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Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 09:51 AM PDT

The Republicans--Party Above Country

by tulvania

The Republicans--Party Above Country

“This is not your father’s Republican Party.  Gone are the instincts to find common ground for the good of the country—the proud legacy of six post-war Republican Presidents.  The new Republican Leadership is now charting a far different course, an ominous course alien to more than two centuries of American Democracy—one that can only be described as party above country.”

The Hope for Change

In November of 2008, after winning a clear majority of the vote in a Presidential election for the first time since 1964, Democrats understandably looked forward with some degree of confidence to reversing a trend toward more conservative government in America by then more than three decades in the making.  

President Obama would be sworn in on January 20th with enormous majorities in the Congress and despite the miseries brought on by an economy now losing 750,000 jobs a month, was blessed with widespread support from the American People who were hopeful that he could soon right the country and get things back to normal.  They trusted that both he and the Congress would do everything possible to make that happen.  They could not know that the Republican Party had other priorities.

Party above Country

That very night, while the country celebrated its first African-American President in Inaugural Balls throughout Washington and gatherings across the country, a dozen Republican leaders of the House and Senate met for dinner and four hours later in the words of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowed to “show united and unyielding opposition to the new President’s economic policies.”   “We gotta challenge them on every single bill” McCarthy added.

And challenge them they did.  Obama settled for a significantly smaller stimulus than the economy would need, then gave away one third of it to tax cuts designed to lure some Republican support and give the actions a bipartisan image.  He got nothing for his troubles.  The new Republican strategy favored blame shifting over problem solving, and as Obama would soon learn, the opposition’s party discipline had never been stronger.  

The numbers required to pay for the bailout of the financial industry were enormous and frightening to the American people.  The one hundred and eighty billion dollars necessary to bail out just one company—AIG—amounted to six hundred dollars for every man, woman, and child in the United States.  The Big Banks dubbed “too big too fail” were all in trouble.  The collapse of the domestic automobile industry responsible for three million Americans jobs was imminent.  Worldwide the picture was even more dismal.

Shifting the Blame

The stage was set for blame shifting.  The regulation-averse Republicans had held the White House for eight years, both branches of Congress until 2007, and they had stood by as one greed-inspired scheme after another emerged from Wall Street.  But the old bulls in the party remembered the decades it took to expunge the scent of incompetence and failure from the GOP after the Great Depression.  Political history would be rewritten in frantic efforts to portray the Clinton Administration as complicit in the collapse to brand the crisis with a more bipartisan image.

Then the effort began to exploit the economically terrorized American public.  Talking Points were assembled.  Doubt was cast on the value of government spending to alleviate the effects of the collapse.  Suddenly economists and pundits were raising the specter of another Great Depression and routinely throwing around the word “trillions” in describing new government spending for loans, bailouts, and economic stimulus.  

Where once Republicans like Howard Baker and Bob Dole would have been motivated by their own deep patriotism to join with Democrats and work together to rebuild the economy, the new Republicans saw only opportunity for partisan gain.  “Austerity” became the new mantra, and the party’s massive propaganda machine began a sustained effort to frighten the public and starve the Obama Administration’s efforts to stimulate the economy.

A Stimulus too Small

Lifetime savings were wiped out for millions, housing prices collapsed nearly everywhere, and unemployment skyrocketed.  Interest rates were cheap, but who could get a loan?  The entire world was on the edge economically.  Americans had been through economic collapse before but the few living souls who had actually experienced the Great Depression as adults were more than one hundred years old.  The country was in uncharted territory.  The psychological damage alone was profound.  People badly needed to see action from their government, however the response from the White House would seem timid.  

Quickly seizing the opportunity, Republicans engaged the old dependable scare tactics: ominous talk of unending trillion dollar deficits soon cowed Democrats into settling for a much-reduced stimulus package both inadequate to the task and largely invisible to the public.  One third went to tax cuts and most of the rest to maintaining public sector jobs.  America’s crumbling infrastructure was virtually ignored for lack of  “shovel-ready” projects.  When the Republican propaganda machine branded the stimulus as a trillion dollars wasted, the message seemed to have the ring of truth.  With no “boots on the ground” from construction projects to say otherwise, Obama had already lost round one.

