Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reality Check: There is no Liberal equivalent to the Tea Party!

Anyone who tells you there is a progressive equivalent to the Tea Party is either outright lying to you or is a well-intentioned idiot. There is none. There isn't a single group in Washington that literally was advocating to destroy the US economy by defaulting, in part because of their obstinate belief that it wouldn't happen. That's what happens when you deny reality, and when you are so uninterested in things like facts that you are willing to deny what is both blaringly obvious and potentially disastrous.

Bill Maher did a 'new rule' about this on his show which illustrated very clearly why there ISN'T a group like that. If there WAS there would be a vocal and obstinate portion of the Democratic party that would be staunchly attaching amendments to every piece of legislation that would repeal DOMA. There would be staunch supporters of public funding for reproductive services like those provided by Planned Parenthood, including abortions. There would be a refusal to give in on things like repealing tax cuts for the super rich and corporations, slashing funding on programs truly necessary or poor and working poor Americans, and the policy moves that have been disastrous to education. They would have refused to budge on a real publicly funded universal health care program, and we would have a sparkling new infrastructure that included all the green technology available.

None of that has happened.

The fact is that the Democratic party has become a watered down version of the moderate Republicans of past decades. They've become Bob Dole. They've failed in the messaging war to both uplift and educate the American public in a way that encourages middle and working class people to be engaged in the political process AS WELL AS make voting decisions that truly represent progress on issues that affect them. There is nothing like that. Even people who would have just been considered moderates in past decades are now being branded as ultra-liberal. If THAT were true, Denice Kucinech would be a hell of a lot more influential in his party than he is.

The reality is that the current incarnation of political system has reverted back to the pre-FDR era where corporations dictate the outcomes of elections and then their interests control politicians in Washington on both sides of the aisle. Until we begin restricting the flow of unlimited funds from corporate interests, we won't have a government interested in truly effective reforms. We won't have a Democratic party that even recognizes policies that benefit the middle and working classes or that promote a growing economy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Republican Vision for a Static Future

David Brooks in his newest Op/Ed for the New York Times wrote in support for a lot of what Paul Ryan is advocating in his current budget. The op/ed is reasonable, as David Brooks usually is, but it ignores an enormous hole in the entire Republican side of the budget debate, revenue.

Perhaps it's indicative of how successful progressives have been in getting the message out to the public that there is an enormous disparity in the amount of money earned by the wealthy and their respective tax burden that Republicans have stopped talking about the 'Bush Tax Cuts'. Or maybe the message about the almost just as disgusting, that despite the supposedly stifling corporate tax rate that many major corporations pay nothing in taxes and even get rebates in tax money from the government has been heard.

The message from the Republicans seems to have changed from one of cutting taxes to reforming the tax code. They can't make an argument that somehow the wealthy are suffering or that somehow keeping the Bush Tax cuts has changed anything significantly in the progress towards creating jobs when the statistics just don't support their rhetoric.

More importantly, in terms of corporate tax rates, the media has picked up on the fact that corporations are getting tax money in rebates and are getting big kickbacks from the government, like in the case of oil companies. I think the Democratic politicians are starting to frame the argument correctly as they bring these mainstream headlines to their constituents with the message 'why do you have to bear the brunt of the tax revenue'. By insisting that the pain be spread around, which is of course something the Republicans say as they slash crucial public programs aimed at helping the poor and elderly but include even more kickbacks and taxbreaks for corporations, Democrats can regain the focus as the party of the people.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Morality, America and the Hypocrisy of Exceptionalism

We have a problem in America with morality. It's not just because of moral relativism, or what conservatives like to call 'secular humanism' which is their catch phrase for 'socialism'. We have become a morally bankrupt country. I say this as a person who is a reformed Catholic, but who spent my entire childhood and adolescence indoctrinated in the teachings of Christ. I was never a WWJD kid, nor was my family ever conservative in their religious beliefs or practices. In fact, the Christ I was raised to believe in was a loving and forgiving God who befriended the leper and prostitute, was humble in the face of poverty and preached the the values of charity and compassion to all. Also, as far as I know the ordination process for Catholic priests involve vows of Charity and Humility as well as Chastity and Obedience.

All of that translates into a firm believe in the dignity and equality of all people. Those are inalienable rights, aren't they, that all 'men' are created equal? And just as our country has lauded itself on its freedom and equality it has practiced horrible acts of degradation against people who were 'other' or different. This is a problem that's been pervasive in our society and still saturates every level of citizenry. I'm not just talking about slavery, and overt and institutionalized racism. I'm also talking about the subjugation of women, the oppression of ethnic and religious groups, and the demonetization and vilification of sexual minorities and the differently abled. This system of oppression and discrimination only becomes more complicated when considering the structures of political and economic power and their interaction with those minority groups. Add to that the regional cultural differences in all of those things and you have a overwhelming matrix of complexities in social interaction and in our understanding and advancement of civil rights and freedoms.

