Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Addressing Tea Party Lies & Rescuing the Future"

This is a draft of the speech I gave to the Kingman chapter of Federation of Democratic Women, Wednesday January 8th, 2014. Actual results may vary:

Hello, welcome everybody.
My name is Mikel Weisser; I am a Democratic candidate for US House of Representatives here in Congressional District Four. As you can see from the map, Congressional District Four includes most of the Western half of the state, the central highlands and the rural area around metropolitan PHX. That’s portions of 7 counties and/or 9 or 10 legislative districts. It runs from Yuma to Utah, Parker to Payson. I affectionately call it the Left Coast of Arizona. When I moved here on January First, 2001 to start the new millennia, my late wife & I actually lived right on the coast, well, our balcony was above the Colorado shoreline in Bullhead City. Instead having chickens, cats and dogs, we had a school of carp.
Of course, I wouldn’t be up here talking if I was just a chicken farmer from So-Hi, so here’s some bonafides: I am a vice chair in the Arizona Democratic Party’s progressive caucus, Mohave County Party Secretary and on the state board of Democracy for America, AZNORML and the state poetry society. I serve as the legislative liaison for AZ’s cannabis community, working w Safer AZ, the folks behind a couple of reform bills the AZ statehouse will be dealing w this January. In fact I am leaving here at 1 for a meeting w Rep. Mark Cardenas who is sponsoring a bill I spent all summer and fall shopping to the legislature. (But more on that later.) I am a longtime political writer, retired teacher, former plumber, teen runaway, carnie, until recently a touring poet (which is actually a lot like being homeless), an artist/entertainer of sorts and I have a couple of Masters Degrees.
But beyond that mention of my campaign, I came here today to speak you as a political writer. One who has been following the Right since the late 80s. I ought to warn you, most of that writing has been political humor. So if I should say something that seems oddly stated or downright weird and you’re wondering if I thought that was supposed to be funny? Yes.
Good, w that settled, I wanted to start this off by showing you something, but I need to explain a few things first. Like, starting with why I called this presentation:
 “Addressing Tea Party Lies and Rescuing the Future.”
When I say I intend to address a political party’s record of lies, I need to be sure I start by showing you an example of how a whole party can be lying. So many times in politics we are asked to consider this and/or that, and give the person the benefit of a doubt, maybe you misheard or maybe they were innocently mistaken. So I want to be sure there is no doubt of intention: when I tell you that the Tea Party leadership of America, working within the GOP, are consciously lying to the public and protecting the very people who wrecked our economy just recently and on their way to do it again, I want to be sure you understand, I am not engaging in political gamesmanship, or hyperbole. I am not cooking up a typical Democratic talking point or even off my meds. I am not even letting you guys in on a secret. It is widely known that the GOP make a practice of lying and they have a whole cottage industry of pollsters & marketers, whose whole job is to help them lie to us better.
Now when I say widely known, I mean that millions of Americans are familiar w this problem; but not enough millions it seems or we would already have made them stop. & we Americans very much need the Tea Party to stop lying. And understand, this is not just little white lies we are talking about, or even full-size white lies, not merely the fudging of figures and rounding off of inconvenient decimal points, the accepted exaggeration people to expect in a hyperbolic tirade. Oh, there’s plenty of that going on. But what I am talking about is the dedicated misrepresentation of reality to deceive the public for personal interest, ultimately leading to deadly enslavement of our economy and society to guys on Wall Street exactly like Mitt Romney. Selling off the country and citizens’ entire lives to the big banks at pennies a share. I kid you not, as I billed this lecture:
 “Tea Party policies and the rhetoric of their leaders are willfully damaging America’s economy and social fabric and threaten our future. Endless ACA attacks, Benghazi boondoggles, debt ceiling showdowns, government shutdowns, gutting education, cutting unemployment and food stamps, while protecting Wall St wolves; these acts verge on treason. If America is to have a future, the Tea Party must be stopped.”
