Covention(al) Time

August 30, 2012

The media spectacle known as political conventions are about to plague us, and who could blame us if we collectively stick our heads in the sand for a few weeks? I have to admit that I had the mistaken impression of what to expect from the G.O.P. convention. Sure, much of it will be conventional. For example, trotting out the entire cadre of elected Republican minorities (roughly a half dozen or so) for speaking roles to a convention was predictable, if transparent. This may be the Republican version of affirmative action when 15% of their speakers are minorities compared to 4% of the entire delegation at the same convention.  

Notable in their absence at the podium are the lunatic fringe of the Republican minorities: Palin, Bachman, Keyes, West and Cain. While many minority members elected as Republicans are most likely pragmatists who could not be elected in their venue otherwise, those who constitute the ideological apologists of the Party are notable in their, shall we say… eccentricities, hence their banishment to the silent corner of the Hall.

What was interesting was the keynote speech of Governor Bully, er…  Christie, mentioning Gov. Romney less than a handful of times while touting his own record and philosophy scores of times. Someone is running for the 2016 nomination already…

Nowhere in view are discussions of the G.O.P. platform, also quite predictable. If most Americans knew what the Republicans actually stand for, Independents would run away from them in droves. Also conventional are delegates attending illegal parties sponsored by Lobbyists. Republicans have no monopoly on this aspect of conventions, but this convention’s debauchery is apparently setting new lows.

It’s depressing enough to make one want to become… a socialist.

Ryan’s List

August 28, 2012

Many G.O.P. wing nuts are soooo excited to see Paul Ryan on the G.O.P. ticket, not the least of which for the “Christianization” of the ticket that it brings. Just how “Christian” is Mr. Ryan? Not very according to his own Catholic bishops. They have condemned the Ryan budget plans over the past few years as more representative of the gospel of Ayn Rand than of Jesus Christ.  The Ryan budget virtually destroys the social safety net and raises taxes on the middle class, while he rewards the richest 1% of Americans with a tax reduction and the military industrial complex with massive amount of corporate welfare. (By the way, if you think he is supportive of military veterans, think again. He proposes to privatize the VA Hospital system – something guaranteed to rob deserving veterans of the medical care they deserve).

                While Ryan is a symbol of economic Social Darwinism of the current GOP, he certainly is functioning as an attack dog. Take for example, his blaming President Obama for a GM plant in his district for shutting down – a year before he became president! Not very Christian of him is it? Here is a list of other things we can expect Ryan to blame on President Obama: losing the Viet Nam War, China going communist, polyester pant suits, France…

                One good aspect about the Ryan nomination that everyone agrees upon, is that it makes the choice of what kind of society America is to become quite clear. Romney/Ryan represent a corporate America where government serves the needs of a few at the cost of the many. This is not a political choice, but is a moral choice. Do we abandon the poor, oppressed and marginalized of society to some sort of Social Darwinism, or do we continue to strive for the ideal embodied throughout our history of attempting (at least) to lend a helping hand out to fellow Americans? Government may not be the only solution to social injustice, but it is better than the alternative.

Income Inequality

August 14, 2012

It’s no secret that over the last 30 years there has been a massive redistribution of wealth, with wealth flowing from the middle-class to the richest Americans. The consolidation of wealth to the wealthiest Americans has come as the result of unfair tax and trade policies, as well as a realignment of laws from middle-class and labor friendly laws to those favoring corporate interests. In fact, historians now claim that the income inequality is greater than it has ever been in our history.

Income inequality is no news in our history – it has been a part of American society since the founding of Jamestown – but what is unique is the response of Americans to this social injustice.  In the past, whenever the economic injustice even started to approach what it is now, common people had a common response. Consider this brief history…

 In 1676, there was Bacon’s Rebellion. After Bacon’s “Declaration of the People” denouncing the unfair distribution of land and wages by the wealthy land owners, colonists violently rebelled.  By 1660 8 families, roughly 10% of the population, owned 40% of the land, which was the only real measure of wealth at the time. (In comparison, today 10% of the wealthiest Americans control 70% of the wealth.) Land owners eventually put down the rebellion with troops, but had to reform land ownership laws and taxation. In fact from 1650 to 1689 there were at least five violent revolts by people confronted with economic disparity by governments which had “gamed” the system to support the wealthy. In 1689, there was Jacob Leisler’s  “Farmer’s Revolt”; in 1713 the Boston Bread Riots; in 1730 the “Dock Square” riots in Boston to protest merchant monopolies. In the 1740s and 1750s there were dozens of local riots protesting economic injustices. For example, in 1745 a farmer named Samuel Baldwin had his land repossessed by a wealthy banker in Newark, and he was imprisoned until a riot of fellow farmers freed him.

In 1747 New Yorker Cadawaller Colden wrote an address that became the popular rallying cry for the common people, denouncing “freeholders” as wealthy tax dodgers unconcerned with the welfare of the poor.

By the 1760s, the wealthiest Americans had learned to use their wealth to control local and town hall meetings by land owners and people indebted to them. Populist discontent was tempered by a combination of small land grants and other insignificant reforms and the use of the fear of slave revolts and Indians to divert attention. What little wealth was allowed to Colonials was made to feel threatened by slaves and Indians and laws became dominated by these fears.

All of this sounds pretty familiar in today’s America, doesn’t it?

Requiem for American Democracy?

August 13, 2012

A lot of people have been asking me why we are so despondent about the Citizen’s United decision by SCOTUS. After all, they say, Liberal contributors such as Unions can now contribute as much as Republicans. Let me try to explain why Citizen’s United is such a threat to American Democracy.

The Citizen’s United decision is dangerous from a legal perspective insofar as it reverses over 100 years of legal precedents by other Courts. It elevated the rights of corporations from being an assembly of citizens to being a citizen itself. This is one of the most extreme cases of judicial activism ever seen – you would be hard pressed to find ANY decision by a Supreme Court reversing such a long history of legal precedent. It is disturbing to see a Court so willing to ignore the law to create an essentially political outcome.

Secondly, the elevation of the status of corporations is dangerous because it allows for foreign interference in domestic elections. Many Corporations are owned in part by foreign investors, including foreign governments. The CEO and Boards of many corporations are appointed with the approval of these foreign investors. These same people then make the decisions on how to “invest” in which candidate they feel will serve their will.

Citizen’s United is also dangerous because unlimited funds to underwrite speech necessarily will limit the speech of others. There is only so much commercial time, billboards, etc. and he who can pay the most can dominate the opportunity for speech. Union memberships has been steadily decreasing, and the second column of the right wing assault on democracy is the attempt to break public sector unions, the only unions with steady membership. Once they are gone there will be no one left to represent the interests of the middle class.

Finally, Citizen’s United will have the most devastating effect on a local level. Corporations can contribute thousands of dollars to elect their choices to every office from The Board of Education, to City Council to State Legislatures affecting a whole spectrum of issues form zoning to environmental regulation to taxes. That money will overwhelm ordinary citizens and determine the outcome.