Perhaps always there has also been an underlying opposition force that is an anathema to those fundamental ideals we have enshrined in the Declaration of Freedom, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. That oppositional force might vaguely be understood as the thirst for power. That thirst is greater in those who already have some, thus leading them to seek more and requires them to control more and more of the political and social system in order to acquire it. In itself this could be defined in part as hubris, certainly it is antithetical to the teachings of compassion, charity and humility embodied in the Christ story. None of us are immune to that thirst, even if it comes from a place of absolute altruism and hope, because especially for those who seek some kind of political recognition or some ability to fulfill the American purpose of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, true freedom and equality seem so far away without power.

Politics is, of course, about power. I think those who are entrenched in politics, especially those with the expectation of significant gains or losses, lose perspective on the consequences of their actions and of the quality of their actions. Those with a lot to gain or lose, or those who have invested significant resources in the pursuit of a political outcome, the more desperate they get to achieve their end the more likely they are to compromise or outright disavow their supposed principles and beliefs. Hypocrisy is among the most common embodiments of this. It is perhaps one of the most insidious symptoms of the pursuit of power and results in the spread of lies, untruths and the inspiration of cruelty.

The problem of Hypocrisy has become so pervasive in our social and political discourse that there are large groups of people who cannot recognize it even when it is pointedly exposed across our diverse media outlets. There is a large minority in this country who are so indoctrinated in the belief of their own righteousness and who have gone so far in shaping their worldview to justify their own hypocrisy that they refuse to acknowledge or believe it when confronted in the most truthful and thorough way. Those who practice hypocrisy and most often are conscious of it at least in some small way, but their desire for power and their own hubris prevent them from correcting it. In fact many of those who regularly practice hypocrisy and the spreading of falsehoods and untruth have no interest in correcting those errors and merely plow forward continuing those practices.

What are the results of hypocrisy and lies in the pursuit of power? A political system and social situation where those too self-assured of their own righteousness select out those things most comfortable to their self-righteousness and ego, which don't challenge their world view and absolute determination to excuse their own core failings. They create, promote and support organizations and commercial entities that encourage and propagate untruths and which represent provable and irrefutable falsehoods as fact. They believe stories and arguments based on fictitious evidence and outright lies even when they contradict their own supposed values while excusing and justifying that belief through even more hypocrisy and lies. They allow their better judgment and their sense of compassion for fellow human beings to be overridden by the atmosphere of fear and intolerance created for them by those in control of power and who seek to acquire more.

The Tea Party is an example of all of this. The Tea Party, at least in theory, is a libertarian collection of individual groups around the country who represent themselves as 'grass-roots' and as concerned singularly with taxation and the role of the federal government in our society. In reality this 'movement' is a propaganda machine of several small and very well funded organizations commandeered by elements of the radical Christian Coalition and Christian right which we saw rise to power during the 1980's and 90's. While chest thumping about taxation, the size of government and its spending habits those same candidates and leaders were reaching out to their core social conservative base with the same regressive messages and policy positions we've seen over and over again. They won because they were able to weave fiction after fiction of a government out of control, politicians too concerned with power and unconcerned with the will of their constituents, and of a black socialist consumed with destroying America. So much of that is exemplified by the slogan 'It's Time To Take Our Country Back'. Take it back from whom? Who has stolen it?

While polling data from multiple polls illustrated the racial and religious/ideological position of the Tea Party, it also illustrated that the majority of Americans were most concerned about the economy and jobs. Not debt, but jobs. Republicans wove the fiction that somehow out of control spending and too much regulation were choking businesses, hampering the creation of new businesses and killing jobs. That lie is apparent to anyone who can access the internet and read. The true culprit in preventing the expansion of small businesses were the banks who wouldn't give out business loans or lines of credit so businesses could expand. These were the same banks whose blind greed lead them to create instruments for tremendous profit at high risk. The same banks who then were bailed out by the government, and taxpayer, with little oversight or accountability and vastly loosened regulation only to continue the risky practices and hoarding of wealth. Not one of the executives responsible for the creation of the instruments and subsequent crash of our economy has been held criminally responsible.

Even more galling, however, is the crass disregard shown by politicians who represent themselves as Christians and whose messaging and political persona advocates 'traditional family values'. These politicians make careers on demonizing and marginalizing whole groups of people. They make money on the fear and prejudices of others by spreading falsehoods and encouraging the un-education of their constituents. Meanwhile these politicians have proven themselves again and again to be unable to stand the scrutiny of their own rhetoric. Even when Democrats do become embroiled in sex scandals they rarely come under as much media examination or suffer as many public consequences as Republicans. This isn't because the media is so biased towards liberals. It is about hypocrisy and lies, and about the desire to retain power. That's why we have Republican senators who are publicly scrutinized for extramarital affairs resulting in bribery and cover-ups, or for patronizing prostitutes. It is why representatives choose to resign rather than suffer the backlash from their online sex activities or sexual misconduct with underage male pages.