Saving the Auto Industry

As the President turned his attention to saving the rapidly collapsing auto industry where as many as three million jobs were at stake, the cynical masterminds of the GOP used the occasion to drive home the message that hundreds of billions more in taxpayer money would be wasted on an industry that had been destroyed by its greedy unions.  A party that had given majority support only a few months earlier to pumping trillions of dollars into bailing out the big banks that were largely responsible for taking down the national economy refused to raise a finger to save the American automobile industry.

The President’s intervention would be vindicated in later years.  As a condition for the loans he had extracted an agreement from Congress and the automakers to markedly increase mileage requirements for all new cars.  This action would reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and greatly benefit the environment.  Three years later after General Motors and Chrysler had repaid their loans Obama was able to tout his accomplishments successfully in the key swing states of Michigan and Ohio.  

The Republicans agenda was driven by an unrelenting obsession with regaining political power.  Fierce opposition to the auto bailout served the purpose of branding the President as a wastrel and would allow the GOP to shape the debate for years to come.  They peddled fear to an economically terrified electorate, raising the specter of unending deficits and the collapse of Medicare and Social Security.  Public pressure began to mount for long-term deficit reduction and further stimulus to the damaged economy was effectively dead.

Self-Inflicted Damage

Republicans had faithfully followed their Inaugural Dinner strategy and fought Obama on the Stimulus and the Auto Industry loans.  But perhaps the greatest damage to Obama’s presidency was self-inflicted.  In the earliest days of his presidency, maybe even in his Inaugural Address to the nation, he should have told Americans that the financial schemers who destroyed the economy for their own profit would be vigorously prosecuted.  

Instead he took the advice of a group of “revolving door” figures whose careers went back-and-forth between government service and acquiring millions in personal wealth in the financial markets.  This group included his new Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Economic Advisor Larry Summers, new Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and various Wall Street insiders like Bob Rubin.  Perhaps they warned that vigorous prosecutions of the Wall Street perpetrators would cause serious instability, even collapse in the financial markets and bring on a second Great Depression.

Six months into the Obama Administration, even with Democrats holding vast majorities in the House and Senate, the GOP was already beginning to shape the agenda.  The honeymoon was over.  Financial Reform expressed in the Dodd-Frank legislation had failed to roll back some of the more egregious schemes that had led to the economic collapse.  The Healthcare debate was just beginning, but the August Congressional Town Meetings would see an explosion of opposition across the country to the Administration’s signature health initiative.  

Our Quite Formidable Adversaries

The White House faced a New Republican Party that they were totally unprepared to compete with. The GOP was energized by its new “Tea Party” allies and determined to define “Obama Care” to the American People in the most negative way possible.  If they could not stop its passage into law, they would challenge its constitutionality in court.  If they could not delay its implementation at the federal level, they would sabotage it in the states.  They had a powerful grass roots movement at their disposal and momentum on their side.  They were disciplined, stuck to talking points, and united in their opposition to Obama Care.  

In less than a year an overwhelming mandate for change from the national electorate was rendered ineffective and became a virtual non-factor in American political discourse.  Obama’s message portraying him as the agent of change had been largely personality driven yet durable enough to dispatch Hillary Clinton and put John McCain on the defensive, but the rapidly collapsing economy generated a political firestorm that blew him across the finish line.  No Republican could have been elected under those circumstances.  Preference became Conviction.  What had been a close race became a rout.  

But the stakes were far higher now.  The electorate had invested enormous power and faith in the new President but with it came gigantic expectations.  In normal times, politicians struggle to get the voters to listen to their message.  The political electricity flows from the candidate to the electorate seeking a connection.  In times of crisis, the flow is reversed.  In the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the message was transmitted to the new Administration in a double-barreled power surge.  

The two-part message was clear, the first part was pleading, almost prayerful:  Please do everything you can to get this economy back to normal.  But the second part was borne out of deep anger as the reasons for the financial collapse became clear:  Get the SOB’s who took this country down!  As it became obvious that the men who took the economy down would not be brought to justice, Obama began to lose his stature as an outsider-reformer and instead began to be seen as just another politician.  

The Obama Administration had in effect set itself up.  In having settled for a stimulus inadequate to the task, it was at the mercy of an economy slow-walking itself to recovery.  In failing to prosecute the perpetrators who had financially devastated so many Americans, it had lost the opportunity to brand Obama as a President who would fight for all of us.  They had badly lost the message battle.

