James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A few quick comments

Geraldine Ferarro is a confidante and committed supporter of Hillary Clinton, and until Wednesday a member of the Clinton campaign hierarchy.

Well, it may be that like Karl Rove, she isn't really going away, but in any case...

Ferarro made a comment she knew would be picked up by national news organizations, claiming Barak Obama wouldn't be a serious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination if he wasn't black. It is a belittling statement.

There is no way that Ferarro made that remark without the Clinton campaign, and the candidate herself, knowing of it in advance. They also knew the ensuing storm might require that Ferraro give up her official position with the campaign -– to become a freewheeling attack dog for Clinton, in all likelihood.

Clinton's smirking response, later boosted to some semblance of contriteness, is that she really does sort of wish that her supporters wouldn't make comments about the other candidate that are “rather personal” in nature.

If you know how campaigns work, and have followed the increasing nastiness of the Clinton bunch, you know it was a setup. It was the Clinton campaign's way of taking a racist shot at Obama while -– and this is most galling -– continuing to whine that Clinton is a victim of sexism.

Truth: Obama got to make his big speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention because he was black. It gave him a leg up, but almost anybody who becomes prominent in politics gets a leg up somewhere along the line. Clinton is where she is because she is a woman and the wife of the ex-president.

Fact: The woman is unscrupulous and unfit for public office.

An amazing number of terminally naïve Democrats continue to bubble about what a “dream team” Clinton and Obama would make as running mates.

That's an astonishing formulation. The two people despise each other. Should they be running mates –- which will not happen -– whichever was the vice presidential candidate, and possibly vice president, would be entirely out of the government, twiddling thumbs and launching warships, and subject to frequent humiliations from the one who was president.

As my wife said, “Why would you put those two cats in the same sack, except to drown them?”

I received an automated telephone call Tuesday morning from the American Medical Association. The docs asked me –- and no doubt many thousands of other individuals of Medicare age –- to call our senators and ask them not to approve the changes George the Impaler (OK, they didn't call him that) seeks in the Medicare payment system.

Essentially, the AMA message said, if Bush gets his way, it will be far more difficult for people covered by Medicare to get health care because many doctors will refuse to treat Medicare recipients. They simply won't be able to afford to do the work at the level of pay Bush is demanding.

Quite a few apparently objective analysts agree with the docs.

It's funny, in a way. When I was young, the AMA was a reliably ultra-conservative organization that always supported Republican candidates – and the farther right the better. Now, every doctor I've manage to get talking about politics and health care – that's six or eight over the past year or so – is adamantly a foe of the Bush administration and the right wingers in Congress.

Of course, a great majority of physicians always have cared deeply about the proper practice of medicine and the welfare of their patients. Only now it's clear who's on their side and who isn't.

Nothing like getting your own toes stepped on to cause the eyes to pop open.

Join me in wishing Adm. William J. Fallon continued good health.

Five uneasy pieces

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were hit with a nasty pulmonary bug that's making the rounds. She got better, my ailment transformed smoothly, almost gracefully, into pneumonia. I took some new antibiotic, and I got better. Then I got worse again. Unpleasant, not dangerous, but it left me without much physical energy.

With a good deal of time available and inadequate push for other things, my mind went it's own way. Besides the state of our economy, about which I've been reading and thinking for many months, five topics kept popping up in my head, over and over, turning this way and that and sometimes interfering with my sleep.

That's where the following five essays came from.

Having got them quiet by means of writing, I am now going to post three very brief observations – just a paragraph or two each -- on other topics and then shut down for a week or so. There are others things to do.


Piece 1: Pawlenty; pretty but poisonous

Beware America.

As bizarre as it seems to a reasonably informed citizen of the state, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty still is being considered as a running mate for John McCain. Should he be chosen, there's a very good chance he'll be in the hunt for the presidency in 2012.

Minnesota has only 10 electoral votes, and no candidate from the state can be counted on to win in neighboring states. Our neighbors don't have much electoral clout anyway.