That’s a really big statement:
The GOP are lying to us and it will destroy our country. Ya can’t get any more direct than that.  I better have some proof for you guys in black N white, right? Well, there’s lots of different through-lines we could follow to end up at this same conclusion, but today I am going to focus on the financial sector as much as my ADD brain will allow. So, here we go:
Anyone here ever heard of Frank Luntz? Right? That’s right, Frank Luntz is the Republican strategist/marketer who consults on and creates GOP language messaging. He’s been at it 20+ years and apparently makes a whale of a living at it. He most famously consulted for New Gingrich back when they were obstructing Congress to impeach Clinton over a DNA spill. He helped shape much of the Bush administration’s language such as naming a bill that increased factory pollution limits as a “clean air initiative” and one for clear-cutting national forest land the “healthy forests initiative.” Yeah, that guy.
Of course, merely linking him to the Bush admin doesn’t prove anything. The guy was famous for lying and he’s a figure from the past, right? Surely I can’t condemn an entire political party for that’s guy’s mischief. I am sure we recall how many of George W. Bush’s  policies were obvious and roundly refuted lies (945 documented instances of overt lying or deceptive references about WMDs alone); but to hear how the GOP talk about him these days, you’d think nobody even knew the guy. So, surely anybody close to the Bush admin. is kept at arms’ length by these fresh faced Tea Party leaders, right? Wrong.
So, here’s what I was wanting to show you:
I was reading this 2013 book, Act of Congress by Robert G. Kaiser, about the Dodd-Frank Bill about Congress’ efforts to regulate the financial industry following the 2008 crash. A little background: While the GOP were raking Clinton over the coals on the main-stage, behind the curtains the GOP were quietly dismantling New Deal regulations designed to limit the types of reckless banking and financial practices that led to the Great Depression and also preventing regulating derivatives, so basically allowing banks to gamble w pensions, mortgages and what all. Bush first lowered upper bracket tax rates giving them even more money to gamble w and then changed the rules they operated under which caused them to start trying to call in all the markers they had out and –WHAM!—The 2008 Great Recession. Millions of folks lose their homes, trillions of dollars in wealth evaporate (much of it somehow ending up in the big banks deep pockets); and, for a long moment, it looked like the whole world was going to collapse: Iceland, Greece, Portugal, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear-Stearns. Bankruptcy everywhere, panic among the people thrown out in the streets, pensions, mortgages, life’s savings all snatched away in an instant; and, before our very eyes, Wall St. big-shots were handing each other fat bonuses on our bailout money while families were sleeping in their cars.
Dodd-Frank was supposed to address that and the Kaiser book, Act of Congress, follows the efforts of Chris Dodd in the Senate and Barney Frank in the House to create a bill to catch and punish the guilty parties and protect Americans from ever having it happen again. The book also details the mountain of work the GOP leaders of Congress put into crippling and hobbling the project at nearly every turn. It gets to be a rhythm in the book, Dodd or Frank start to get somewhere w reform and the GOP keep coming along and scuttling the process. And, long about page 235, after chronicling a couple of years of rolling economic disaster and Congress’s confusingly turgid reaction to it (a whole lot of motion, but not much action), Robert Kaiser includes this widely reported episode from January 2010 of our man Frank Luntz showing up on the scene, once again aiding his party leaders with “language messaging,” because the GOP did not want to punish the guilty or find justice for the suffering. They wanted the problem to go away so they could get back to paying attention to their donors. So they trotted out Luntz and he wrote up a 17 page memorandum for the GOP on how they could torpedo financial reform. Luntz’s document, quote, “suggested ways to oppose financial regulatory reform without incurring political liabilities …. It’s clear purpose was to rationalize opposition, even as it [warned] Republican members of Congress, they need to acknowledge the need for reform,” even as he instructed them to later indignantly claim, “We don’t need more laws.”
Luntz assured the GOP this strategy would work because of the “voters’ distrust of all government programs and officials.” Quote: “Never [mention] Wall Street, banks, or mortgage brokers.” Quote: “Washington incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support.” Luntz then encouraged the GOP to link the bill to bailout and link Obama to the Bush bailout of 2008 and presto, Dodd-Frank takes two years to fight an unduly difficult uphill battle to emerge a chopped up compromised piece of legislative weightlifting, that has just enough teeth to appear to slow down a few financial predators from their next assault on the communal cookie jar, but not really. Rest assured the next crash is coming. But even more frustratingly, the whole two year display of legislative brinksmanship did nothing to punish those who illegally threw children into the streets for a few points of stock for their investors. The financial sector of the economy which typically ran about 20% of our GDP now dominates the economy at almost 40% and is gorging itself in preparation for our next big bubble. Ultimately seven million families have lost their homes so far and 80% of all the money brought into the economy to handle the economic crisis has gone into the hands of the very same 1% who almost destroyed the rest of us in the first place.