The result was not even close.  Obama and the Democrats got their health care legislation, but the cost would be unimaginable.  Republicans had managed to define Obama Care, to “brand” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make it the predominant issue.  The 2010 Election would prove to be the most damaging blow rendered to Democratic Party interests in a half-century.

Assessing the Damage

President Obama and the American economy were able to recover well enough so that he could be re-elected in 2012 though not through the strength of his own message.   Instead, his very aggressive and well funded campaign accurately “branded” Mitt Romney as an elitist who had little in common with most Americans.  Though his margin was smaller than in 2008, the President’s highly efficient campaign delivered a clear majority of the electorate and lost only two states (Indiana and North Carolina) that he had carried against John McCain.  

Obama’s second term began on an optimistic note as the economy slowly lurched forward and the House Republicans seemed bent on self-destruction, ready to shut down the government over yet another obscure ideological impulse.  Inexplicably, Republican Governors in fully half of the states had refused for ideological reasons to accept the full federal funding authorized in the ACA designed to expand Medicaid and provide health care coverage for thousands of their poorest citizens.  Though Congress was locked into inaction, the coming debate over this issue seemed likely to benefit Democrats in the Midterm elections.

But the momentum wouldn’t last.  Once again as the Midterm elections approached, the Obama Administration would set itself up for failure.  The Rollout of the website designed to enroll millions in Obama Care was an unmitigated disaster.  Months later, the Obama Administration reached its enrollment goals, but the damage had been done.  The Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment, is by any fair measure a success, but it has been effectively “branded” as a failure in the eyes of the American people by the Republicans.

So last November as Democrats ran away from the Obama Administration and the ACA while offering no economic message of their own to the electorate, the GOP’s very negative Midterm campaign was again rewarded with landslide victories across the country.  The damage to the Democratic Party has been profound.  The numbers in the Senate, the House, the State Legislatures, and among the Governors are overwhelmingly Republican.  But I believe in an old proverb: The night is darkest just before dawn.  Despite recent Republican successes, I’m convinced that the 2016 elections will herald the emergence of a new progressive Democratic Era in American Politics.  A lot of it will depend on Hillary making the transition to populist themes and becoming a recruiter-in-chief to replenish the party’s badly depleted bench.


Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 11:53 AM PDT

Can Hillary Seize the Moment?

by tulvania

Voters hungry for leader who tells it like it is

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 2:00 pm
The Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune

In the absence of an actual political campaign, Hillary Clinton’s supporters have flooded Iowa and New Hampshire with “Ready for Hillary” organizers. They are bolstered by polls pointing to a seemingly inevitable Democratic presidential nomination and hypothetical double-digit wins against virtually every Republican in the 2016 general election.

Lurking behind this apparent juggernaut, however, are a number of concerns. Over the past year, Clinton’s public image has been sullied by a series of missteps and unforced errors. Many of her supporters believe that once a campaign staff is in place, the mistakes will stop happening, but others are concerned that her hiatus from politics has cost her the sharpness that characterized her 2008 campaign. Regardless, she will still have to deal with an endless number of Republican-inspired hearings on emails and Benghazi while maintaining peace among three political generations of ambitious Clinton operatives.

Adding to the pressure is the genuine need for a substantial victory over the Republicans. Merely winning the White House is not enough. Unless Democrats win back the Senate and gain large numbers of new seats in the House, she stands to face the same obstructionist Congress that has so hobbled Barack Obama’s agenda since 2011.

Moreover, the Democratic bench is remarkably thin. Catastrophic midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 have stripped the party bare of promising young officeholders in down-ballot offices. Its congressional leadership is remarkably aged. Five of the top six leaders in the House and Senate are septuagenarians.

But there are bright spots and opportunities. In both 2008 and 2012, nearly two-thirds of the voters younger than 30 supported Obama. The waiting time for young candidates, particularly young women, has disappeared. What’s needed is a recruiter-in-chief at the top of the ticket that can inspire them to run on her agenda.

For Hillary Clinton, finding a message that will inspire a movement is critical to her success and her ability to govern effectively. And that message is at hand. She only needs to muster the courage to present her own vision of what America can be 10 or 20 years down the road and tell us how she will get us there.

