Sunday, August 16, 2009

Anger and Angst in America

Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

The ongoing debates and angry sound bytes from town hall meetings has me thinking about where this over the top anger is coming from. The left likes to blame big corporations and conservative opposition; the right currently blames the Obama administration and big government. But hasn't this pent up hostility been building since Richard Nixon left the White House iin 1974?

For Baby Boomers, Watergate was the beginning of a lifelong distrust of politicians and power. Nixon's paranoia, and misuse of power left us wondering if we could ever trust our government again.

The examples I site are the result of failed policies in which one or both parties are liable.

The first auto bailout took place in 1979 when President Carter approved $1.2 billion dollars in loan guarantees for Chrysler. At the time, there was much disagreement about this policy. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, made a compelling case in a 1983 article about the fallacies of this loan program. Given the fact that all three automakers required a government bailout in 2008, it makes me wonder if we sustained a failed model for another thirty years or if we kept people in their jobs? Had the government implemented stringent requirements for more fuel efficient models thirty years ago, would the environment and the auto industry be in better shape today?

De-regulation of the broadcast industry began in 1981 under President Reagan. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, passed under President Clinton, promoted further deregulation of the entire telecommunications industry including cable, long distance telephone service, local telephone service, and broadband. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications,

The act incorporates numerous changes to the rules dealing with radio and television ownership under the Communications Act of 1934 (New Deal legislation). Notably broadcasters have substantial regulatory relief from old and sometimes outmoded federal restrictions on station ownership requirements. Broadcast ownership limits on television stations have been lifted. Group owners can now purchase television stations with a maximum service area cap of 35% of the U. S. population, up from the previous limit of 25% established in 1985. Limits on the number of the radio stations that may be commonly owned have been completely lifted, though the bill does provide limits on the number of licenses that may be owned within specific markets or geographical areas.

Designed to create a competitive communications market and deliver better services and prices to consumers, the broadcast industry, instead, became consolidated. Competition eventually narrowed to five major companies who jammed a "one size fits all" mentality into their programming. Today, the majority of these companies are on the verge of bankruptcy thanks to over leveraging, mismanagement and a lack of government oversight.

President Reagan deregulated the airline industry, eventually dismantling the Civil Aeronautics Board. The idea was to increase competition among the airlines, to lower prices making it better for consumers. The short and long term results? Consolidation among airlines, miserable flying conditions, increased air traffic resulting in increased airline disasters. Former airline giants like TWA, Northwest have disappeared and other giants are in serious financial difficulty. Consumers are left with unreliable flight schedules, little or no accountability from their carriers, lost baggage, etc.

Bill Clinton promoted NAFTA, an agreement designed, according to the USDA Fact Sheet, to "increase agricultural trade and investment between the United States, Canada and Mexico" and benefit "farmers, ranchers and consumers throughout North America."

Not surprisingly, according to a 2001 article in Public Citizen, Ralph Nader's consumer advocacy group, just the opposite occurred:

"During the 1993 Congressional battle about the fate of NAFTA’s approval, U.S. farmers were promised that NAFTA would provide a path to lasting economic success through rising exports. Consumers were promised lower food prices. These promised benefits never materialized during seven years of NAFTA: farm income has declined and consumer prices have risen while some agribusinesses — which lobbied hard for NAFTA and now are avidly promoting Fast Track — have seen record profits."

Independent farmers and growers were convinced NAFTA would lead to decreased competition in their industry. 13 years later, prices to consumers are sky high and the farming industry is fighting for its existence. For example, dairy farmers are going under at an alarming rate. They can no longer afford to produce a product they cannot sell at a profit or even break even prices. NAFTA will probably be repealed in the next few years. Ironically, one of the repeal proponents is Secy of State, Hillary Clinton.

Another contributor to the current financial downfall was the repeal the Glass Steagall Act in 1999. Investopedia, a Forbes digital company explains:

In 1933, in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash and during a nationwide commercial bank failure and the Great Depression, two members of Congress put their names on what is known today as the Glass-Steagall Act (GSA). This act separated investment and commercial banking activities. At the time, "improper banking activity", or what was considered overzealous commercial bank involvement in stock market investment, was deemed the main culprit of the financial crash. According to that reasoning, commercial banks took on too much risk with depositors' money.