Far more importantly, Pawlenty has been a stunningly negative force in the life of my home state. He has done more serious damage to the state and its people than any politician, probably any five politicians, in living memory. Even Jesse Ventura, the dummy rassler, didn't do a tenth the harm to our economy, our environment, our educational system, our jobs production, our infrastructure or our health as Pawlenty has done in less than six years.

The man has been a walking disaster for what was until a decade ago a state that stood out among the rest for quality of life, a state that used to be featured on magazine covers as the “state of success” and praised by envious columnists and editorial writers all over the country.

Our average income was higher than those of most other states and the cost of living lower than many. Unemployment rates were substantially lower than elsewhere even during recessions. Our educational levels were so high that industry flowed into the state despite the corporate elite's whining about tax levels. The percentage of citizens who owned their homes was much higher than the national average and the mortgage foreclosure rate was miniscule. Our state budget often was balanced, and there were frequent surpluses even as the quality of our roads and bridges and other infrastructure was kept at a level considered unreachable in much of the rest of the country.

Now, Garrison Keillor to the contrary notwithstanding, we are below average by almost every pertinent measure, and Tim Pawlenty bears much of the responsibility for that fact.

And, oh yes, under Bush admirer Pawlenty our state government has become secretive at times, and signs of corruption in high places are beginning to seep under the Capitol doors, although Smooth Tim remains untouched.

We're becoming a small Texas with bad winters, albeit so far without the horrendous gerrymandering of congressional districts. That probably would have happened had not Democrats regained a small majority in the Legislature 2006.

However, despite all that, and though I hate to say it, Pawlenty would be a great vice presidential candidate for the Republicans.

The awful truth is that although his effect on the state has been wholly negative, even disastrous, Tim Pawlenty continues to have approval ratings of better than 50 percent, sometimes reaching near 70 percent, among Minnesota citizens. Goes to show you how far we fallen in terms of have an informed electorate.

He is the most successful con artist the Republicans have.

Tim serves only one constituency – a very small group of the very rich – but the suburban middle class, though rapidly sinking into the mire, believes in him. Well-off farmers think he is their advocate and friend. Hardscrabble farmers from the northern part of the state, and the many who are scratching out meager livings working two and three part time jobs -- the people who still have “support our troops” bumper stickers on their pickups -- seem to believe that he is a good and kind father to the state.

Ronald Reagan didn't know what Teflon was.

It truly is all in the coating, all in the surface. The Minnesota public, for many years among the best-educated and best informed people in the country, doesn't seem to have the least understanding of the reality beneath the pretty facade.

Here is the real Tim Pawlenty, but don't expect him to stand up:

He is extraordinarily handsome and in fine, slender shape. He wears clothes like a model – perfectly turned out at all times (if he's in jeans, they're new), yet seems so comfortable that his perfect dress appears effortless. His voice is good, but not too good. His manner is sincere and warm. When he talks you want to believe him, and many do without really listening and certainly without checking the truth of what he says.

The substance, such as it is, is something else entirely. I wrote some of it in a piece published July 18, 2007. The facts below include some of that, plus some newer information:

* While a state legislator, Pawlenty became ambitious. As the far right was taking over the state Republican Party machinery, he suddenly and obviously threw over his previously moderate stance and wholly adopted the positions of the extremists on social and economic issues. That earned him the majority leadership in the state House of Representatives.

* He wanted to run for the U.S. Senate in 2002, but the Bush administration already had chosen Norm Coleman for the job. Dick Cheney telephoned Pawlenty and told him not to run for the Senate. Pawlenty clicked his heels and saluted. He ran for governor instead, and won with 44 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He was barely reelected in 2006 despite the fact that his Democratic opponent was a widely disliked individual who was absolutely and openly despised by reporters for the state's biggest newspapers, who did everything they could to cut him down and help Pawlenty. He shows popular in polls, but hasn't run too well, in other words.

* In 2002, even before taking office, Pawlenty went to the executive offices of Northwest Airlines, which has been screwing over its employees and the Minnesota public for generations and which essentially controls air travel to and from the Twin Cities. Tim pledged his support to Northwest's bosses for whatever they wanted at any time. He has delivered.

* Before he was elected governor, Pawlenty, along with many Republican legislators, signed a pledge written by a shadowy organization called the Minnesota Taxpayers League. He swore not to raise or allow the raising of any taxes under any circumstances.