Then she can take a page from Elizabeth Warren and begin to identify with the millions of voters who live paycheck to paycheck more and more at the mercy of the corporate oligarchs, the 1 percent who dominate nearly every major industry in America, who have absorbed nearly all of America’s economic gains in recent decades and whose greed knows no end. In an era when even Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are beginning to speak in populist tones about income inequality, she can rest assured this path is real.

Hillary Clinton has enormous political strengths. She is a known quantity. Try as they might, it will be nearly impossible for even the billionaire Koch brothers to redefine Hillary Clinton to the American people. They already know her. Lesser candidates have been destroyed before they have had the chance to connect with the electorate, but not Hillary. When she describes her bright vision of America’s future and a glimpse of what her leadership might be able to achieve working toward that vision in just a few years, Americans will listen.

If she can relate to the pain they feel as their lives are stretched to the breaking point, and tell them truthfully that she will fight for them, they will believe her. They want to believe her. That’s why she is well ahead in the polls. But she must close the deal. She will need to take the initiative. She cannot afford to get bogged down in nonsensical back-and-forth with her detractors. And, above all, she must shake the perception that the decisions she makes are calculated.

Our country has arrived at what is often called “a teachable moment.” We have a sense that the system is rigged against us. We might not be able to put our finger on it, but it is real to us nonetheless. We are crying out for a truth-teller — a politician who will tell it like it is. That, in a nutshell, is the appeal of Elizabeth Warren.

And that is the path that Hillary Clinton must take. Tell the truth: Medicare is threatened by unrestrained profiteering inside our health system, but Social Security can easily be fixed. Profiteering also is the primary driver of budget deficits. Investments in infrastructure, education and renewables are critical to our future. Small business needs less regulation, but some giant corporations need more.

Truth. Courage. Vision. These are the ingredients that can inspire a new generation of leaders.

Can Hillary do it?

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Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 02:10 PM PST

Non-Partisan Redistricting

by tulvania

The non-partisan redistricting referendum has helped Democrats in California.  As long as incumbents of either party control, they look out for their own self-interest not that of their political party.  So when California non-partisans drew the districts Democrats got super majorities in the state legislature, real progress on the long term budget nightmare and three or four more Dem-leaning seats in congress.

Worked well in Arizona too, had the repugs been able to draw the districts we would have wound up with no more than two or three.  Check it out.  We now have five Dems and four repugs in the Arizona delegation.  

In Missouri we lost a third seat in the eight member congressional delegation when enough African-American state legislators went along with the repugs plan to override Dem Governor Nixon's veto.  The repug plan packed even more dem votes into the already safe St. Louis and Kansas City seats of Congressmen Clay and Cleaver.

If we had non-partisan redistricting in every state, Nancy Pelosi would be the speaker.  Look at Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas.  Only in Illinois has it helped us much.

Non-partisan redistricting ought to be a core platform issue for National Democrats.  


Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 09:51 AM PST

Liberals can save Obamacare!

by tulvania

I think we all know what is at stake with the success or failure of Obamacare.  But it's no time to panic.  This problem can be solved by Democrats and Liberals with no help from anyone else.  Think about it.  The key to assuring the success of the ACA is signing up less than two million of the young "invincibles", young adults in 26-35 age group.  That will keep the rates down and it's an achievable goal.  We need a sophisticated public relations  campaign using high profile Dems and Hollywood types to publicly urge liberal parents to get their own post-26 children signed up as soon as possible, encouraging them to pledge to help with the payments if necessary.  We should also start a social media campaign to get the word out.  Every one of us can influence our own children and friends.  Between us we probably have ten million young adults in the 26-35 age group who could sign up and we would be doing every one of them a favor to get them enrolled in Obamacare.  If we get serious about this it won't matter if one stinkin' GOP asshole signs up.  We can do this on our own.  Lots at stake here.