Most galling of all, however, are the national leaders who represent themselves as the vanguard of some fictional 'moral majority' about to sweep away the rot of secular humanism, again, codeword for socialism. These people make enormous sums of money speaking on the topic of morality and its role in shaping our core values, on pressing a radical political position that has little to no basis in reality but which draws together the fears and prejudices of people too purposely uneducated about the world around them to be able to make the distinction between truth and untruth. They take advantage of the ignorance of people too willing to justify their own failings in their Christian beliefs and personal values to examine those messages with any sense of justice beyond its application to themselves.

I don't mean to place all the blame on the conservative politicians and pundits, however. Their voter base and those who blindly agree with their lies and aggressively and purposefully ignore their hypocrisy are just as culpable. Many of these people, as far as I can tell, make no effort to investigate the veracity of the lies bile these people spew. They are so convinced of the truth of their own convictions, in their own righteousness and of their own self-concerned worldview that they allow the politicians and pundits to prey upon their legitimate anxieties over the economy and an increasingly complex and dangerous world. They allow themselves to be manipulated and to twist those values we supposedly hold so dear beyond all recognition or rational understanding. They buy into the rhetoric that we are somehow exceptional just because. That American is somehow the freest, greatest and morally purest nation in the world. They pay no attention to the flaws because they need the comfort of that ignorance so badly in order to cope with their own failings and the failings of their beliefs. They then promote candidates and causes that are grievous violations of those 'American values'.

Also to blame are 'liberal' politicians and Democrats for failing to take a greater role in determining the rhetoric of the public discourse. The idea that Republicans could perform such a complete con on the American people as to make 'entitlements' the common nomenclature for Social Security and Medicare is an indictment of their failure. While they may be the party most concerned with the working and middle class, and with the general welfare, failing to sell the message is as big a problem as failing to act on it. It is a problem when the far-right is able to take nearly complete ownership of the words 'patriot' and 'liberty' when they are neither patriotic nor believe in real and genuine and true liberty. When they do not recognize the reality of liberty and the reality of its honest application. This is perhaps an indication of the extent to which hypocrisy and the pursuit of power has taken hold in that party as well.

Ultimately, after all of that, I have this to say: We deserve better, we deserve more, we have the right to to BE more than this. We deserve politicians who don't just listen to the people and run in fear from necessary and important work because of polling. We deserve politicians genuinely willing to make a case for and take action in the interests of all of the American people. We deserve a land where no one is made to feel less than simply because they do not resemble, either in look, belief or relationship, those around them. We deserve a nation where we make honest steps to live up to the commitments we espouse of educating our children and giving everyone the opportunity to achieve, not just because of some quota or affirmative action, but because they work hard, have talent and have earned it. We deserve a nation where compassion and charity towards others aren't just hollow words used in a church, but result in real action and substantive change to the benefit of the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled and the oppressed. We deserve to become the nation we have always wanted to be by the fruits of our own labors, the achievements of our own talent, and the quality of our spirit.

We deserve better, I deserve, you deserve it, and our future deserves it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Budgets, Jobs, and the Economic Narrative

We are in an economic crisis in this country, but the mortgage woes that are still plaguing millions of Americans are only a symptom of a broader issue. These are at play because of a conflict between corporations and workers. As corporate regulation, and of course the companion tax burden on the wealthy, have loosened over the past few decades, we have seen the decline in American production and of course labor jobs. Over the past few decades the narrative, however altruistic it may have been, that we could pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and that with hard work the average worker could get ahead has been nothing but that, a narrative, a sitcom like Good Times.

Although we it is just now starting to become apparent because it is now shifting burdens of taxes and public responsibility for the state of the overall job market and mortgage investment market onto upper middle class people, this is just a consequence of the disappearance of labor. It's not just a problem of 'buying American', either. It is also not just a problem of American products costing more because the production costs are higher due to salaries and benefits. That may be in part true, but that is as much an excuse as it is to blame the job loss on the 'Great Recession'.