The Taxpayers League, accurately called by some the Taxdodgers League, is a very small organization of very rich people. Most of it's members remain anonymous. The group once claimed a membership of something like 2,000 or 3,000, although it offered no proof of its claim. Some of the members live in Minnesota, but it's not clear that all of them do. (Despite its secrecy, Twin Cities newspapers frequently seek out its full-time mouthpiece for quotes on state policies, and treat it as a legitimate policy organization. They don't even know who funds the outfit or calls the shots.)

* Before his reelection, Pawlenty declined to sign the pledge again. It had drawn considerable unfavorable comment. But he has adhered to the promise and has opposed almost all tax increases, though he allowed a couple of bumps in things he decided to call “user fees,” things that hurt mostly lower-income citizens.

* Like George Bush, he pushed for and got substantial tax cuts for the rich. The cuts included some very small breaks for some of the middle class (just like Bush's) and that made them popular with the uninformed (just like Bush's). The claim was that high Minnesota income taxes were driving business out of the state. In fact, several studies showed that industry continued to move into the state because of the high quality of the work force. Since the tax cuts went into effect, severely damaging education and infrastructure, both business and population growth have slowed substantially.

* The state's unemployment rate has risen dramatically; in May of last year it was worse than the national average for the first time in 30 years, and that doesn't make note of the fact of a substantial shift from high-paying manufacturing and technical jobs to low-paying service and retail jobs.

Minnesota's unemployment rate at the end of 2007 was 4.9 percent, up from 4.4 percent in November. The state lost 2,300 jobs in December, 23,000 in the last six months of 2007, although the country as a whole showed a job gain of 500,000 in the last six months of the year. The state lost jobs in eight of its 11 major industrial sectors, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

* Minnesota's roads had for decades been among the best in the country, despite our harsh winters. Since Pawlenty became governor, Minnesota ranks only slightly behind California in number and severity of traffic jams, and the roads are deteriorating before our eyes and under our wheels.

* Manufacturing in Minnesota has gone into a severe decline. The Minneapolis StarTribune reported March 3, 2008, that manufacturing activity worsened for the third straight month in February and job losses increased.

* Home foreclosures in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area doubled in 2006 (before the subprime meltdown) and almost doubled again in 2007, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. Last year, 13,050 homes were repossessed – a record. In January and February of this year, new foreclosure records were sent in Hennepin County (Minneapolis and suburbs) and Ramsey County (St. Paul and suburbs).

Yes, the entire country is suffering from a massive wave of home foreclosures, but remember that until the Pawlenty years, Minnesota always – always – did better than the rest of the country in such circumstances.

* Defaults on other kinds of loans have skyrocketed, the Star Tribune reported in February. In Hennepin County, alone, the newpaper said, default filings jumped 71 percent, to 9,237, in 2007. That's by a substantial number the highest number of defaults since record keeping began in the 1980s. In one suburban/rural county, default judgments jumped 102 percent last year.

* Personal bankruptcy filings rose 53 percent in Minnesota last year, the Star Tribune reported in January, despite Bush-backed legislation that makes it much more difficult for individuals to file bankruptcy.

* Funding for education has been brutally cut under Pawlenty's direction, and the educational system has suffered greatly as a result. In 2001 the state legislature adopted a plan under which the state would pay almost all K-12 education costs, thus allowing local school districts to lay off property taxes. Pawlenty took office and immediately reneged on the promise. Under his direction, state aid for school districts has been severely reduced, forcing the districts to go back to property taxes. No new taxes? Property taxes have risen greatly in school districts throughout the state, and schools have suffered cuts in teaching staff and types of classes offered. Buildings are literally falling apart in some districts. Class sizes have increased substantially. Rich districts are OK, poorer ones are in deep trouble, the quality of education in some parts of the state is heading toward the level of Mississippi.

* Costs of higher education have risen to the point that many middle classes students, let alone poorer students, have been priced out of school, and the problem grows substantially worse year by year. Pawlenty continues to push for deep cuts in state support for higher education.