By the end of Bill Clinton's second term, the budget surplus was $127 billion. The 2003 invasion of Iraq began the decimation of this surplus. To add insult to injury, the Bush administration directed an invasion based on "faulty intelligence" etc etc. Under their watch, Halliburton enjoyed "no contest" bids for jobs in the Middle East, costing American taxpayers billions. TARP was pushed through Congress without national public approval. The average American tax payer is confused and feels helpless.

Right now, the Obama administration is the recipient of the anger. They did not create the Iraqi war; they did not design and implement the original TARP plan. They have inherited a 35 year old mess in the making and it is everyone's doing.

As citizens, we need to be knowledgeable. We cannot vote our emotions. We have to understand both sides of the issues and pick the side that makes sense.

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Minka said...

Does that "socialism" reffers to health care system? I think I should have mentioned an important fact in my comments to your previous post: there are many countries that have never ever had socialism, but have the system you call socialist when it comes to health care and some other things. Simply because it works. It is humane. I guess it must be economically efficient as well.

I watch Animal planet sometimes - I love dogs - and some of those sick or abused pets get help (yes, it's right that they get it), surgery and medication that I'm sure some people are denied.

lakeviewer said...

Medicare and Social Security, as well as pension funds for government employees are forms of 'national/government' programs. Democracy doesn't exclude government. It is a form of government whose leaders and programs are chosen by the majority. Let's not throw labels around to encite fear and confusion.

Baino said...

Cali, as an outsider I find that the US doesn't really understand (as a group) the principle of a socialist democracy. It's almost like the Kennedy years of 'duck and cover'. Panic over an 'ism' rather than a belief that we should look after each other. The wealthy pay more tax because they can afford it, the poor pay less because they can't and what's contributed to the general ledger aids all because it's fair.

I feel incredibly sorry for Obama because people's memories are short. They've forgotten how we got in this mess in the first place. Total lack of regulation. If you don't like what the Govt. is doing, you only have to wait 4 years and you vote 'em out.

I get so frustrated with the polarised political views in the US. You have to be black or white. Then as I said, I'm an outsider. Perhaps one needs to live in America to understand it but I get the distinct feeling that some haven't moved on from the libertarian principles of the 19th Century and the very suggestion that social welfare is good brands you a communist or socialist (Indeed I had a huge fall out with a bloggy friend because he thought me pink) Hello? It's now the 21st Century and a new model is needed. You don't need a gun and you don't look after each other without Government intervention. Remember Government is for the people and by the people.

I love your political pieces by the way. I think Minka has a point. Socialised health and welfare is not a reversion to a Stalinist State but I've heard Republicans claim that this is the way you're headed. It's rot and paranoia and not helping the US get out of the doldrums.

Great post.

Judy said...

I enjoyed the post AND the comments! I get so frustrated by all the misinformation companies and politians put out there. I saw the movie "FOODinc" this weekend and it is more of the same with food companies as it is health care. The American way of life is so exasperating at times!

Coffee Messiah said...

In the end, we're shills for the corporations and until we wake up, if ever, those with misinformation will always seem to turn the tide negatively, to everyones detriment
; (

BTW, I wish labels were not used, although it's easy to tell once someone starts to talk where they are coming from.

And again, if ya want to use biblical terms: Love thy neighbor as thyself? except for health care, meaningful pay scale, housing, etc, etc ; (

California Girl said...

Hello friends: Thanks for all your comments. My post was convoluted. Too much emotion, not enough focus.

I have edited this post to make it less "stream of conscious" and more focused. I have also attempted to explain it in today's post titled "Anger & Angst in America: The Prelude".

injaynesworld said...

This is an excellent piece and we are completely in sync, especially about the Clinton years. God, how he fucked up. I remember reading where Hillary was originally against NAFTA and had to be really pressured to go along. Not that she was Prez at the time, but I'm sure she could have made things difficult. I wish to God she had. It was one of my biggest issues that she would not slam it for the mistake it was in her own campaign.


by Cole Scott