Ultimately this is a game of redistribution of wealth, the same concept that Michelle Bachmann and the unfortunately un- and mis-educated people who believe her nonsense use to stir up fear among white middle class people nearing retirement. Wealth redistribution has been happening for decades. It has just been in the opposite direction of what Bachmann uses to spread fear. How can I justify this claim? Because the middle class isn't disappearing, it has disappeared. Meanwhile four hundred people own more wealth than more than half the rest of the population combined. CEO's of corporations who used to make around seventy times the average employee salary now make somewhere in the ballpark of a thousand times that. They are getting bonuses in the hundreds of millions, their investment friends managing hedge funds and making billion dollar salaries, meanwhile most Americans, including myself, are struggling. That's how I can say that wealth redistribution is already here and has been going strong for decades.

What does this mean for budgets? Well, since forty percent of this country, both in the lowest economic classes and among the wealthiest elites, don't pay any taxes or get all their taxes back in refunds, that means that the middle class is bearing the brunt of the majority of the tax burden. This happens precisely because of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations that the Republicans have put in place. It is also obvious to those who can follow the logic as Republican politicians profess the same nonsense that the corporate lobbyists and CEO's are crying about, that higher taxes will kill jobs. Well tax cuts create deficits. Particularly when there are some programs, namely Medicare and Social Security, that Americans refuse to budge on and which comprise the majority of any spending our government does, and there isn't enough revenue coming in. It is also readily apparent to anyone paying attention to actually legitimate news stations who point out the consistently rising profits of major corporations. Those corporations aren't creating the kind of jobs that really pay, that's a generalization but it is generally true, and certainly not in a way that reflects a real investment when compared to those record profits.

Those manufacturing jobs are not coming back, and not because we don't buy products or because we are paid to much, but because companies that make things are too interested in profits. And, given the disastrous effect of the Recession on pension and investment plans that make up the majority of the investments of the middle class in those companies, the primary beneficiaries of their increased profits are the same wealthy who then complain that higher taxes would kill jobs. The same wealthy who also get tax breaks with the excuse that somehow they stimulate the economy by investing in companies that aren't bringing their production jobs back to the US. They instead squirrel it away in foreign banks and buy property in other countries so that they aren't taxed on income that would otherwise be circulating in and boosting the US economy.

When you have a labor force composed largely of people with lower levels of education who don't have the skills to work in mid-level management than you need jobs for them. If they don't have jobs and that is who the mortgage companies and investment banks are selling their products to, that means that they are unable to fulfill, ultimately, the financial obligation of those mortgages. That is especially true when they are walking a thin line already when they are employed. That line disappears and they fall into the abyss of debt when they lose their job.

And not only did the manufacturing jobs disappear ten years ago with the advent of NAFTA, though I would argue it started long before then as companies exported labor to China and Taiwan and other places in Asia, but in the last ten years we've seen the phenomena of the so called white-collar jobs, the call centers and customer service support jobs relied upon by a lot of middle class people, disappear as they've been exported to India and Pakistan. The US has become so semi-consciously aware of it that it has become a joke that we call customer support lines and reach people with hyper-American names but with foreign accents. Companies have even been using the fact that they have created call centers here in the US as a subtle advertising ploy to take advantage of the anxiety we have over those jobs being 'outsourced'. And what a terrible name for corporate America to use in place of calling it what it is, cutting spending on employees by contracting out good jobs to companies they pay far less in order to boost profit margins somewhat artificially.

So while it might be fair to blame the Recession and blame the investment banking industry for the woes of our economy and the job market, the jobs were disappearing a long time before then. Their greed in trying to get greater and greater profits by cutting costs exacerbated the problem, and then their even greater greed in taking advantage of a population increasingly desperate to live out the fantasy of the 'American Dream' which we have been brainwashed to buying into with bad mortgages.

This isn't all because of Republicans. Democrats were in power for two years before the crash and had greater influence in Congress even two years before that. NAFTA was also a product of the Clinton administration, and almost none of it has been dealt with under the Obama administration. And Barney Frank was intimately involved in the loosening of restrictions on mortgage investment that was partially responsible for all the faulty mortgages. It's hard for me to criticize him, though, because as a gay American and a progressive I do believe that he is a strong voice to represent both those constituencies. I'd like to think that instead it was bad decision making on his part and more political gaming than ideology.

What is abundantly clear is that Democrats have lost their way as a national party. The Wisconsin union fight has proven that. While the national Republican party backed Scott Walker within a few weeks of the fight, only a handful of national Democrats, and most of those Wisconsin Democrats, became vocal about the issue. The national party has yet to really make a strong campaign about the union busting going on in a dozen states throughout the Great Lakes region and the Midwest, and that is a problem. The labor movement is the traditional heart of the Democratic party. Progressive policies on civil rights and energy aside, labor issues are the ones that draw the most people into the fold because the majority of people in this country see jobs and labor issues like the minimum wage and employee benefits as core American values. The Republicans were able to capitalize on the anxiety people had because of the incredible losses in the job market during this past election, but those are issues central to Democrats. The fact that the Republicans were able to take that message from the Democrats during this last cycle is a clear indication that the party has gone too far away from that base.

