News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When the ballot box solves nothing

I don't venture predictions on elections.  However, it wasn't too difficult to see the trends in this one.  The general discontent with the partisan gridlock is something that people across the political spectrum share.  Voters were unhappy that Obama did not the resolve the conflicts in two years.  The new Republican House majority will have to come up with acceptable solutions very quickly.  The campaign centered on party cant.  Underlying issues were not even mentioned in the campaign.

Jon Stewart is the only commentator I heard who addressed the real significance of the predicted outcome.  Our communications media became so caught up in trying to be first with the controversies, the railing punditry, the pissing exchanges between candidates, and the words of dementia from the ditz party that it ignored real issues.  Candidates who  tried to address the real issues plaguing the country were ignored.  The media is in a state of desperation in  trying to regain audiences and advertisers that have defected to the Internet--actually many have defected from communications.  They concentrate on the salacious, the conflicts, the shouting.   The factors that underlie  the economic problems facing national and state governments received scant mention.

The obvious problems are:

  • The dispossession of the middle class.  The richest one percent of the U.S. population owns 23.5 percent of the nation's wealth.  The bottom 90 percent of wage earners get only 52 percent of the wages.  The number of Americans who live under the poverty level has risen to 44 million, one American in seven.  
  •  Erosion of wages. The average income of Americans in the bottom 90 percent of earners was $30,941 in 1980 and increased only $303 to $31,244 in 2008, an increase of less than 1 percent that has not kept up with the 165 percent increase in inflation during the last 30 years.  In other words, what you could buy for $1 in 1980 will cost you $2.65 today.  
  • Unavailability of health care.  The opponents of health care reform claim that the law passed will have a deleterious effect on the best health care system in the world.   When the bill was passed, 46 million people could not afford health care premiums.  Since that passage, the number has risen to  50 million.  The nagging contradiction is, how can the  best health care system in the world leave out 16 percent of the nation's citizens?    The opponents of reform have never addressed that, so one presumes that those people don't count in their scheme of things.
  • Expense of Wars.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been a campaign issue.  Our presence in Iraq, for which there was no justification for being in the the first place, is being scaled down.  However, the war in Iraq has cost us $740.5 billion and the war in Afghanistan $361.5 billion, for a total of $1.1 trillion.  U. S  service personnel killed in Iraq stands at 4427 and in Afghanistan 1362.  Both the cost and casualties are mounting.What message was sent to Obama on the wars?
  • Deregulation.  We did hear about this.  The Republicans said regulation was stifling and inhibiting business.  They chose to ignore the fact that deregulation is what permitted the finance industry to engage in practices that sent us into recession and may still push us into full-fledged depression.  Indiana may take the lead in how this problem will be addressed.  It elected Dan Coats back to the U.S. Senate after a 10-year absence.  What's he been doing the last decade?  Lobbying for Wall St. and the   oil industry.  
  • Immigration and education.    We need to  regulate immigration so that we  don't have too many unwanted aliens coming into the country, but have enough to take the subsistence jobs that our citizens don't want, but whose educations did not prepare them for anything better.  
  • Climate change.  Didn't get mentioned, but we need a law which refutes the melting ice caps, the rising sea water, the unstable weather patterns, and increasing average temperatures.  It's all a vast left wing conspiracy, and we need a law, which cites astrology, to set us straight.
  • Energy policy. BP and the coal companies won this election.  Forget clean energy or energy independence.  
There are two factors that are not unique but are somewhat peculiar to South Dakota.  The first is that people living in West River and in selected places in East River are living on stolen land.  They are living on land that was ceded to the tribes by treaties on which the U.S. reneged.  But the treaties still stand. Most of those people could not live on that land if they did not receive heavy and often lavish subsidies from the federal government.  In urban areas, a bipartisan majority of people think these subsidies are a place to start in cutting the budget.  Those urbanites do understand why the people who vote to cut down the extent of government and who resent money going to reservations (which is a provision in the treaties) are so thoroughly dependent upon federal subsidy themselves.  

This matter is a political sleeper that the media has ignored, but if you go to urban areas when political discussions of the reducing the budget occur, this is the first issue that comes up.  

There is also a growing conviction that the land was, in fact, stolen, and the tribes deserve some settlement to return at least a portion of that land to the people who were cheated out of it.  As for the people who might be dispossessed of land they occupy, many wonder increasingly  how that concern can be squared without considering the American Indians who have been dispossessed and crowded into those concentration camps we call reservations.  As  a man from Standing Rock told me shortly before the election.  Americans seem to feel there is plenty room in the ranks of the unemployed, those living in poverty, and those without health care so that the country won't mind adding a few more, as long as they create no additional expenses. 

Of course, the U.S. cannot really have these kinds of problems.  It is, after all, the exceptional nation. Exceptional nations don't have poor, oppressed, dispossessed people.

The voters say they have sent a message.  Polling shows they want to see the current system upended, but preferably without gridlock or rancor. They want federal spending curtailed, but warn against tampering with their costly entitlements. They reject what is, but have no clearly stated idea for what should be. 

There is a ritual about talking across the legislative aisles, working together, and turning the government back to the people.  And in two years, voters can gather at the polls to turn another bunch of bums out.  The hard thing for the constituents out there to accept is that what happens in Washington reflects the minds of the  voters more than they want to admit.  When elections are decided upon insults, misrepresentations, and the personal prejudices of the electorate, the state of the nation can only deteriorate further.  

More and more, people are realizing that voting doesn't do much.  Those people who are in that 90 percent assigned to a cast of serfdom are beginning to get the message.  Voting doesn't work.  Direct action might.  And there are plenty of groups willing to show them how to take such action. 


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States