We are fortunate to be Americans. We live in one of the richest countries in the world. I am a ‘senior citizen’. I feel I have lived in some of the best times in our Country’s short life. Today, however, I see a frightening trend towards the end of America’s experiment in democracy. I am frustrated because I find it so difficult to watch the political theater without some way to have my voice heard. I hope by writing some thoughts I might learn from comments of others or distillation of my own thoughts how to more effectively participate in making democracy work for all of us, not just the extraordinarily rich and powerful.
I recently returned from a trip to Scotland. Thankfully, I missed the Federal government shut down. I was lucky. I missed this sad spectacle. The shutdown was really just another mean spirited attempt to undermine our government and make it more ineffectual. That Tea Party engineered shutdown cost the American workers over 20 billion dollars in lost earnings. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has decided to take a stand. The Republican diehards wish to mortally wound our Federal Government. In an attempt to justify assault on democracy The Republican party relies on an array of misconceptions and deceptions.
We have seen the middle class shrink over the last three decades. Wages for the ordinary American has stagnated since 1980. Inequality of wealth in America is worse than it ever was and one of the worst of all industrial nations. CEOs, big corporations, financial institutions, and defense industry contractors have seen profits and executive salaries soar. Deregulation aided corporate efforts to eliminate competition and monopolize markets. Small businesses cannot compete with the super giants like Costco, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, OSH, Panera, or any other big chain store. This trend has been achieved with the assistance of a continuous flow of talking points from conservative politicians and pundits. Many of these framed comments, tested and refined by focus groups, lobbyists, talk show media, and elected officials are hypocritical or just plain deceitful. These myths are constantly repeated until they drown out rational thought.
Myth One: Government should be small.
Conservatives say they want small government. Hogwash. In a country of 300 million people, there is no such thing as small government. There can be a government that is efficient. There can be a government that spends wisely and spends on behalf of the general population. Or, there can be a government, as the Republicans seem intent on creating that caters to the ultra wealthy who have accumulated extraordinary influence and power in the last several decades. The right wing Republicans pander to the political interests of ultra wealthy and, too often, the socially bigoted. The Democrats, fearful of losing their tenuous hold on political power, passively acquiescence to the trend, often by caving into Republican demands. After all, Democrats also rely for their economic support from the financial industry and other rich campaign donors. Government will never be small. The question is whether government will act in the best interests of the general public or the uber wealthy.
Myth Two: Our taxes are too high
All governments need tax revenues to survive. Taxes on the wealthy are way too low. They are not high. The Republican formula of cutting taxes for the wealthy is designed to starve government. When we spend over a trillion dollars on the Iraq War and other military adventures and don’t levy a tax to pay for these decisions, of course the government will run deficits. We can minimize deficits and decrease our debt while creating more equality. To start with we need to return to the graduated income tax formula of the 50s and 60s, when the upper tax brackets were above 60%, so those who accumulate vast wealth pay a bigger portion of their income in taxes. From there we will need to cull out preferential tax treatment for the wealthy and require fair wages for working Americans.
Over 400 American are billionaires. These 400 people have accumulated as much wealth as over 150 million Americans. These ultra rich billionaires and their multi millionaire friends rarely lifted a shovel, drove a truck, or farmed land. They manipulate financial markets and used wealth to create wealth and to lobby for favorable tax treatment and regulatory benefits. These tax gifts to the wealthy need to stop.
The Art Popes, Sheldon Adelsons, Mitt Romneys, the Walton family, the Koch brothers, Pete Petersens, Bill Gates, Larry Ellisons, and the four hundred other richest people in America should not be paying a tax rate of 17%. They should be paying a minimum of well over 50%. These folks have too much economic power and wealth. They did not accumulate this kind of money by working harder than you or me. They benefitted from tax laws they lobbied for and made enormous campaign contributions to gain access to the elected figures who changed the laws to favor the wealthy and powerful. Democracy cannot exit under this unfair tax structure.
Myth Three: Entitlement programs need to be cut.