The party, I think, is picking up on that, and is starting to wake up to the incredible political force of the labor movement. We saw some of that when the unions in Nevada stumped like mad for Harry Reid during the last election. It was because of them that he had the money, and even more importantly the 'ground game' with people canvasing and making phone calls, that he was able to pull off a win in an incredibly tough election. And this is not about 'conservative' Democrats versus 'liberal' Democrats. Labor issues are liberal issues. Even more than that the labor movement and the way they see labor rights as basically civil rights is the way to make people understand the value of civil rights in general. Conservatives have controlled the overall narrative about unions for decades and have convinced people that somehow they are better off without unions. While unions aren't blameless in this narrative, they have done things publicly that ended up pushing people against them, the questions around job creation and even more importantly salaries and benefits should be things that we are all talking about.

Unions are vital to some industries, teachers especially rely on their unions to help fight for fair wages and benefits in one of the toughest industries in the country. However, people have started seeing them as the province only of manufacturing industries and teachers rather than as representative of working people everywhere. Wisconsin, as I've described before, is a great catalyst, however. Since most of Americans, including Republicans, favor the rights of collective bargaining, and really genuinely understand the consequences of employers having all the leverage in salary and benefits discussions, it is no surprise then that there is so much push back. As I've also said before, the question shouldn't be why public employees make so much, but why the wages and benefits of the average American worker are so meager by comparison. I understand that when salaries and benefits of public employees are combined that they seem to have such a better deal than most people. But why is that? Why do people believe blowhards like the commentators on FOX News when they try and demonize public workers for it? Why aren't people instead demanding that their own compensation be better? I mean, it is obvious from the salaries and benefits of executives and the wealthy elite that there is plenty of money to go around.

But many politicians, especially in the Republican party, aren't interested in that discussion, aren't interested in people framing the debate in that way instead. They prefer to make deep cuts into the state education budgets, like in Florida, and giving away all of it in property tax cuts and corporate tax cuts. I believe their argument is that the corporate tax breaks draw in corporations and create more jobs. But what kind of jobs are they creating? And where are they? Although it is heartening that jobs are being created by the dozens and even hundreds around the country, when there are more than twenty million people in the labor force who are either unemployed or underemployed, that isn't a positive sign. It is also not a positive sign that the jobs being created aren't jobs that pay well enough to help people emerge from the debt they've incurred in the last three years or to resume anything like the lifestyles they'd had before. They're not jobs that help people get out of foreclosure. To keep their homes.

No, the economic narrative shouldn't be about union benefits or even about the tax burden on the middle class. The narrative should be about jobs and job creation. It should be about real solutions that will put millions of people back to work, not just create a few hundred jobs here or there by giving enormous tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations while making enormous cuts in the programs that most Americans desperately need and rely on. That isn't a Democratic idea or a Republican idea, that is an American idea, and if the Democrats are the only ones who are genuinely interested in addressing it, than they need to move away from the debates about health care as related to the poor that they've been losing for three years and instead return to framing it in the context of working people, workers rights, and the core values that kept them in power for generations.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When Democracy Breaks Down

As angry as people were in the election of 2010, as disenchanted with the status quo of government and of the entire process, now they are seeing the results of misinformation mixed with apathy and anger. While there are problems with the Democratic party, mostly stemming from the corporate interests that people who watch MSNBC have been hearing about for years, but which became much more prominant and obvious after the SCOTUS decision on Citizens United.

What we see now, however, is the result of that mix of anger. Many people in this country allowed their anger and apathy towards the party in power to override their ability to understand distinctions between Democrat and Republican. Perhaps it isn't just coincidence that we are having this fight now after such a huge economic crisis, as it mirrors the same hard times our country had during the early part of the twentieth century. People became scared about their personal finances and because it is always easier to blame a problem on someone rather than solve the problem they were swayed by the anti-worker and anti-Middle Class interests. Those corporate interests have always opposed unions and workers rights, have always opposed fair wages and benefits, which we take for granted today and only came about because of unions.

We now have so much access to media that the people who are at best misguided in their ideas about the role of the government and of fiscal policy and most cases are much more likely corporate shills cannot hide their heavy handed tactics anymore. They cannot hide their moves and legislative proposals anymore. Technology has seen that we are able to have mass dissemination of information very quickly and dissemination and knowledge in the hands of the working and Middle Class can only spur on the kinds of protests and the kind of workers movement which gave us a Middle Class in the first place.