* Remember the I35W bridge collapse? Of course you do. Pawlenty stood on the site two or three days after all those people went down and pledged that he'd approve gasoline tax increases and whatever else it would take to assure the integrity of roads and bridges in the state.

He lied.

Almost immediately, back at the Capitol, he began working to see to it that we got “no new taxes” just because a bridge collapsed, others are crumbling, as are key roadways, and, oh yes, people died and were maimed.

In February, Democrats in the Legislature, with the help of six Republicans in the House, overrode a Pawlenty veto of a transportation bill that would increase spending on road and bridge maintenance and building, as well as on mass transit.

House Republicans, with Pawlenty's express support, punished the six rebels by stripping them of key committee positions and some of them, at least, have lost party support for re-election. The party has chosen more loyal right wingers to run against them. Pawlenty said he will work to produce a “tax revolt” against all who voted to override the veto.

* A number of Pawlenty's appointments have been every bit as bad as those of George Bush. His secretary of health was forced out by the Legislature after it was revealed that for a year, until caught by outsiders, she had covered up what amounts to an epidemic of a rare form of cancer among employees of an iron-ore processing plant in northern Minnesota.

Carol Molnau is Minnesota's elected secretary of state. She also was until recently secretary of transportation, appointed by Pawlenty. She took a lot of heat over the years, but especially since the collapse of the I35W bridge, for disorganization and incompetence and a refusal to do anything about deteriorating bridges and roads. This year, with a new Democratic majority, the Legislature fired her from the appointed job.

It has since been learned that in 2000, Molnau, then a state legislator, was the author of a bill that ended a long delay of plans to build a new Hwy. 212 in her area of the state. She was, at the time, chairwoman of the very powerful House Transportation Finance Committee. She did not mention that she owned some land in the little city of Chaska in close proximity to the Hwy. 212 route, nor that she was negotiating to sell the property to a large land developer. She and her husband sold the property eight days after the bill approving the highway construction was signed by then Gov. Jesse Ventura. She says she didn't benefit from the road building because the highway didn't immediately abut the property she and hubby sold. The timing was “happenstance,” she claims.

* Pawlenty, while standing firmly against any increases in taxes that might hit his rich sponsors, has needed to do some things to keep the state from caving in. So, in Bush fashion, he and his right wing legislative supporters borrowed. And borrowed. And borrowed. They even tried to borrow from the bidders for a state highway construction contract, but the contractors didn't bite.

The state budget forecast issued in February says that the deficit for the 2008-09 biennium will hit almost $1 billion.

As in 2003, when the state also had a very big deficit, Pawlenty sternly stated that rather than any tax increases (or reduction of the big tax breaks he gave the very wealthy), there will be more drastic cuts in state spending for things like health care, education, programs such as day care and child-care subsidies for the working poor and all those other things the right sees as frivolous.

There's much more, but this already is long, so just one more point: It's as close as you can come to a sure thing that Tim Pawlenty never will be found messing around with whores, or in any other kind of sex scandal.

Maybe that makes everything else all right in the eyes of the faithful of twilight America.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Piece 2: Facing harsh reality

The real question is not who among the present trio of preowned candidates will make the better president, but can the American electoral system be restored in time to revive the country's Constitution-based form of government before it is permanently replaced by corporate rule?

The step to permanent rule by the corporate elite and very rich is a very short one from where we now stand. It would take a very long leap to get us back to (mostly) honest elections decided by a (mostly) reasonably informed public which would choose leaders who would (mostly) serve the public rather than the few people with big money.

A week before the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio -– the little states don't count for much -– I was lying abed, thinking about those two states and Florida and some of the other southern and western states, such as Tennessee, where “funny business” is the electoral norm.

Let me ask the assembly: Does anyone here automatically assume, do you believe without overmuch doubt, that all (or any) election results reported by officials in Texas and Ohio honestly and accurately reflect the votes cast by the citizens of those states –- or votes that would have been cast by voters had substantial numbers not been deliberately prevented from reaching polling places?

How about from Florida and the other deep South states? How about southwestern states? How about the areas of California –- San Diego comes to mind -– where in recent elections local officials brazenly diddled the system in order to have the votes reflect the preferences of the far right?