Amazing isn’t it? 
You’d think the unveiling of lies and thievery of this scale would be front page news, but it isn’t. The  people who own the media are the same people who don’t want you paying attention to their shenanigans on Wall Street, so they don’t report, or they under report it, or they disguise the truth the way Frank Luntz taught them to while they dissolve our collective brainpans w empty calories and reality TV. As sinister as this all is, it’s all done out in plain sight. This isn’t some secret back-channels bit of gossip, here. Robert Kaiser, the author, is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Luntz memo was widely discussed in the political media. You can read about the whole incident on Huffington Post, Poltico, Think Progress and so on. The document itself is plainly available online in PDF format. This is open policy: allow the banks to get away w government subsidized theft of trillions, give Wall Street investors billions in profits and throw another million poor people into the street, then lie about it. Here’s how.
Why would Congress go along w this kind of thing? Well, earlier in the book, Kaiser shares another disheartening statistic: In the 2008 election cycle, political action committees and individuals from the financial, insurance and real estate industries donated $501 million to candidates for federal office. The financial sector is far and away the largest source of funding for federal candidates.
They were paid to lie, so they did.
It’s that simple. Absolute widespread irrefutable proof that the GOP not only lie to the American public for the profit of Wall Street; and you don’t have to follow Luntz very far to see what else he has helped them lie to us about: Climate change? Here’s a quote from his work on that: “Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community .... Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate." The Affordable Care Act? He’s the guy who came up w the “government takeover of health care” and “death panels.” Those gems among others won Luntz’ work attacking the ACA the coveted Politi-Facts’ 2010 Lie of the Year Award. So all the rigmarole over the ACA and the 43 different GOP votes to repeal Obamacare, and all the vitriol over the launching of the website was all started based on a little lie the Republican Party hired Frank Luntz to concoct for them. Oh wait, something like that wouldn’t rightly be called a little lie. That is an example of the famous “Big Lie” Herman Goering first defined, the kind of audacious lie that political leaders tell again and again until the people believe it is true.
Famous Lies of the Past
I admit it is startling to face irrefutable proof that one of the country’s two leading political parties have lied about things like climate change, health care, and preventing the next great crash. But what really scares me is to wonder what else they’re lying to the public about. Lord knows the history of our country is riddled w scandals, lies, exploitations. In late 2010 I did an article called “The Millionaires’ Club,” about the whole Wiki-leaks spectacle and the importance of whistleblowers. I opened the article w a chronological list of American scandals that ran over 400 words long and by the time I was done I was so depressed I couldn’t write for a month.
And I am not trying to tell you that the GOP holds the patent on prevarication or that there aren’t any Democrats receiving financial sector money to turn a blind eye to their wrongdoing, but starting as early as the 1960s, the Republican Party has made it a practice to lie and distort to get what they’ve wanted. In 1964, following the defeat of Barry Goldwater the GOP launched into a variety of planned deceptions to steal the reins of power, including the famous “Southern Strategy” wherein the GOP returned to the racist politics of days of yore and dog-whistle language to covertly convey coded bigotry to appeal the secret racist lurking in so many rural and southern whites. They backed Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon even as leak after leak revealed the man’s treachery and malevolence. I mean seriously I was nine years old when the guy got elected I could plainly see Richard Nixon was a dick.
Now when it comes to long-term havoc wrecking fictions the champion was GOP hero Ronald Reagan. He lied about Iran-Contra most definitively, but his most critical deception, the one so many contemporary GOP lies are based on, was to suggest that government is the enemy. The longtime success of this lie is why a guy like Frank Luntz can bank on the public hating the image of government incompetence even more than the actual Wall Street banksters who ripped them off.