The differences between the two parties, the distinction that people have been unable to recognize for so long, is now readily apparent. The Republican Party cannot pretend to have any interest in 'Main Street' or the workers of this country. They cannot pretend or hide behind the shield of rhetoric anymore. They are for cutting government programs most Americans rely on every day, such as public schools, and relaxing every law or restriction on their corporate bosses that keep them from making as much money as possible. We see this in Wisconsin, where every single Democrat in the the state senate fled the state and has remained absent for three weeks despite all the threats and consequences. When Democrats stand on principle, it is with workers.

This is not to say that all Democrats are created equal. This is no to say that there isn't serious reform needed in campaign finance law, laws that have been relaxed more and more lately in spite of all the rhetoric from both parties every election cycle to work for reform, and even more so by Citizens United. What's ironic about that name is that it is characteristic of all the major conservative PACs right now. They take names like Americans for Prosperity and parade around PR materials with clip art of crowds in protest, but when the money is traced, when it can be traced, it leads to major corporations and individual billionaires. Even though these are conservative groups, there are enough Dems who seek funding from places like financial investment firms and banks that a false equivalency can be drawn by conservative pundits. There are, however, very different realities in campaign funding for Democrats and that for Republicans. Funding from the supposedly huge money of progressives like George Saros is also very very very different from the funding by the Koch brothers.

Ultimately this union fight in Wisconsin and other states is galvanizing unions, the one major political force that the vast majority of working Americans have to counteract the money of the extremely wealthy, and bringing out the best in the Democratic officials at the state level. The question is will Democrats on the national level, who are embroiled in issues that are pandemic to the entire country as well as the world, pick up on this awakening labor movement and recognize it for what it is: Their BASE? Will they take the opportunity to use this to draw that distinction they couldn't last time? It is so clear in the body of the Wisconsin 14 and their distinction from the Republicans in the Senate who held an illegal committee meeting in an attempt to maneuver the legislation only dealing with union rights through into law even without the Democrats. I think this will bring focus onto those elected officials on the national level who are truly interested in standing up for the base and those who aren't.

This fight is going to return the party, which has gotten so lost in the midst of federal issues, to the core principles it stands for. Then we voters, whatever our typical voting habits, are going to have to turn blinders on to the messaging coming from the Republicans. We are going to have to show them through out vote that we were in fact paying attention.

Michael Moore said something interesting tonight on Rachel Maddow's show, that this country is not broke. This is something that has been said over and over again by progressives, but since those who are unemployed or who are suffering because of the economic disaster are hurting so badly they didn't listen to. We are not broke. We have the most robust and largest economy in the world. The Republican narrative that somehow our government has gotten so large and so unwieldy and so reckless with money is largely untrue. We don't have a spending problem in this country, we have a revenue problem in this country, and the reason why most Middle Class people are hurting and why they were convinced with that garbage about tax cuts is because the wealth is now concentrated at the top. Even the Republicans admit our Middle Class is disappearing. Rather than identifying the real problem, however, the rich people who have been sucking it up and who were responsible for the reckless investments that led to our Recession, they convince most people that somehow those rich people are just simple Americans, that they are in just as much trouble, are suffering just as much, and that they don't deserve to be taxed anymore than the working class.

That's a lie, it's fiction and it's an outright negligent lie. Four hundred Americans now possess as much wealth as fifty percent of this country combined. That accumulation of wealth is staggering, and it came about because the taxes that should have been levied against them, but which weren't because they had already paid for politicians to keep the money flowing in, have steadily been lowered over and over. That money that they have absorbed is the money from the pensions of workers that then disappeared during the Worldcom scandal, during the Berney Maddoff scandal and the tax money we used to bail them out after they caused the economy to collapse. That money isn't going back into the economy like Republicans say it will. It's going into more investments that are safe and high yield so it makes more money. Meanwhile more than ten million people are out of work and another twenty can't find jobs that pay well.

Those tax cuts mean that the top 2%, which owns 80% of the wealth of this country, is the gap that is causing the deficit. There are, of course, spending issues, first among them the two wars we are still involved with. That doesn't mean killing programs so many people rely on. Why Americans didn't recognize that as a consequence of the Republicans becoming the majority I don't know. Maybe people aren't as intelligent as I hope they are. But the end result is that those programs put in place to help the needy and vulnerable, to make sure we have clean water and air and that everyone has access to education, those programs, rather than the defense budget, are what are being cut and it will only make the recession hurt that much more. Meanwhile Eric Cantor stands in front of cameras in his thousand dollar suit and cocky grin telling us we are broke. We are only broke because he and his rich friends didn't want to pay an extra 3% of their yearly income in taxes so that the government could provide services for everyone.

