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The International Writers Magazine: Manhattan Notes

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
• Dean Borok
As Captain Ahab once remarked to Moby Dick over shrimp margaritas at the Mariner’s Club, “I write for porpoises of entertainment”. Don’t expect a fount of wisdom or an exposition of rhetorical erudition from these pages.

Nevertheless, in a free country I have as much right to express an opinion on the issues of the day as Lloyd Blenkfein, the chairman of Goldman Sachs, who opined that in order to avoid the Fiscal Cliff the average citizens have to accustom themselves to accepting less in terms of government entitlements.

Right away, I have a problem with the term “entitlements”. This phrase reeks of a Republican effort to define the debate by shaping the terms of the vocabulary. As George Orwell amply illustrated in his prescient novel “1984”, who controls the language controls reality. A famous quote from an appointee of the Reagan administration allowed as how “We are an empire. Reality is what we say it is”.

This “entitlement” term reeks of family fights where people scream at a ne’er-do-well son or daughter, “You think you’re entitled to a living?” It brands the recipients as slackers or bums, a clear reference to tougher times in history, when society more closely resembled a more savage fight for survival, like the fish in the sea.

You would think that the world has moved beyond that point, or at least the most productive societies of it anyway. Society is more sophisticated, at least to the point of recognizing the need for basic social services, what this debate is really about anyway. Eliminate the term “entitlements” and replace it with “social services” and you change the whole context of the discussion.

People who live in the suburbs or rural areas have enough control over the real estate of their environment to have some participation in defining their reality. You can live on Long Island for a lifetime without having to suffer the sordid circumstances of modern life (consequently, many Long Islanders are compelled to create their own sordid circumstances ha-ha!)

Living in the city is a whole other kettle of fish, to belabor a metaphor. No matter how well off, every time you board a subway train you are forced to rub shoulders with tsunami of diverse cultures and exposed to their maladies and sufferings. A certain level of social stability is required to keep society functioning at an efficient pace, and that means an at-least standard minimum level of hygiene, health and social tranquility. This might not be so readily apparent to suburban souls, but Lloyd Blankfein, in demanding services cuts, clearly knows better, having his origins under modest circumstances in the Bronx.

Blankfein is campaigning for his own program of entitlements for rich people. He himself is loaded, paying himself up to $60mln. a year. Presumably, he is paying taxes at the same rate as Mitt Romney, which is 1/3 to ¼ of what he would be paying in Europe. Europe is a subject that Blankfein would prefer to ignore. It’s a whole war of philosophy, which is why Moody’s and S&P, which are American credit ratings firms, have downgraded France, but Fitch, which is owned by French interests, have left it at AAA. If European ideas were to achieve the light of day in this country, Republicans would be decimated as a party. Fat chance of that happening! As W.H. Mencken most cannily observed, “Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public”. That seems to be the operating rule of thumb for Republicans, and it served them well up until the Chicago Democrats demonstrated how you can drive voters to the polls using motivated sheepdogs.

Einstein is credited with the observation that insanity is defined by repeatedly trying to achieve successful results by using the same failed techniques, like the fighter who repeatedly charges his opponent and is knocked down by the same combination, each time telling himself that it was the result of a lucky shot. The first couple of days after Obama had knocked them out, the Republicans conceded that it might be time to work out a new electoral strategy. Pretty soon, though, they have devolved to their former ad hoc tactics of impeding Obama’s initiatives on every issue, even to the extent of his presumed choice of Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, whom the Republicans presumably object to on the basis of some confused remarks she may have uttered under congressional interrogation over the Benghazi ambassadorial assignation. That event, tragic as it was, was seized upon by Republicans as a campaign issue which ultimately failed to gain purchase, but which they have insanely returned to in one more lame attempt to jam a stick in Obama’s wheel. Basically, I would say that it defines their strategy going forward, like the punch drunk fighter rising up from the canvas one more time. In addition, they are going into the Fiscal Cliff negotiations bearing the same shopworn standards that got them murdered in the elections: no taxes, attacks on Social Security and Medicare, and yet another attempt to dismantle Obamacare, this time by attacking its sources of funding.

King If you’ve ever been in a fistfight against a faster, more reflexive opponent you know what it is to take a beating from someone who is a couple of steps ahead of you. That is what Obama seems to be setting up. He has already moved to his next phase of strategy, which is to mobilize public opinion using the Democratic database built during the election. If he realizes this ambition of building a permanent political infrastructure that he can utilize at will, it could end up being the most significant political achievement of his presidency, reminiscent of Louisiana’s historical Governor Huey P. Long’s “Every Man A King” mechanism during the 1930s.

You can’t just initiate a process like this by funding an artificial grass-roots base like the Republicans did and moving the same busloads of militants from meeting to meeting, like the Tea Party. But if you have a clearly defined set of issues (like Huey Long’s “A Chicken In Every Pot And A Car In Every Garage”) and an operating infrastructure, you can at least initiate social transformation.

The “Fiscal Cliff” is an illusion that was manufactured by the Republicans as an election issue, in their insistence at setting up a penalty trigger as a condition for temporarily easing the Debt Ceiling. “Fiscal Cliff”, “Debt Ceiling”, who dreams up this shit? No other country has a “Debt Ceiling” (OK, maybe Denmark has a similar mechanism. Big Deal!). This “Debt Ceiling” is just another bit of nonsense in the Republican Stooges Comedy Show. But it’s madness with a method. Justice delayed is justice denied, and every day that the Republicans can control the terms of the debate is another day that Blankfein and the Koch Brothers can remain in control, which is really what this whole thing boils down to.

© Dean Borok December 2012
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