So, who is the government and why is the GOP SO intent on having us hate it? Well, you know & I know that the government is not some distant abstract monolith. The “government” is something like 16 million Americans working at all levels in all cities and rural areas of the country intimately involved in their communities as citizens, parents and consumers. They are the people in our communities whose very job descriptions are about making our country a better place. When the GOP tell you that governments can’t be a job creator you know that that’s a lie. Between local, state and federal agencies, the government directly creates sixteen million jobs and then there are all the private contractors who work for the government. Recent research shows that number to be around 7 million more workers, so all by themselves, our various governments and their contract laborers account for the jobs of nearly ten percent of the American public and government spending accounts for over 30% of our national GDP. This doesn’t even address the personal consumer economies of all those people w paychecks and the economies of the businesses those people patronize as consumers.
How hypocritical can the GOP get w this lie? Well, in the first four years of the Obama presidency while the GOP were busy blaming him for the Bush recession, state and local governments in Republican controlled areas actually made unemployment worse by laying off nearly two and half million workers and then had the audacity to complain about Obama’s sluggish recovery.
When they tell people that tax cuts for the rich are good for America because the rich are the job creators, they know it’s a lie. The idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” is great, if you have a boat! At a time when the top 5% of the country own more than the bottom 70% boats are kind of hard to come by.
While it is true extra money in the hands of the poor and middle class goes right back into the system. With hundreds of millions of poor and middle class people, every extra dollar they have adds up through consumer spending. However as has been repeatedly proven, when extra money goes to the already wealthy, they tend to horde it, or worse, gamble with it. That’s why, as noted earlier, the vast majority of new money in the economy already goes to the already rich. And, no matter how hard they clamber, giving them even more has a proven track record of being the road to ruin.  Both major periods of tax cutting for the wealthy (the 1920s and the early 2000s) led to catastrophic financial disasters. It’s widely documented, no secret. What tax cuts do do is make the average man poorer. The government is our combined wealth and resources--the roads, the parks, the schools, the infrastructure necessary for a nation of three hundred million Americans, those are the things of our government, that’s our stuff and each tax cut equates to a budget cut, which means a cut of service, a cut in the quality of our lives. Why? So someone who already has enough can spend even less in taxes.
AND, irony alert: the very people who complain about borrowing money from China have already cut taxes so much we have to borrow ever more just to meet the cost of basic government functions. As I wrote back in 2012: “The government borrows 40% of all it spends because the GOP resist taxes, which means that we still owe the money later anyway. You can't run government without money, and you can't run a society this complex or an economy this fragile without a government; so who are they helping with this anti-tax BS? The public, who at some point will still have to pay for the debt through future taxes anyway, or the GOP's banker friends who get paid back either way guaranteed?”
So, it brings us right back to the banks doesn’t it? Might also have something to do w our government’s refusal to prosecute those really responsible for the mortgage disaster which is still inflicting untold misery across the country. At the time we were told that nobody was actually responsible, or if there were bad actors that they were a few bad apples and the system was okey-dokey. Sounds like Luntz, right? “nothing to see here folks, just move along.” Right? Well, since then while the news spotlight has been steadily focused on most anything else, we have seen big bank after big bank quietly making plea bargains as part of a “deferred-prosecution agreements” after the fact and well after the public put away our pitchforks and torches. Did you see the latest outrage? Just yesterday, Tuesday, Jan.7th, it was announced the JP Morgan-Chase agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $1.7 billion for their part in enabling Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion ponzi scheme. Just last month alone, HSBC agreed to pay nearly two billion in a money laundering case; Wells-Fargo agreed to cough up half a billion for their mortgage rip-offs, & JP Morgan Chase agreed to pay $13 billion out of a total $25 billion judgment against 5 US banks for their mortgage fraud in addition to nearly a billion in fines for their manipulations in the British banking markets. If that weren’t enough, earlier in the same year nine banks agreed to an entirely different set of charges and have to pay $9.3 billion in fines on them. Fannie Mae & Freddy Mack got awarded nearly $8 billion in settlements from big banks for mortgage fraud last year alone. By the way that was the second year in a row, major US banks had to pay $25 billion in settlements for ripping off Americans.