Reality is cold and simple now. Republicans want to privatize everything, want to strip all workers of their rights so they can't object when an employer cuts their benefits or lowers their wages at will, they want us to think that we can't afford basic services and that somehow by cutting taxes on our shrinking wages that we are benefiting. They want us to have private fire services though that service won't happen if we don't pay our yearly dues. They want us to ignore the air pollution giving us headaches and nose bleeds and causing our cancers and just go about our daily lives as though nothing is wrong. They want us to ignore the serious problems in our education system, our failing schools and the warped and backward curriculum self-righteous ultraconservative divorcees running for office tell us is the truth and right and to pretend that somehow we aren't being controlled by their corporate and religious doctrines when they restrict us from having medically necessary treatments and procedures, blocking us from being with the people we love, and putting us in jail for suggesting that somehow there is a better way to live.

THAT is Tea Party America, and we deserve better than that.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Never to Low to GOP

So here's reality: Republicans control many of the states in this country with the worst education systems, the biggest fiscal crises, the lowest income earners and the least skilled and educated people. In order to galvanize the fear of those people into greater gains for their vision of an America in which the state abdicates most if not all of the services we have come to rely on, even utilities such as water, they have created this narrative that starts with the notion of a fiscal crisis.

Yes are most of the states facing budget shortfalls? Yeah, they are, and part of the reason for it is because taxpayers are having to makeup the cost of the pension money of public workers that was lost when markets crashed two years ago. Those pensions were contractually negotiated years ago. Those people have earned their money. Now should contracts be renegotiated, maybe, but is it the responsibility of public workers to give up benefits that were contracted to them and that they've earned?

What is more, this narrative of fiscal crisis, accompanied by genuine deficits, has allowed people to buy into this idea that tax cuts are the answer to everything, to job creation, as well as to their own personal financial woes. Historically tax cuts have never worked to create jobs, and historically the majority of people suffer when the government has to cut programs that are vital to the lives of most Americans. (See my previous posts about union busting and public education).

So what is the balance, here, if people rely on basics like emergency services and public education, not to mention road repair and basic utilities like water? How are we going to make up that deficit if cutting from the budget is not enough? It's simple.

This whole narrative, this whole idea that we have no money, that we're broke, that we already are running in the red, all of it is because we are not taking in enough revenue, not on the state level and not on the federal level. Now is there fat to trim at all levels? Yes, bureaucracies need streamlining, programs not meeting goals need to be revisited and retooled. But make no mistake, the real answer involves raising taxes. No one likes that idea, though, but so many people seem to think that if we raise taxes on one tax bracket it's bad for everyone. That is just categorically untrue. The taxes of all go up because Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the top 2%, something that is overwhelmingly popular with the American public when faced with the choice of cutting from Medicare, Social Security or Education.

But what is even more damaging are the budgets proposed and likely to pass in states like Michigan and Florida. Florida, the governor is going to cut $1.75 billion dollars from public education, with most of it coming from K-12. $1.6 billion of that will be to pay for tax cuts for corporations and for property tax cuts. That means only $150 million will be left over to help cover any state budget deficits. According to the Palm Beach Post, that means the average teacher salary would lose more than $2,300 while the average property tax break of about $45.

In Michigan the governor would raise tax rates on the elderly and poor and in Georgia the legislature is trying to apply sales tax to the fund raising efforts of the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, so that Girl Scout cookies are taxable. All of this goes on while making public worker unions into the easy targets for the public campaign to justify cuts to corporations that are not hiring jobs and to the wealthy who are not only not hiring but also investing that money into financial instruments that make more money while not supporting any substantive growth to the economy.

So the point of this piece is, really? You're going to tax grandma and Girl Scout cookies but you aren't going to increase the taxes on the 400 people who own more wealth than more than 50% of the rest of the country?

Lies Our Leaders Tell Us: Unions Are The Enemy

There is a problem in our country that has been brewing for a while, and it's all wrapped up in things I've talked about before. Corporations have, through their own media outlets and through the politicians they've paid for, convinced us that out lives are better off with lower taxes for all, that lower taxes means more take-home pay while lower corporate taxes stimulates job growth, and that cutting spending on 'unnecessary' programs like schools where teachers are paid disproportionately to the difficulty of their job are the ways to accomplish this miracle of personal savings. We've seen the messages that the Tea Party organizers and Republican law makers have told us, that we deserve to keep more of our hard-earned money, that we should be able to save more of our own money, and that we know how to spend our money better than the government.

The only part of any of that that is true is that we deserve the money we work so hard to make. We don't, however, save anything when taxes are cut because all those frivolous government programs that Republicans are so quick to identify as wasteful help to keep our cost of living down. The fact is that the government spends our money better than most of us do. When so many people were duped into subprime mortgages and spending money on houses they couldn't afford to own, that means that there are a whole lot of people out there who don't know how to invest their money wisely. That's okay, most of us aren't financial geniuses, I am certainly not. That's one reason why those subsidies that go to green energy research, to grants for students, toward investments in future growth, those are all important and those are all things that the Tea Party driven Republicans seek to cut.

