The editorial intent of the Leesburg Daily Commercial is not immediately obvious to the casual observer. Since the editors themselves seem to have confined themselves to strictly local matters, one is left to divine their objectives from the content appearing under other names. With a great deal of their stories and even editorials coming directly from news services like the Associated Press and Scripps Howard, the newspaper often appears to be rather conventional and centrist. But it is the overwhelming preponderance of Republican syndicated columnists in the Voices section that gives the game away. While yesterday’s Daily Commercial featured a thoughtful essay on migrant labor by the Tampa Bay Tribune‘s excellent Bill Maxwell, his words are greatly outnumbered by those of Cal Thomas, making sure that readers of this Central Florida paper receive the same “programming” as viewers of Fox News. And for those who are still inclined to believe that the newspaper is simply trying to be “fair and balanced,” there is the small problem of plutocratic sycophant and failed Republican congressional candidate Russ Sloan, whose Sunday column in the Money section appears only because the editors want it to be there. They could use that space for advertising. They could run an AP story on financial matters. They could run a series of excerpts from Yves Smith’s book, ECONned, to let people know how American capitalism really works. But they do none of these things. Instead, they actively choose to provide a soap box for Russ Sloan, and one assumes that they actually pay him for his column. This lengthy introduction is necessary, for on Sunday, July 22nd, the Leesburg Daily Commercial did something truly extraordinary: through its appointed agent, Russ Sloan, it declared open class warfare on its own readers.
Wild Animals and Wild Ideas
Sunday’s edition of The Bottom Line was simply breathtaking in its plutocratic ferocity and other-worldly distortion of reality. Even for Russ Sloan – a man who has apologized for Wall Street’s criminality and routinely parrots the increasingly radical Republican mantras that the rich pay too much tax and businesses are being strangled in their cribs by excessive regulation – this was the kind of hard-core Social Darwinism best served with cigars and cognac after a sumptuous feast with the Vanderbilts at Biltmore. Wholeheartedly embracing an odious analogy suggested by a reader’s letter, Sloan likened the recipients of government benefits to wild animals becoming dangerously dependent on a safety net legislated by misguided compassion. At first, one couldn’t help thinking that this was yet another exercise in (not very) coded racism, and there can be little doubt – based on years of observation – that many readers of the Daily Commercial will happily take it that way. It’s a short putt on the 18th hole from “wild animals” to “jungle bunnies” allegedly milking the system for all it’s worth while contributing nothing to society. (This is the same mentality that responds favorably to Republican voter suppression laws in the name of fraud-prevention and the sham of welfare drug testing.) But Sloan’s target is much broader than any racial minority; he’s aiming at everybody who receives any kind of government benefit, be that unemployment, Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare. And that group comprises the bulk of the Daily Commercial‘s readership. Why, one wonders, should they tolerate such insults?
Russ Sloan’s answer to that question would be that he is trying to do them a favor. It is fairly clear that he fancies himself as a latter-day Paul Revere or even a Winston Churchill, warning his nation of a menacing threat just over the horizon. In this case, the threat is neither British redcoats nor Nazi conquest but the imagined bankruptcy of the United States in Greek-style fiscal calamity. Beyond taking umbrage at his most un-Churchillian rhetoric, there are several reasons why we should ignore his hysterical tocsin, not the least of which is the unmistakeable miasma of plutocratic self-interest hanging over his every word.
The Implied Insult of Childlike Frames of Reference
Russ Sloan has a long, sad history of treating his readers like children. Many of his columns employ fables and popular allegories in an attempt to lead his readers in the desired direction. But in a world that is anything but simple, these literary devices have always been patronizing in the extreme. Instead of talking down to its audience like an awkward adult stuck with a couple of six-year-olds for the day, the Daily Commercial should be using the Money section to educate its readers with age-appropriate, in-depth analyses. Heck, they could even give us a chart or two. Instead, the readers’ intelligence is insulted with this:
From the time I was in grade school, I grasped the danger of politicians being able to buy the people’s vote with their own tax dollars through the public treasury. Because we are a very compassionate people, we have created a wide variety of federal programs whose original intent has been overly expanded to “buy” more votes from a dependent segment of recipients.
Leaving aside the point that votes can be bought in all sorts of ways by both parties, with or without significant spending, we need to inquire whether Russ Sloan has learned anything since grade school, or whether he thinks that a grade-school level of understanding is really all we need to make sense of the world around us. For one of the most despicable and insidious aspects of contemporary plutocratic propaganda is its cynical exploitation of the electorate’s lack of awareness of deeper, more complex, and more troubling realities. The plutocrats’ successful manipulation of the levers of governance, and the increasingly skewed distributions of wealth, income, power, and opportunity that arise therefrom, cannot proceed if the bulk of the citizenry perceives the true nature of American politics. The danger that Russ Sloan should be warning us about, if he really had our best interests at heart, would be the danger of our political process being bought, lock, stock, and barrel by the super-rich and the corporations they control. This concentration of power was anathema to the founders, particularly Jefferson, but you will never, ever see Russ Sloan discuss the threat to the republic posed by his Randian supermen. The fact that 400 Americans control more wealth than the bottom half of the country suggests to this website that the emotion we should be worried about is not compassion but greed.
