nation any better off because the super-wealthy have used their control of government to further enrich themselves at the expense of middle class? I don't think so.

Or, the two times when wage disparity was at its peak – the 1920s and the 2000s – what followed was economic collapse. The time of least wealth disparity – the 1940s through the 1960s – was a time of generally healthy prosperity and an era when we accepted the role of government as a regulator and, to some extent, an equalizer. The Republicans need to find another Eisenhower, and the Democrats need to hope that Obama is, as he seems, a latter day FDR.

I'm not happy with the bailout bill that came out of the U.S. House. No one is. It was entirely predictable, considering the lack of bipartisanship during the Bush years. The Democrats, sadly, have opted for revenge. But the massive legislation will be retooled, although such things are never perfected. The process won't be pretty. For Republicans when they were in power, "bipartisan" meant that the Democrats had only one choice: Do it the GOP way or risk having your photo pasted alongside Osama bin Laden. Now the Republicans have reinterpreted "bipartisan" to mean "if you don't do the bailout our way, we'll blame you for failure" even though they're the ones who made the mess.

The Democrats aren't much better, at least in the House. The Senate will fashion legislation in a more polite, give-and-take fashion.

But it's the old Republican agenda has been shown to be an utter failure. We don't need corporatism for ExxonMobil and Halliburton. We don't need tax strategies that rob from the middle class to give to the wealthiest. We do need universal health care, taxation that favors the broad mass of people, restraints on banks and companies that have grown far too large for the well-being of Americans. Then we can go back to the business of being a great nation.

John F. Sugg is executive editor of the Georgia Online News Service.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia! Lyle Harris, one of the most savvy journalists in the state, has a question for Georgians: Would they be willing to buy a car unseen and as-yet not even built and pay for it in advance? Probably not. But that's exactly how Georgia Power plans to finance its expensive new plans for nuclear plants. Harris' story leads off today's articles from the Georgia Online News Service and it's a message vital to the pocketbooks of every citizen in this state.

Also, Paul Kaplan takes a look at the awful state of Major League Baseball awful for everyone but the grossly overpaid players and the team owners. They demand massive subsidies for their stadiums or they threaten to leave town. Kaplan says the best thing that could happen for fans would be for the Yankees to dominate the season with all of their high-priced talent and for owner George Steinbrenner to go bust because all of the corporations that typically buy luxury suites and seats have become victims of the economic downturn.

Our "Soapbox" today is occupied by Sam Olens, who takes a shot at Gov. Sonny Perdue for wanting to drive up the prices of housing and health care.

And, if you're not mad as hell at that, I'll heat things up with my column on the foibles of "bipartisanship" and how some folks hate "socialism" when it's for you but not when it's for them.

As always, send your comments and suggestions to john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or call 800-891-3459.

John F. Sugg, Executive Editor


Today's GONSO

When business has failed so utterly, it isn't "socialism" for government to set things right

by John Sugg
It's easy to make jokes about government. For example, there's a popular fable that when the federales in the 1990s took over a famed Nevada brothel called the Mustang Ranch, the bureaucrats so, um, screwed up the business that not even Viagra could save it from dysfunction. The only part that's true is that the government did end up owning the assets of the Mustang Ranch, some of which were auctioned on eBay. What's not true is that the government is so lousy at running things in a businesslike way, it couldn't even make a success of selling sex and booze.
Full Story

Economic downturn could produce a level playing field for baseball

by Paul Kaplan
The economic crisis is crippling the nation's most important financial institutions, but it may actually save one of the most frivolous ones.

Baseball.

The grand sport has been losing its relevance ever since George Steinbrenner figured out that baseball in New York defies the laws of economics.

Full Story

Perdue should not hike the cost of home ownership or medical care

by Sam Olens
Raising taxes during a recession is almost never a good idea.

But that is exactly what Gov. Sonny Perdue is proposing in two crucial state budget areas: housing and health care.

The governor wants to eliminate state grants that save many homeowners $200 to $300 per year on their annual property taxes. At a time when Georgia is leading the nation in home foreclosures, this is clearly not the time to make housing more expensive.

Full Story

Georgia Power's Nuke-Sized Nightmare

by Lyle Harris
Every so often our lawmakers need to be reminded that what's good for the Georgia Power Co. isn't always best for Georgians. Now is one of those times.

With a platoon of lobbyists at its disposal, the state's largest utility is in the process of bulldogging Senate Bill 31 through the Legislature on the broad hips of Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), who also chairs the Senate Rules Committee.

To be blunt, this bill is bad news that could result in costly, nuke-sized nightmare. Just ask state officials in Florida.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
New book chronicles Civil War from viewpoint of ordinary soldiers
by Bill Hendrick
Only those who hate schools would vouch for vouchers
by John Sugg
Georgia Power's pay-in-advance funding tops consumer issues at Legislature
by Maggie Lee
Georgia's chief justice: Because of bad economy, 'people will need access to justice now more than ever'
by

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