But right now probably the biggest fight is over the idea of unions. Politicians tell us that public worker unions are responsible for so much of state deficits across this country. Well, in fact, in Wisconsin, the governor's corporate tax cut is exactly what's caused the deficit in that state. Moreover, cutting collective bargaining rights for workers has no fiscal impact and he's said that himself. Even further, according to Forbes magazine, a conservative publication owned by one-time Republican Presidential Nomination contestant Steve Forbes, Wisconsin state employees actually pay for their entire pension and health benefits themselves, the only thing the taxpayer money is used for is to pay their salaries.

So, the discussion still goes on with conservatives trying to convince the public that somehow public workers' unions are to blame for the fiscal problems of their states. The rhetoric, however, stands firm even as the legitimate conservative press picks it apart with actual facts, since what it is really based on is the 'public employees have such a sweet deal'. People in interviews have actually been saying that, as though the public employees are criminals who are steeling from taxpayers, or that they are somehow corrupt because they are making more than the many unemployed workers in this country.

Their wages haven't changed so much since before the economy melted, though, and neither have their benefits. Most of those union contracts only become problematic when, like now, governments seek to renegotiate so the employees get less. And no, they don't have the only hard jobs in this country, and no they aren't work any more or less than other workers with comparable skills and jobs in comparable industries. So the question isn't why do they have so much and such a sweet deal, the question is, why do so many other people have so much LESS? Why is it that we are settling for fewer and fewer benefits while corporations are posting record profits? Why is it that we are letting them tell us that requiring corporations to pay wages that aren't just decent but that might actually be good along with benefit packages that provide real security for people would kill business and force them to move more jobs overseas when they're not creating jobs to begin with?

Even more than that, why have we as a nation settled for a situation where the average American salary has only seen a 2% growth over the last twenty years for those making less than $250,000 while that growth in income has skyrocketed for those above that line? Why have we allowed ourselves to be convinced that somehow wage adjustments for cost of living equal an actual benefit rather than the bare minimum when factoring inflation into our cost of living? A raise for inflation isn't a raise or a bonus, it's not a reward for hard work.

Unions are the ones who fight for against all those things. They're the ones who helped bring about a set work week so that we aren't expected to slave away for sixty, seventy or eighty hour weeks without any benefits and without overtime. They are the ones who fight for safe work environments and family leave for new parents and for those caring for sick relatives. So why would we fight against unions? How is busting the unions in the public interest when raising tax rates on corporations making billions of dollars in profits every year, who are posting record profits every quarter? And honestly, is anyone implying that teachers have easy jobs? Cause on FOX News they constantly bring up the fact that teachers only work 9 months a year...oh except for all the workshops they have to do to keep up their licenses, the conferences they have to attend, and the fact that every teacher I've ever known has had a second job during the summer and on weekends during the year. Are they really saying that the job of a CEO at a major corporation is harder than the job of a high school teacher in a poor inner city school? Really?

The governor of Wisconsin, along with Republicans across this country, say that state workers should be making their share of the sacrifices. Well...I don't see CEO's of banks losing their jobs, and they're the ones who got us into this mess. I don't see rich people making any sacrifices at all, as Charlie Sheen takes private jets to the Caribbean to party it up with teenage hookers. I don't see Congressmen living at all within the kind of salary that an average American makes. They have money budgeted to them for travel to and from their home district as well as to pay staff and for their office supplies and everything except for their own living expenses while in Washington. So why do Congressmen make more than $150k a year? They're public workers too, and they get government health care and pensions just like the Wisconsin state workers.

But who are the people who have the ability to bring these issues to legislators, who have the political power to be able to make the voices of workers heard? Unions. That's why people unionized to begin with. The only way people who don't have the money of the Koch brothers can make their voices heard in a democracy now dominated by corporate money is by pooling their money and man power, and that's what a union is.

So really, the discussion should be shifted away from why are these workers making so much money and why the rest of us aren't. Why aren't we all in unions? The unions have had such huge power in certain industries, so why aren't all private and public employees unionized? Because corporations know that if they can bust up unions they can pay workers less, cut jobs and benefits without repercussions, and make more money doing it. So why are we fighting the union employees in Wisconsin when we really should be organizing unions for labor people all across this country. The Tea Party, which has been bought and paid for by the Koch brothers and designed by Karl Rove, want to play the 'take our country back' game and point to anyone who thinks people should be paid a fair wage and that poor children shouldn't have to starve because oil companies want a tax break, we the rest of us can play that game too. We want our country back from the corporations that have been convincing people too ignorant or uneducated to recognize that they've been bought into servitude and the politicians that have been their corporate shills.