Distract, Delude, and Disarm
Having attempted to distract us from the real problem our polity faces, Russ Sloan proceeds to mislead us with the familiar litany of alleged threats to our fiscal health, and adds a few more for good measure. Naturally, the list starts with the supposed ticking time bombs of Social Security and Medicare, which keep millions of wild animals alive long after they should have been allowed to die. In contrast to Sloan’s fear-mongering, these two enormously successful and popular programs had absolutely nothing to do with the current deficit, and could be fixed quite easily if the Republican Party was willing to reach across the aisle, as Ronald Reagan did. Of course, they have no intention of fixing these programs because the plutocrats cannot stomach the prospect of a few percentage points of national income being diverted out of their hands. Next, without even a passing mention of the post-recession rise in poverty, Sloan informed us that our wild animals have grown dependent on food stamps and disability benefits. Apparently, it was an excess of compassion that led to the extension of unemployment benefits well beyond their normal duration, and it is lamentable that $14 billion of unemployment has been “overpaid.” (After all, that’s $14 billion that could have been returned, in the form of lower taxes, to the “job creators” who “earned” it, right?)
Presumably, the intelligent thing to do here is to let the wild animals fend for themselves and cut off unemployment benefits early, deny Social Security disability claims, cut Medicare drastically, and reduce Social Security to something only an Ethiopian villager could subsist on. That, according to Sloan’s logic of dependency, would encourage people to regain their “pride and self-sufficiency” by getting jobs. There’s just one small problem with that, isn’t there? As he himself notes – with hilarious lack of internal consistency – the economy has been suffering through a protracted period of unemployment second in severity only to the Great Depression itself. So how, exactly, are the wild animals supposed to fare for themselves? Has it occurred to Russ Sloan that they might not be able to? Did he not figure out in grade school that people facing hunger and homelessness will turn to crime? Is this the latest supply-side fantasy, in which an abundance of labor, completely unassisted by capital, brings forth a wirtschaftswunder as legions of unemployed workers start their own businesses? Or does he simply not care? After all, according to Marie Antoinette’s spiritual successors at the Heritage Foundation, in response to recent news that poverty in America is reaching heights it hasn’t seen since before LBJ’s War on Poverty, no-one is really poor if they have a television.
The Plutocrats’ Favorite Animals: The PIGS
For the benefit of readers who might be reluctant to swallow his bitter gruel, Sloan brandishes the European stick, contending that Europe’s “current serious fiscal problems serve as a ‘crystal ball'” that “clearly shows us the future fiscal calamity of unsustainable entitlement programs.” That might be what the plutocracy wants us to see in their crystal ball, but the few people who look a little deeper find a much more interesting and complex picture. To start with, not all of Europe is in fiscal trouble. There is a great divide between the more prosperous nations of the north, particularly Germany and Scandinavia, and the struggling nations of Portugal, Greece, and Spain in the south and Ireland on the western periphery. The much-ballyhooed case of Greece is interesting in a way Russ Sloan ignores: a significant part of its fiscal crisis, in the opinion of IMF managing director Christine LaGarde, is attributable to inadequate tax receipts due to widespread tax evasion. Greece truly has been a place where only the little people paid taxes, a bit of a plutocrat’s paradise. Apart from that inconvenient truth, Greece does not enjoy the American luxury of controlling the supply of the world’s reserve currency and was never going to be seen by anyone as the safe harbor of last resort in uncertain times, two privileges which have allowed the United States to – very conveniently – borrow huge amounts without increasing interest rates.
Spain and Ireland are particularly instructive, for they both fell into the trap of indulging in runaway speculation in real estate. The Irish built houses for themselves at a pace that was always doomed to end in collapse; the Spanish built houses for everyone in Europe who needed to get away from dreary weather. Membership in the Euro gave both countries access to previously untapped capital markets and conferred – perhaps prematurely – a new aura of legitimacy on the former fringes. The bailout being negotiated for Spain is being sought to recapitalize the banks with too many worthless assets on their balance sheets after the collapse of a speculative real-estate bubble. Sound familiar? Lacking America’s unique advantages, the Spanish economy has imploded, creating unemployment rates as high as 25%. Full-blown depressions of that magnitude tend to have rather negative impacts on government budgets. If the Leesburg Daily Commercial genuinely wanted to inform readers of its financial section, it could run some of the stories – from Bloomberg News, not the Communist Party – to which we have linked in this section. Instead, it insults the community it serves with utter tripe.
Enough is Enough
Russ Sloan’s blatantly plutocratic agenda has taken him too far. His constant arguments in favor of the wealthy and powerful have now escalated to manic levels that have no place in a middle-class newspaper. The Leesburg Daily Commercial should apologize to its readers and fire Russ Sloan.