Now ask yourselves, if the banks agreed to pay this much, how much did they really owe? When the crime is stealing a family’s home and a child’s future, can the cost even be measured in dollars & cents? How can they get away with this? Well, who’s going to stop them if not for our government and that brings the problem back full circle. Why won’t the GOP protect the public from the rich? Maybe they are too focused on looking out for #1, their fellow 1% that is.
That’s right the majority of the folks in Congress these days are quite wealthy. A second theme from my 2010 article, “The Millionaire’s Club,” was a warning that like in the days of old when the US Senate was run by the robber-barons of the Gilded Age, by 2010 the rich had overrun the capitol chambers & the average congressman was now a millionaire. Kaiser’s 2013 book updates these stats and notes that senator’s average wealth is now up to thirteen million. Having only the rich makes our laws means that the rich are the only people laws get written for.
Take, for Example, the Big Lie We Must Fight Now
Right now the GOP are pushing this lie that it is a good thing to leave 1.3 million families to starve without unemployment benefits. Their story is that benefits make people lazy, that unemployment benefits cause people to stay unemployed. At a time when there are three job seekers for every new job posted that lie should be easy to debunk. Besides, who really benefits from unemployment benefits and other forms of government assistance? Well yes, the people who don’t starve to death or live in the streets, they, of course, get benefit, but more importantly, just like w the government spending on the paychecks for its workers, that money then circulates through the system into the stores where people shop, and onto the factories and farms that produce the goods and produce those people consume. Notice, this is yet another version of the GOP fronting for the wealthy and blaming the public for the problems their bosses created. This latest GOP ruse probably comes equipped w talking points hand-crafted by Frank Luntz himself. Why does the average American, especially the average Arizonan so often end up supporting these scoundrels? Because they keep lying to us.
Now there are several other big lies, monstrous lies, I could address; but the fact is--if the Republican leadership will lie to the American public this blatantly, this frequently to front for the predators in the financial sector, it gives us ample reason to challenge most anything they say as bunk. At the bare minimum I am asking you to start calling BS when you see it. They have demonstrated they don’t deserve the benefit of a doubt. They have played this way in the past, how can we trust them w the future?
The Future in a GOP world
What kind of future are they after? Well, judging from the claims they make and their track record, the future looks pretty bleak for everyone outside that lucky1%. Grover Norquist’s dream of having a government so small it could be drowned in a bathtub, means government that could not provide social services to the needy, security to the public, or infrastructure for the economy. My opponent, Paul Gosar, for example, backs a popular Tea Party concept of ending public education entirely. That would end the general public’s access to any professional level job because they could not afford the education it takes to train for it. Romney also championed this position when he said that every American should be entitled to the best education their parents could help them afford.
With no education, social services, health care for the poor, or even fire or police protection for areas who could not afford privatized services, much of America would resemble a 3rd world country. Life would revert to a 17th century Hobbesian hell. The famed philosopher wrote that government kept life functioning in society and without it “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”The Tea Party take great pride in their very old-school desire to dismantle government. Though they claim to be Constitutionalists to the man, their actual ideal government is closer to the chaos the US went through under the Articles of Confederation, the type of government we had prior to adopting the Constitution in 1791. With no national taxes, court system, or unifying supreme federal laws, the states squabbled amongst themselves, England and France were both sharpening their knives to carve the new states back into colonies, there was rioting in the streets of every major US city; and our government had even taken to firing on the US veterans of the American Revolution rather than paying them. It’s true, the first of many American scandals propelled by American greed shaping the policies of the American powerful. I guess that means this kind of thing is an American Tradition. But I think it’s time we stop it. We. Can. Stop it. We can put an end to this … tradition, this misery, this nonsense.
Take Heart, the Demographics are heading our way.
Just to check, I am guessing I am not the only one in the room who has noticed a marked increase in the racist tone of the GOP since Barack Obama took office? Maybe not. How about a certain increase in GOP hatred and demonization of immigrants over the past few years? Or, how about the ever-more-fervent fever pitch of the religious right condemning all the sinners destroying America w their birth control and LGBT marriage? Coincidence these messages are all becoming more and more strident? I tell this is not an accident. The future will not be kind to such behaviors by our elected officials. The GOP know they are losing control and scrambling w all their might to keep you from seeing it.