Mon Nov 18, 2013 at 02:37 PM PST

Ten Million Children and Friends

by tulvania

I think we all know what is at stake with the success or failure of Obamacare.  But it's no time to panic.  This problem can be solved by Democrats alone.  Think about it.  The key to assuring the success of the ACA is signing up less than two million of the young "invincibles", young adults in 26-35 age group.  That's not impossible to say the least.  We need lots of high profile Dems to publicly urge liberal parents to get their own post-26 children signed up as soon as possible, encourage them to pledge to help with the payments if necessary.  We should start a social media campaign to get the word out, maybe get some Hollywood types to put together a video for UTube.  But each one of us can influence our own children and friends.  Between us we probably have ten million young adults in the 26-35 age group and we would be doing every one of them a favor to get them enrolled in Obamacare.  If we get serious about this it won't matter if one single GOP asshole signs up.  We can do this on our own.  Lots at stake here.


Thu Oct 27, 2011 at 05:42 PM PDT

Yes Jello...We have polling!

by tulvania

Originally Published Here:

WED SEP 07, 2011 AT 12:51 PM PDT

The Republican Nightmare

by tulvania

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Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 09:58 AM PDT

Make Them Own Pennsylvania!

by tulvania

The latest Republican plot to subvert the election process needs to be taken head on.  This is not the time for more hand wringing-what can we do-milk toast responses.  If you are not outraged at this latest blatant attempt to steal the election you should have your head examined.  Every Republican leader in Congress, every Presidential candidate ought to be hammered to publicly condemn the proposal of the republican legislators in Pennsylvania to destroy the Presidential election process.  Boehner should be pressured relentlessly until the Republicans pass legislation in Congress to outlaw this abomination.  

This is a great potential teaching moment for the American people and a great opportunity to illustrate to them how far the Republicans are willing to go for the sheer pursuit of power.  The similarities to their behavior during the deficit crisis and with the jobs bill are striking.  

The best person to call attention to this would probably be Bill Clinton.  He could put it in historical context, reminding voters that George W. Bush was designated as the wnner despite losing the popular vote, but that as bad as the electoral college system is, allowing this to take place would be a travesty.

As for the rest of us, we ought to be prepared to go to Harrisburg and protest in the same way we went to Madison.


Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 12:51 PM PDT

The Republican Nightmare

by tulvania

One More Card to Play...

Imagine this scenario: the evening is winding down after a satisfying meal, a small group of Republican insiders are into the after dinner drinks, giddy with their prospects for 2012.  Nearly every week brings lower approval numbers for Barack Obama.  There seems to be no way out for him.  America’s most discouraging economy in three generations is in a straight jacket and unlikely to improve in the fourteen months before the election.

Confident in their ability to slap away any White House policy initiatives with impunity, Republicans are quietly reviving long-buried goals like cutting government regulation to the point of meaninglessness and using the deficit crisis to gut long-hated programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

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If we are to save Medicare Benefits we have to finally face up to the Corporate greed that saturates our Health Care system and take it down.  To do that we have to pivot from Republican turf and reframe the argument.  Although the public is alarmed by the deficit, they don't want benefits curtailed.  It follows that our message needs to be aggressive: Any cuts in Medicare must come from the corporate profiteering and not from Benefits.  This means a regulatory structure that limits  executive pay and benefits.  In good conscience how can we cut seniors benefits while permitting the retiring CEO of United Health Care to get a billion dollar golden parachute?  It means giving power to the federal government to bargain with big Pharma for volume discounts on prescription drugs and put an end to American subsidization of drug costs for all the other first world countries.  It means an end to profiteering by hospitals and clinics who buy equipment like MRI machines, write off much of the cost of the purchase price to the taxpayer, massively overcharge for each use ($1600+), and prescribe them for patients who don't need them.  And there are hundreds more examples of how we could cuts costs.  We pay twice as much for Health Care as Europe, Canada, and Japan because we haven't had the guts to take on the corporate thieves inside the system.  Now there is no choice but to fight, and the only way to win is to educate the public about what the fight is all about:  Benefits vs Corporate Profiteering, it's  really a pretty simple message.


Although the Republican Party is normally the preferred ally of the major corporations, far too many Democrats take their money and sing their tune. The greatest threat to our country and to the Middle Class is the unholy alliance that has developed between the corporate class and the political class.  In nearly every sector of our economy, capitalism is in rapid retreat, as industry after industry morphs into a functional oligopoly or even a monopoly where consumer wants and needs count for nothing.

Even as small businesses are far too bogged down with bureaucratic demands and excess regulation, the large corporations are free to act virtually unfettered.  Every reform is fought tooth and nail, then methodically watered down until it is virtually meaningless.    The mantra that "the customer is always right" that was the rule in America a generation ago is gone forever.  

