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Business As Usual | Political Waves

This week, as we all counted our beads praying that things wouldn't get worse, they did. Along with his staff, our commanding general in Afghanistan got liquored-up on a bus with a Rolling Stones reporter and let loose the inner 'mean girl' in an on-record bitchfest. A federal judge in New Orleans with financial ties to big oil suspended Obama's drilling moratorium. The Deepwater containment cap was removed, due to ice crystals that indicate the venting system is no longer working, perhaps bumped by an underwater robot. Republican obstruction has left over a million of us without unemployment extensions, which will trickle down to produce further economic desperation across the country. And worse in the long run, playing to our fears much like the buildup to war in Iraq, the cry for policing the deficit infects the political landscape and influences public opinion.

Business as usual isn't the people's business, of course, it's the big business of corporatocracy. The last several decades have intensified what some call a New Gilded Age ruthlessly promoted by the right, but this has been the American story since its inception. In a real sense, our problems today can be tracked back to the split between property-focused, Christianist federalism and secular Jeffersonian democracy. America is designated a republic, not a strict democracy. Get it? Republicans, Democrats? The difference is illuminated by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's comments on capital punishment at the University of Chicago in 2002: "The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible." So said one of nine Supreme Court judges with a lifetime appointment, a federalist ideologue of the first water. He is joined by a minimum of three others who interpret this nation's laws with a bias toward 'corporate personhood.'

Business this week included Obama accepting the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, sparing him from firing after years of dedication in combat that included tracking down Saddam Hussein. Yet not forgotten, at least by the left, was the general's coverup of football star Pat Tillman's death by 'friendly fire' in 2004, and two previous controversial remarks that bordered on insubordination. McChrystal, a counterinsurgency expert, had enjoyed unprecedented freedom, staff and budget in Afghanistan. President Karzai and his military advisors are greatly upset at the loss of this hands-on guy. McChrystal developed a relationship with Karzai, accompanying him to visit tribal leaders and putting a face on American leadership. And let's be candid -- the Afghanis like to look you in the eye as they accept payoffs and cash for their cooperation. Stanley was the man.

In replacing this general, Obama passed the Commander-in-Chief test, garnering public support with his comment that no one man supersedes the seriousness of war. Brilliantly, he's appointed Petraeus as replacement, a general who is both warrior and statesman. Speculation about those who might step up from the lower ranks or make lateral moves were made moot by selecting McChrystal's boss for the task. For the troops, this will quickly shore up any wobble in their mission, such as it is, and provide them a level of confidence in leadership. A surprise benefit of this awkward incident is renewed public scrutiny of the mission in Afghanistan.

The war, of course, is only part of our larger economic debate. Long-term unemployment is quickly creating a permanent American underclass, and reported improvements on Wall Street are not apparent on Main Street. Obstructing unemployment compensation, financial regulation and energy reform allows Republicans to wallow in their ideological principal while alienating average citizens, and also provides cover for wobbly Democrats who don't want to kill the cash cow that keeps them employed. Everything we see around us reflects corporate 'personhood' more than actual human need.

Deficit hawks are not new to politics; many of them flapped around during the Great Depression. Economists I admire, like Krugman and Reich, tell us we must spend our way out of this downturn and consider the deficit when we've recovered, but austerity measures, such as those imposed in Greece, seem to fire the conservative imagination. It's a kind of Old Testament meme that someone must pay for the excess of the past, and looking around for a sacrificial lamb, the right again eyes Social Security. Deficit hawks want no hint of FDR's 'Nanny State' policies to intrude on their zeal to draw down the debt. Social Security is one of those entitlements, like Medicare and Disability, that drive conservatives nuts as massive giveaways to the unproductive or the undeserving.

Please notice that this push toward fiscal responsibility is more intent on breaking the backs of the people than the corporations. Hawks might have more credibility if they had embraced the public option, voted to police insurance carriers, big Pharma and big oil, or taken on the corruption in Wall Street, naturally decreasing the deficit with reasonable legislation. Instead, citing the need to maintain our global credit rating, they push cuts to Social Security. Attention, citizen! This is a Trojan Horse, a toe-hold for allowing ALL entitlements to be whittled away.

According to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "The Congressional Budget Office shows the program can pay all future benefits through the year 2044 with no changes whatsoever. Even after that date the shortfalls are relatively minor. If we instituted a fix in 2030 that is comparable to the one put in place in 1983 it would leave the program fully solvent out to the 22nd century."

What Bush accomplished in his eight years of mayhem wasn't business as usual, but at some point the zeitgeist simply changes to reflect a new reality. What we have today IS business as usual, the business of a nation suffering meltdown and disintegration, toppling under what has become too unwieldy and unbalanced to stand. We won't be returning to 'normal' because our previous condition was unsustainable. Pretending it will return as it was is folly. Yet even now the same old arguments rage between legislating for the public good or for the private sector, a battle between people who are real and a corporate entity that is not.

Here's what I know about American politics, in a nutshell. Conservatives will turn out in droves to vote AGAINST something, hell-bent on stopping change; progressives will only rush the polls to vote FOR something, eager to create new, inclusive opportunity. At the end of an era, we have an opportunity to end thousands of years of man's inhumanity to man. If that can become our business as usual -- a cause worthy of our passion, dedication and fidelity -- count me in. How about you?

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