Nonsense. America is one of the richest industrial countries in the world. Voting to cut the food stamp budget, social security, and other social programs is wrong. More so, it is an attack and a class war on ordinary Americans. Our government needs to make sure kids do not go to bed hungry. Our government needs to make sure medical care is available to all at a price that won’t bankrupt families or cause people to forego treatment because it was too expensive. None of the elected officials, the pundits, or groups that are shills for the rich has to worry about paying for their health care, their food, or for the private schools and colleges for their children. They have so much money that they can afford the best of everything for many generations to come without ever doing a hard day’s work. These folks are the true welfare queens of today’s world.
If the wealthy were paying a minimum of 50% tax rate, if social security taxes were paid on incomes above $100,000.00, if all corporations and businesses grossing over two million dollars a year were required to pay a living wage, and if any business contracting with the Federal, State, or local governments were required to pay health benefits for all their employees, the entitlement programs would cost less and would achieve the purpose of protecting the welfare of the general population.
Myth Four: Our elections are free and fair.
You might recall George W. Bush promoted a voting act entitled “Help America To Vote”. Americans don’t need help to vote. Americans need an unequivocal, absolute right to vote. Our election system is an embarrassment. When we sponsored elections in Iraq, anyone could vote. The only requirement was to provide a fingerprint. Many Republican controlled states today are busy enacting laws to disenfranchise voters. They do not want all Americans to vote. Republicans don’t want woman, blacks, Latinos, and other persons of color to vote. The Republicans restrict the time and manner for voter registrations, cut access to polling stations, cut the number of days to vote, and enact any other measure they believe will create a hardship on people wanting to vote. And, when it comes to counting votes, they do not want a paper trail. Votes should be hand counted like the old days. Computerized counting machines can easily be ‘rigged’. It is time to end this sham form of elective democracy.
Myth Five: Government enacts too many regulations.
Our Republican elected officials actually love regulations. They just don’t like regulations that require humane behavior or get in the way of their pursuit of wealth and power. Do you want safe food and drugs? Do you want sanitary living conditions? Do you want clean air and water? Do you want safe work places? Do you want big financial institutions to be honest and not take advantage of the general public? Do you want affordable health care and a strong public educational system? If you want you want these things, then you need strong and effective regulations that are not written by and watered down by those who are regulated.
Once the financial industry was able to get Congress to repeal Glass Steagall, it took only 5 years for the worst financial calamity to occur in American history. The financial industry clamored for bailouts. Trillions of dollars were handed out to the very people who created the mess and engaged in a laundry list of fraudulent business activities. These bailouts were regulatory enactments. The financial industry loved them. And, what they didn’t like, they set out to neutralize or to modify. Don’t be mistaken; they did not act in my or your best interests.
Of course big industries don’t like regulations that require responsible behavior. Coal companies strip mine mountain tops, chemical companies dump toxic water and chemicals into the soil and waterways, the nuclear industry has massive amounts of lethal waste, the oil companies have ships that sink and pollute oceans and wells that explode and pollute oceans and land, and the fracking companies deposit millions of gallons of chemically laced water into our aquifers. These companies don’t want regulations that require them to take full responsibility for the problems they cause. They don’t want to be criminally prosecuted when they make decisions that kill their workers or members of the public. They want regulations that protect their irresponsible behavior. And, too often they get these regulations cause they have the money to help elect the politicians who will do their bidding.
We are living in an increasingly resource scarce world. Food, water, and energy are diminishing. The people who control those resources control the world. The super wealthy understand these realities. Since they command the most financial resources, they can control governments. They can make sure they wind up in control of government and of resources. No one is lobbying Congress or the President for you and me. Unions, once a voice for the working person, have seen their power diminished while the big corporations power expand. There is a takeover by the super wealthy of our governmental institutions. The only question is what normal Americans can do to stop this war on democracy. We are now witnessing a very real attempt at a governmental coup with a goal to have a so called democracy in name only.
We need to make our voices heard now more than
ever, unless we want to become modern day versions of serf to the wealthy and subjects of nobility.