Republicans and complicit Democrats stripped consumer accountability from state and local government during the Reagan years and now the only check on the giant corporations is housed in Washington where only a sustained public outcry can turn around even the most egregious of corporate behaviors.  The giant corporations run roughshod over the consumer and tailor their products and services to tightly fit their business profit plans with little regard for what the consumer really wants.

That is why we have to waste the day flying through Atlanta or Chicago or Dallas to go to one of the coasts, because it fits corporate wishes not those of consumers.  

It is why despite the fact that cell phones have become our emergency lifelines, we can’t get reception five miles off the main highways because it doesn’t fit the telecom companies business plan.  

It is why you have to buy the premium package with fifty or a hundred inane channels to get the sports or science channel you want.  

It is why KV Pharmaceuticals feels that it was perfectly within it's rights to buy up marketing rights to an important pre natal prescription drug that had been profitably marketed at $15 and raised the price to $1500.  

It is why hospitals won't let you bring a bottle of Bayer Aspirin into the hospital for your own use but will prescribe the aspirin and charge you $70 for it.  

And it is why the CEO of a publicly held company, United Healthcare recently retired with a golden parachute worth one billion dollars.  

Liberals, Moderates, and Conservatives need to rise up against the political class for letting these things happen.  We need to support candidates who have the courage to end the unholy alliance between the political class and the corporations who fund them.

Instead we are all played against one another.  We’re distracted by the exploitation of our differences on social issues.  We're told we have to cut the Social Security and Medicare benefits we have all earned and depend on to solve the deficit problems brought about in large part by corporate greed and recklessness.  

Our corporate puppet government has given us a system in which we pay twice as much as all the other first world countries for the same quality of healthcare, and in which private sector contractors are paid $500,000 a year by the Pentagon to do the work of a $40,000 a year US Army sergeant.  

The taxpayer’s money is not being wasted on the safety net, it is being stolen from all of us in both pre-tax and after tax income because our Government looks out for the jackals instead of the people.


Wed Mar 16, 2011 at 09:25 AM PDT

The Clarion Call from Wisconsin

by tulvania

Few Americans understand just how thoroughly corporate interests have corrupted our government and destroyed its ability to be effective. Ninety-nine per cent of the Republicans in Congress and a third of the Democrats do their bidding. What we are left with in any particular sector of our economy is a structure shaped by a patchwork of corporate needs, a kind of public policy by band-aids.  This has led to a terribly inefficient economy where products and services cost far more than necessary.

We pay twice as much per person, for example, to get the same quality healthcare as the Canadians, Europeans, and Japanese. Our taxes pay for some of this of course, but we pay for some of it out-of-pocket, and our employers also pay some portion of the cost. So money wasted in a corrupted system affects our taxes, but it also depletes our after tax income, and because the cost of healthcare to our employer is constantly increasing, we are much less likely to get that well-deserved raise.

I’ve been a Democrat for a long time, and have listened to the criticism about Democrats taking money from the individual through the tax structure only to give it to someone else. There may be some truth in that, but at least the intent is there in most cases to relieve human suffering and give people a chance to get on their feet and succeed.

What is almost never acknowledged however is what Republicans take from all of us.  It stems from their merger friendly policies and aversion to regulation that has allowed the rise of the corporate giants who have made nearly every industry effectively into a monopoly or an oligopoly.  Then they tack on tax breaks even for companies that ship jobs offshore.  But in their zeal to “protect” business from regulation, they have also made it easy for them to go after our paychecks.  

Every one who owns a home or pays rent feels the sting of constantly increasing costs from the largely unregulated and monopolistic utilities: electric, gas, cable television, telephone, cell telephone, internet, garbage, and more.  There is little true competition for these critical services because government enabled corporate mergers and “acquisitions” have eliminated it.  And we pay for it out of our after-tax-income.  

Nearly every product or service offered to us enriches the giant corporations.  Wealth and opportunity has been sucked out of small towns all over America, as the chance to build one’s own business has fallen prey to Wal-Mart or the giant fast food chains.

