"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Rant du jour

I see the moderates are already claiming US President George W. Bush's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank is is just a sop by Bush to the far right. When will these people wake up and realize that neither this appointment, nor the appoint of John "the UN does not exist" Bolton, nor the appointment of Al "it's not torture unless it causes organ failure" Gonzales are sops to the right, but the actions of a right-wing extremist president. What is it going to take? The appointment of a Falangist to the office of faith-based initiatives? A new Kristalnacht?

Since the Reagan and Thatcher years (and I'd include Mulroney in this too) the strategy of the right whenever and wherever they have held power has been to push the center to the right by means of fear-mongering, bribing the people with their own money, campaigning against government and the neo-con game of "starving the beast" through tax cuts and pandering to strident patriotic nationalism.

Since the early 1980's we've have been treated to politicians on the right constantly wailing in alarm about street crime, violence and drugs that are destroying our cities. About the proliferation of WMD and so-called rogue states and creating domestic crises to push their own policies - the coal strike in the UK that was used to break the British trade union movement, the various ill-fated attempts at constitutional reform in Canada under Mulroney, the current social security "emergency" cooked up by Bush the Younger - these are all "crises" created by the governments in question to allow them to further their own agenda in the solution.

A right-wing government cuts taxes and promises to cut spending and "waste" and "red tape" that is handcuffing free enterprise. They trot out the most extreme cases of govt funded research into obscure fields, or funding given to narrow-focus advocacy groups they can find and ridicule it. They make a sweeping promise to cut the civil service ("everybody knows how lazy those darn bureaucrats are - govt should be run like a business") and turn hundreds, even thousands of govt employees out into the street. When the remaining staff can no longer deliver adequate services due to lack of manpower, they decry this as further proof of government inefficiency and impotence.

Meanwhile the tax cuts are all to aid the corporate sector and the wealthy. The "waste" that is cut is usually in fields like education and social service spending: "useless" things like support for teachers and social workers, halfway houses and drug treatment programs. Mental health facilities in particular took a huge hit in the Reagan era, leading to the current epidemic of homelessness among the borderline and often not-so-borderline mentally ill.

Often these cuts are ideologically driven. Subsidization of post-secondary education is cut "because it favors elitism" when in reality it is now only the elite who can afford university. Health care subsidization is cut and private care encouraged, because socialized medicine is "socialism" and doctors deserve to take part in the free market system as much as anyone else. The red tape that gets cut are things like environmental standards and enforcement (see Ontario under the Harris government, the USA under Bush) corporate oversight and financial regulation.

The right campaign on a platform of fiscal responsibility and keep hammering on the size of the public debt to scare the electorate into voting for "fiscal conservatism" and when they get into office, reduce the government's income by cutting taxes while reallocating (and often increasing) spending to pay private contractors to provide the government services they have cut at a higher cost and with less accountability. If the government-run agency screws up, the politicians take the heat, but if the private contractor screws up, the politicians can wring their hands and say they didn't know about it, it was a private firm and so they had no control.

With less money coming in, the deficit gets bigger, giving the right wing politicians further ammunition to cut more government programs. Most schools in Ontario used to have good art, music, sports and drama programs. Not anymore, they werer cut in 90's as "too expensive in the current dire financial climate" Most provincial parks in Ontario replaced government employees (with living wages and benefits) with private contractors (much lower wages, no benefits) for all but senior management jobs.

The use of misinformation and outright propaganda is essential to the task of moving the center. When conservatives railed against crime in the streets and the need for getting tough on crime in the 80s and 90s, the crime rate was actually lower than it had been in the 70s and going down. Since they couldn't rely on statistical evidence, they would dredge up anecdotes about the most brutal crimes they could find and then act as though brutal crime had not existed before 1965, Jack the ripper and Lizzie Borden notwithstanding. The media ran with the anecdotes rather than the scientific recording of actual trends because gory anecdotes always make better copy than dry statistics. Sins of ommission are the most common type of media offense - telling us all about American Idol or Martha Stuart or Michael Jackson's day in court rather than the bankrupcy bill that just handed credit card companies the right to seize people's homes or the debate over social security reform. I'm sure when the U.S. congress eventually introduces a bill calling for a military draft, the lead story on CNN is going to be Brittany Spears miracle baby or the discovery that some mental defective in Utah who has cooked and eaten the babysitter.

As the Bruce Cockburn song says "the trouble with normal is it always get worse" - the more of these changes that are made, the more people accept them and the more willing they become to accept even more heavy-handed measures. What would have been completely unacceptable to most people in 1975 or even 1985 (The Patriot Act, machinegun-toting National Guardsmen in airports forcing people to take off their shoes, "free speech" zones away from Presidential speeches, the hate rhetoric of Ann Coulter, the ten commandments in court rooms and the teaching of creationism in schools to name a few off the top of my head) is no longer even blinked at. The political pendulum swings back and forth from left to right, but in the 80s, Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney managed to move the top of the pendulum itself to the right, so when it swung back to Clinton, Blair and Chretien, it didn't go very far to the left, but stopped just to the right of what used to be the center. Now as it swings to the right again, the center is being pulled with it, ensuring a sort of creeping facism will be with us for years, perhaps generations to come.

Germany, Italy and Spain did not become facist states overnight - the facists created the conditions for their seizing of power over a number of years before provoking unrest and even civil war to allow them to impose a military solution to "protect peace."That is what we are watching right now in the United States.

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