Just before the results started coming in March 4, I asked one of the smartest, most sharply analytical people I know whether she would assume the results were honest. She blinked, was caught unaware. But with ten seconds of thought she answered with a simple “No,” as though the answer was self-evident, as, indeed, it is.

It is a given that in several places in this country, reported election results frequently reflect the desires of the people who control the polls, the voting machines and often the cops, rather than the votes actually cast or that would-be voters wanted to cast.

Congress has made it unmistakably clear that it will not move toward genuine reform of the badly broken election system, let alone toward campaign finance reform.

The far right, the Bush crowd, have taken away all hope that we can look to the judicial system for relief from the criminals who steal elections.

Their Supreme Court put George W. Bush into the White House, though he lost the 2000 election. Democrats didn't even put up a fight when the 2004 presidential election was stolen in Ohio; perhaps they decided there was no hope, maybe they were just gutless, as usual. A court dominated by right wingers allowed the outrageous gerrymandering of Texas congressional districts under a plan devised by the under-indictment but never-brought-to-trial Tom DeLay.

So. Big-money crooks win, public loses.

And that's only one aspect of the terrible bind we're in. Think about the other pieces of the equation in a functioning democracy: Those who hold office are chosen by an informed public that has real choices among candidates, at least some of whom are in the race for the sake of public service.

On one of my brief, necessary outings during recent sickness, I noticed a beat-up old car just ahead of me. It had two bumper stickers on the back: “Kerry” and “Hillary.”

That seemed to me a good metaphor for the state of politics as we have come to know them in recent decades. Someone who obviously isn't doing well financially backs candidates who, if they don't stumble their way to election losses, will do little or nothing to bring real relief to increasingly abused lower and middle classes.

It speaks to the elements of candidate quality and an informed electorate:

First, the quality of candidates, and who owns them.

Kerry was weak, so afraid of offending the money people and various constituencies, fictional and real, that he would not stand up on any issue, or even defend himself against outrageous lies until it was far too late.

Hillary Clinton is aggressively a creature of the corporations, eager to cooperate in sending American jobs abroad, despite the utterly false campaign rhetoric against NAFTA et al. Her health care program, for another example, is designed to give the appearance of helping the public while in reality the central goal is protection of corporate profits in the face of public demand for reform. It puts a fine suit on Frankenstein's monster.

Nobody knows what Obama is for sure, but you don't hear him offering Rooseveltian solutions to our terrible problems. “Change” is not a program. Going along with the false claim that there is “no political will” for genuine health care reform, or economic reform is playing by the rules set out by the Democratic National Committee and it's high-buck paymasters.

John McCain, who maybe once had courage and some intelligence, bends and whips under the corporate and right-wing religious winds even while he talks about being “steadfast” in his beliefs, which have changed so frequently and drastically that no one can identify them. After all those years of being outspokenly against torture, he has even flipped on that for the sake of the White House endorsement and perhaps some other endorsements.

Second, the American public is horrendously ill-informed, astonishingly ignorant. To a considerable extent, much of the public has fostered its own ignorance, allowing for deterioration of our educational system, pursuing money, careers and, especially, entertainment to the exclusion of the kinds of interests and activities that bring information and wisdom.

A very large percentage of the population, having been bombarded by corporate and Republican propaganda for decades, now believes the mantra: Taxes bad, government bad, “free enterprise” good, corporate profits good." That's the depth of public analysis.

On a still more shallow level, the public finally –- finally -– has become aware because of the undeniable economic woes of the middle class (who cares about the poor?) that it's been reamed, but good. But most people have no idea what happened or how, and a whole lot of them have been easily conned into believing it's all the fault of Hispanic immigrants, or some other “other.” And some, of course, believe the tax cuts weren't big enough.

A lot of wishful, wistful Democrats recently have been spouting a line, probably originated within the Democratic Party organization, about how “we have two wonderful candidates.”

Sorry, but we, the American public, are left with two demonstrably lousy candidates and one whose value is uncertain but highly doubtful.

That is true in large measure because the other essential element to producing an informed public –- a functioning news system –- scarcely exists. It's only remnants are found in very small-circulation magazines and Internet newsletters, which most people ignore in favor of computer games and absurdly miscategorized "reality" shows.