Clever campaigns designed to stir up hostility to regulation has allowed the Big Boys to successfully run over the consumer virtually unabated.  Even small businesses that have the most to lose from non-competitive business climates seem to have been persuaded.

As a practical matter, Capitalism doesn’t exist anymore in many industries, because there is no true competition. The “customer is always right” mantra of your father’s generation is gone. Products and services are tailored to the needs of the corporate profit plan and for the rest of us it is “take it or leave it”.

Ever wonder why you have to waste the entire business day changing planes in Atlanta or Dallas or Chicago, for what should be a two or three hour flight?  Or why you have to buy the premium cable package to get that one science or sports channel you want? Or why despite the ugly ubiquitous cell phone towers around every corner, if you’re five miles off the Interstate, your “emergency lifeline” doesn’t work?  

It’s because complicit Republicans and some compliant Democrats have utterly failed to look out for our interests.  A generation ago, state and local governments exercised some control over our cable and phone services for example, but the party that hates big government moved all those decisions to Washington (where the lobbyists are in charge) during the Reagan Administration.

Last month in Madison, the sinister face of the modern Republican Party finally began to emerge, and it wasn't pretty. In Lansing, Columbus, Harrisburg, and Tallahassee, and even in Washington DC the new GOP emboldened by the 2010 election came out of hiding.  They truly believe the American people support their radical agenda, and they are prepared to act on it.  In their zeal to support the wealthiest most privileged Americans, they have given up any pretense of caring about the Middle Class.  

What happened in Wisconsin is about more than the salaries and benefits of public employees, or about collective bargaining and labor rights, or about government deficits.  What happened in Wisconsin is a clarion call to the Middle Class to wake up and fight back before the American Dream becomes a myth.  Don't tarry folks, there's a lot of work to be done, and not a lot of time.


Wed Feb 23, 2011 at 07:23 AM PST

A Party in Search of a Message

by tulvania

Running out of Time

The mass rallies in Wisconsin and Ohio have been triggered by the assault of Republican Governors and Legislators on public sector unions.  While the response in the streets and the Wisconsin Senate recall elections has caused them to wince a bit,  they will continue to use their electoral strength to persevere and attempt to break the public unions. Despite the large crowds, this battle is still being fought on Republican turf.  The very success of the public sector unions is being used against them.  For decades state governments have made good faith agreements with their employees to pay for pensions and benefits while failing to allocate the funds to do so.  Now with fiscal crises bearing down on them, they are making scapegoats of those same employees.

Every attempt to broaden this protest to include the private sector working class will be met with a cynical response gauged to stir resentment among workers who have had no unions to protect them.  These private sector workers have seen own their benefits driven down for a generation by their own corporate employers who even in the face of the Great Recession and the worst economic turndown in three generations are experiencing record profits.

These same companies are telling their employees they still cannot afford to increase benefits.  They are not hiring new workers either, but instead are rewarding top executives with obscene salaries and bonuses hundreds or even thousands of times larger than those of their average employee.  One publicly held company actually provided its retiring chief executive with a golden parachute worth as much as a billion dollars.  It’s no wonder that the American worker is fed up.

The gap in incomes between the top one or two per cent of Americans and the rest of has grown enormously in recent years and it is no accident.  Yet everyone who has the temerity to point out the growing inequities is accused of promoting “class warfare”. What has happened over the last generation is nothing less than the takeover of our country by corporate interests who make massive contributions to political candidates and causes in order to manipulate government for their own benefit.  

These selfish interests are emboldened as never before, and buttressed by the recent Supreme Court decision in the “Citizens United” case, are planning strategies and raising enormous amounts of money to affect the elections in 2012.

Since they can’t quite put their finger on the cause of their frustrations, many Americans have become subject to easy manipulation.  Because the Obama Administration was not aggressive in punishing the Wall Street bankers who took down the economy and inexplicably delayed its legislative response to those excesses, it was seen as complicit.  After more than two years, who has gone to jail?  It is as if prosecuting John Edwards for who knows what is more important to the Justice Department than all the thieves who took down the economy.  The auto bailout that likely spared the country another Great Depression was seen as just more of the same.  That is why corporate money and influence were able to turn the frustrations of tea partiers in 2009 into massive protests directed at defeating Democrats in 2010.