The angry old white guys with their hateful attitudes and narrow minds are dying off and losing the press of the future. Single moms, minorities, and the LGBT community’s numbers are growing and theirs are not. Traditional “hard-right-kill-a-commie-jesus” evangelicals are going the way of Fred Phelps and his ilk. In the past 20yrs the popularity of traditional Christianity has fallen off 15% and experts warn that that paradigm is collapsing as the younger generations, no longer steeped in dogma and a fundamentalist culture, are growing up to ignore the church entirely.
The current GOP flap over the Pope is a clue of how out of touch GOP attitudes are becoming and how desperate they have become to perpetuate the lie that god is on their side. Their Christ has no kindness for the poor or the sick; their Christ claims “greed is good.” Maybe they should check their glasses. Sounds like they’re worshipping Gordon Gecko by mistake. Turns out Paul Ryan cannot worship Ayn Rand and Pope Francis at the time. So which one did the supposedly life-long Catholic adhere to?
The future is, that unless the right figure out a way to restrict progress, they are going to be left behind by the march of time. Demographic change in ethnic populations showed white male dominance of the American population is coming to its end and the melting pot this nation of immigrants claims to be is soon to be the reality. The only thing they can try to do to turn back the tide of the future is to lie. And it is time we stopped letting them do that. I say it’s time to stop them. Of course, the immediate thought that comes to mind when I say something like this is, “Yeah, me and what army?”
Well, that’s where you guys come in. First, let’s first accept some inconvenient truths about the Democratic party here in western AZ. Currently in Congressional District 4, there are just under twice as many registered Republicans as there are registered Democrats. Ouch right? Yes, 77,700 registered Democrats versus 154,200 Republicans. There are also a few hundred Green Party members and a couple of thousand Libertarians; and over one hundred and thirty thousand folks who are so disgusted by the way things have gone, they won’t register w any party, but they are ready to vote. I am here to tell you that just because this district went 70% Republican last time it doesn’t have to stay that way. Of course, we need to keep in mind those numbers didn’t happen overnight and won’t be fixed that way either. The gap we have to overcome is immense, no kidding.
No serious discussion of how to change it can begin without first acknowledging a challenge this big is going to take some time. But like any elephant, no matter how big, this one can be beaten or eaten one bite at a time. It is doable once we decide to get to doing on it. Keep in mind, the future is on our side. The question is, are we going to wait for it or start acting now?  The longer we wait, the longer we will have to wait. All of us, me included, want a candidate w a multi-million dollar warchest, a dazzling smile, flawless style & silver tongue to emerge like Venus, fully formed on a half-shell. Or more rightly, like Athena, springing out of a headache; but that is not the reality of the ground truth. The truth is I am working day and night to build myself to the stature it takes to take on the GOP; and our Democratic Party in the West must do the same.
Like it says in my most celebrated poem, “Vocal Javelins,” “If we all wait for someone else to do it then we will never get it done.”  Stumble, walk, or race, it is time each of us decides to move this cause forward. Each of us can move this some in our own way.  Unlike any other period or any other place in human history, the 21st century US citizen is uniquely empowered to act. Our friends-networks now span the globe, a tweet can now fire the shots heard around the world, a meme can change the minds of millions in the course of a single evening and the pace of progress is still just beginning its crescendo. Right now, out here as Democrats we know we’re outnumbered. We may be small, but we are far from alone. With enough of us calling the GOP on their BS, the rest of the world will start watching.
Separating Macho/Arizona’s frontier mythos from GOP Talking Points
Arizona has built itself on the mystique of the rugged western individualist—tough, resourceful, ready for the fight, hewn from the land, the salt of the earth. There is nothing about that myth that requires one to vote Republican. There is nothing about being Arizonan that requires you to hate minorities or education or the poor. There is nothing about Arizona or its people that benefits from an ideology that wants to strip the land of our community wealth for the profits of the few. And there is no reason on earth why good Americans should put up w Tea Party Lies even one more election cycle.
How do you address Tea Party Lies? Call them on it. Call ‘em on it loud and early and often. How do we rescue the future? We stop the Tea Party now.

--Mikel Weisser writes from the Left Coast of AZ

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