The average “journalist” of the 2000s is a shallow, cliché-spouting, crowd-following and basically silly person who intellectually is better suited to retail sales than reporting.

Wolf Blitzer as a heavyweight anchor and moderator of so-called presidential debates? Walter Cronkite must wish for oblivion. Chet Huntley must weep in his grave.

Think back a bit on the campaign:

The Democrats began the long, long presidential campaign season with a crowd of candidates, two of whom –- Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson -– are genuinely intelligent, honest and brave individuals who understand and were eager to speak about the enormous problems of this country.

But the news people didn't have cozy personal relationships with those guys and, anyway, decided they weren't in the game and so flatly denied them an opportunity to be heard. It may be simply that the right wingers who control most of the media didn't want them to be heard, but the dummies they employ also didn't understand the issues and so shut them out.

(Is there a 50-page, big-type volume out there entitled “Reporting for Dummies?” There must be.)

The Republicans also began with quite a crowd. Television and newspapers gave us verbose daily reports on who had the “momentum.” It was an awesomely stupid and useless exercise. Remember the weeks in which Rudy Giuliani had all the momentum? What does that amount to now?

Remember the panting, almost sexual worship of lethargic old actor Fred Thompson? Where's Fred now? Looking for walk-ons in soap operas?

And let us not overlook the constant television bleating and “analyses” of the party “bases,” and what they want, what they believe, who they're backing, who they might back.

What's a base?

According to the pretend news people, the Republican base consists of conservative (read right wing) evangelical, mostly southern, Christians. (As television personality Bill Maher said recently, “forget 'base,' I prefer to call them by their earlier name: morons.”) That base gets mentioned much less now than it did a couple of months ago because (shhhhh), it absolutely hates John McCain, but John McCain is the Republican nominee anyway and one by one the right-wing preachers are falling in line.

According to the same inane reportorial sheep, the Democrat base consists of a relatively small number of extreme left wingers who keep making outrageous demands for things like reform of the American health care system, and regulation of the kinds of businesses that brought us the mortgage market meltdown, and protection of what's left of the physical environment. But if that's true, how is it and why is it that the corporate-kissing Democratic Party elite has completely ignored that “base” since Jimmy Carter was in office?

And what's the story from our brilliant press this week? Well, Hillary said they had treated her unfairly, and just to prove her wrong, all of the television types and almost all newspapers began gratuitous Obama bashing. That'll show her, that'll show us.

Given George the Impaler's veto of an intelligence bill his generals and admirals thought was just fine because the bill forbade several types of torture -– George believes in torture and he refuses to allow Congress a voice in government -– what will Congress do?

More hearings on the use of steroids in baseball, probably, and the news outfits will cover the hell out of them.

A quite knowledgeable but, in my estimation, rather naïve peace and political activist told me several days ago that I should let up on the unrelenting gloom and reporting of bad news –- though I barely touch the surface of the daily avalanche of bad news from Washington and elsewhere –- and devote some time to talking about the good things happening.

OK: Tell me you've written angry, informed letters to your members of Congress, to the White House, to Democratic Party officials, to your state legislators and sent them via the U.S. Postal Service. Tell me you're writing at least one letter a week to each of at least two newspapers or magazines. Tell me you'll be on the streets at every rally for peace in the next several months. I'll happily report that as good news.

Tell me 45 percent of the American public have the good sense to go to the polls in November and cast a write-in ballot for president. If you can show that to be true, I'll dance and shout Whoopee. In the meantime, you can't deal with problems you refuse to recognize.


Almost daily, in some newspaper, there appears a letter to the editor stating that a much shorter period of campaigning for public office would much better serve the public. People would focus more clearly, candidates would have to state their positions clearly in order to be understood in a short time, and campaigns would be much less expensive.

Those are exactly the reasons we won't see shorter campaigns -- are likely to see them grow longer yet, in fact. Mainly, those who have enormous wealth can control the system as it exists; they can go on spending huge sums even as we, the general public, are tapped out after making our one-time $100 or $25 contributions. More unpleasant reality.