Truth in Comedy

by SAUL LANDAU

Have mainstream politicians grown so out of synch with the needs of the people that only comedians address the issues? Traditionally, the court jester dared shine a satiric light on imperial problems. In our society, standup comics and “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” under the guise of clowning get away with exposing corporate rip offs and self-serving government agencies. The mainstream media accept these thug operations as national axioms.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert don’t joke about tens of millions of people moaning, not whining, from pain of economic hardship. Because it’s not funny! They occasionally refer to the proverbial elephants in the American living room, which grow fatter and nastier. Who but a joker would dare denigrate the “celebrated” armed forces, just because they don’t win the wars that politicians manufacture? Or make fun of the “protectors” from Homeland Security? FEMA, part of the Security apparatus, played a cruel joke on the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Let’s not forget the “noble” drug warriors. One day in the very distant, as the comics know, they will surely make a dent in addiction rates. The military, “security” and drug baron, prime examples of imperial waste and idiocy, play the big joke on the public: each receives a humongous – or humorous—slice of the national budget.

If more than $800 billion annually goes to feed these unproductive monsters who metaphorically eat the country’s living room furniture and shit on its floor, how will needed infrastructure repairs take place, how will education, health and social services respond to the growing needs of the nation, now almost officially in recession? Such a question obviously makes my patriotism questionable. Or, I’m a crazed addict! A “Reagan revolution?” Did I hallucinate? Nostalgia oozes from those who remember him fondly. During his reign sleeping with the President meant attending a Cabinet Meeting.

Outside the denial addicted White House, income and manufacturing wages have fallen. In some 25 years, the bottom 40%’s share of national wealth dropped along with income of families living on pensions. Funny? US manufacturing jobs have dramatically decreased. Hilarious?

On the other side, Reaganomics also inspired growth. For example, the top 1% now “made” more money, and thus spurred the growth rate in the gap between rich and poor incomes. Foreign debt has risen as a percent of GDP. Thanks to Republican economics – supported by many Democrats – the number of hungry people and housing foreclosures have also risen. Jokes!

We’re still number 1 — in the size of our armed forces, amount of nuclear weapons, unwanted pregnancies, percentage of people, especially minorities, in prison, and number of crystal methamphetamine labs. (See Sam Smith’s The Progressive Review July 14)

Barack Obama, satirized by the New Yorker cover as a terrorist, has yet to address issues of eroding infrastructure and causes of suffering. Has he turned into Zelig, as in the Woody Allen film by that title, the adaptable, opportunistic creep who morphs into those he meets? Trying to win elections – then they’ll “do something” –turns candidates into PR images to make them look “honest,” “tough,” and warm and avuncular at the same time.

Even Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 said almost anything to get votes. Those who speak their minds like John McCain’s economic guru, and arch representative of banking hanky panky, former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, should have done his shtick on one of the comedy shows. Poor rich Gramm, sentenced to pariah status -– “He doesn’t speak for me,” said McCain, disowning his economic mentor. Gramm voiced his and probably other multimillionaires’ thoughts about the millions of homeless, hungry, out of work and recently foreclosed people as “a nation of whiners” — and probably dangerous as well.

Gramm’s speech patterns sound like the translation into words of the screech made by a piece of chalk working its way across a blackboard. May Gramm aspires to become a columnist for The Onion? “You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline,” he said. “You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession.” Very funny! He also questioned the veracity of some poor people. “If they’re poor, how come they’re fat?” The Don Rickles of politics!

After stumping Michigan with his candidate, McCain, and seeing thousands of unemployed factory workers, he smirked. “Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.” Optimistic millionaires like Gramm, whom McCain supported fully for President in 1996, dismiss such statistics. Michigan, once the country’s center of major industry, leads the nation in joblessness! Big deal that May unemployment rose 8.5%, up 2 points from April! The national average in May was already 5.5% and rising. And official figures don’t include people who have stopped looking for work, those who have just begun to look or are about to seek employment like “thousands of auto workers who are accepting buyout checks to drop off the payrolls of the companies that make autos or auto parts.”

Gramm and his ilk challenge PC behavior by continuing to buy SUVs. They scoff at “buy America” slogans. The want quality and US autos – and their sales—have gone South because foreign autos are better and production in Mexico is cheaper. “U.S. vehicle sales are expected to drop below 15 million this year. Three years ago, the industry sold 17 million cars and trucks.” (BW June 24 2008) “That’s free trade,” Gramm might say. “Live with it.” Perhaps GM, Ford and Chrysler will heed Obama’s “yes we can” chant.

Bring the mantra to Wall St. to tackle the financial slide? Tell police officers “yes we can” when they try to get the homeless and crazy people off the street, along with the addicted, depressed and recently “foreclosed.”

Respond with “Hope” when you read about soaring murder and violent crime rates in cities like Oakland, California, where the number of jornaleros on the street seems to rise as the number of available jobs diminish. Mock the growing number of people trying to augment their $300 “general assistance” checks by pushing shopping carts of cans and bottles to recycling centers.

The health care crisis has become truly hilarious. Surely there’s something funny about the poor having poor health and limited access to medical facilities. Do you get anxious about rising health care costs? The real joke is not one major candidate dares to offer the single payer option. They remember how the muscular health insurance companies pulled a fabulous gag on Bill and Hillary in 1993 and killed off all health care reform. Candidates understand humor. Single payer health plan? That’s a loser! Don’t go there!

Hey, readers might say, “Obama is much better than…” Of course, Democrats appoint better judges and heads of agencies, offer slightly more equitable tax structures and more spending on social issues. But they won’t touch the deep crises in health, education and infrastructure. They can’t spend what the Pentagon already spends. Everyone knows national priorities: waste money on the military first, social spending later. The Pentagon budget nears $600 billion, not counting nuclear weapons or “intelligence”—at a time when no nation threatens and demand for social spending becomes desperate.

George Carlin might have referred to the “celebrated military” as heroes who specialize in destroying, killing, and shattering the US reputation. Then, they send home the useless crippled young people and psychic wrecks. “Be all you can be and a lot less.” 

Since 1945, the fabled Armed Forces didn’t win in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. They do well when no one fights back – Grenada, Panama, and Gulf War I, a technological massacre.

What quicker way to piss away tens of billions than awarding it to the CIA and other lettered agencies whose combined work yielded no help before 9/11 and little afterward? Nothing succeeds like failure. Look at our President! Each year, spooks get fat budgets for failing, while failing schools cut bus services and academic schedules to four-day weeks. The National School Boards Association reports that “at least 86 school districts are on four-day weeks.” In 2005, Webster County, Kentucky, by cutting off one day, saved “the district more than $400,000 so far.” School busses in Ohio stopped picking up kids living less than 2 miles from school. (Gwen Purdom, USA Today July 14, 2008)

Barack might change the priorities. Fund education and health, repair the infrastructure and cut the military budget; scrapping the drug war and relocate a stripped down CIA to the Library of Congress. My bookie offered me 100 to one against it.

SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (A/K-Counterpunch). Dvds of his films from http://roundworldproductions.com

 

 


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