The enormous deficits piled up in recent years to finance tax breaks for the wealthy during the Bush years and to fend off economic calamity over the last two and a half years clearly must be addressed and dealt with.  But deficits also serve to divert attention from the corporate takeover of America.  As long as deficits alone dominate the national debate, we will be unable to get at the causes of the massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans.

It’s clear that many Americans have an overwhelming sense of being constantly “ripped-off”, even though they are playing by the rules.  They are not quite sure who is causing their pain, but they know that political system is doing nothing to help them.  Though few can articulate all of its causes, the anger is growing nonetheless. People have a sense that they are on their own.  They quite understandably feel that even though they are constantly treated unfairly and with a lack of respect, there is no person, or institution they can turn to for help.  And they are correct in their assessment.  The political class has by and large been bought out by massive contributions from the large corporations.

In every part of their lives average everyday Americans face more expense, stagnant income, and fewer benefits as their Middle Class lives are slipping away.  The “American Dream” is disappearing for them and their children as the costs of education and healthcare become more and more out of reach.  Many Americans purchased homes as a way to build family wealth, but now find that even if they made a significant down payment on their home, and faithfully made payments for years, they may be “underwater,” with a mortgage balance more than the house is now worth.  For many, home equity constituted a large portion of their net worth, and much or all of that has been wiped out.  

Others who were not ready for the responsibility were quickly hustled into buying a home with no down payment or even encouraged to purchase one in transactions with terms as absurd as “125% Mortgages”, with “flexible interest rate loans” with much higher payments kicking in a year or two later.  

Brokers and Loan Officers who profited from these sales were anxious to make the deal and move on to the next one, never bothering to explain to the purchaser the risks they faced down the road.  As they fell behind in their payments, there was no one at the local lending institution they could deal with to bargain for time to catch up on their payments, because the loan had been sold to an anonymous loan packager who sold it to someone else in New York or Chicago, or overseas.

Others with poor credit brought on by job loss are forced to rent.  There everything is stacked against them.  No tax deduction for their rent.  Leases protect the landlord, not the renter, and deposits are rarely returned.  No one looks out for them.

The Healthcare industry is a nightmare for consumers as well.  We pay nearly twice as much for healthcare as any other country in the world yet tens of millions go uninsured.  Even though a major portion of medical and drug research is financed by the American taxpayer, we are charged significantly more than citizens of any other nation for pharmaceutical products.  Billions are wasted on unnecessary tests conducted in hospitals and clinics ostensibly to protect doctors and medical facilities from lawsuits, but also to pad the bottom line.  

Insurance companies routinely reject claims when patients are most at risk financially.  Many go without health insurance and delay treatment because they can’t afford the cost, only to lose their homes and perhaps be wiped out financially when they finally seek medical care.  The Health Reform legislation has been widely criticized by some but any positive change proposed to improve our system is fought tooth-and-nail by some of the most powerful lobbyists and interest groups in Washington.

Still the consumer patients often feel that they are disrespected by a medical system doesn’t fully explain their options when their health, even their lives are at stake

Many giant corporations have “cash pipelines” into our homes, nibbling away at our paychecks, raising rates with no one to check them.

The utility companies are charging more for heat, electricity, water, sewer maintenance, and garbage pickup with little or no restraint on rate increases.  Regulatory structures set up to protect the consumer from profiteering have been largely neutered or become dominated by politically appointed commissioners who are little more than shills for the industries.  Giant utility conglomerates have emerged taking them beyond the scope of state or local regulators.  

Cable and Satellite Television giants tailor the consumer’s options to fit their profit plan, caring little what the consumer might want.  Consumers must subscribe to a hundred channels they neither want nor need to get the fifteen or twenty that are important to them.   They can’t get the one sports or science channel they want but instead are offered “premium packages” with still more unwanted channels they must pay for.  

A generation ago, local governments had the power to bargain for consumer friendly choices, but the party that hates “Big Government” saw to it that the power to help the consumer is now safely vested in Washington where lobbyists for the telecommunications giants hold sway, and disgracefully Democrats stood by and let it happen.

Cell phones have become our de facto emergency lifelines, but no state or local government can tell the industry giants to share their towers and place enough of them off the main roads to insure reception.  Cell phone plans too are stacked against the consumer who is forced to buy more time or bandwidth than they need as a hedge against highly inflated overtime charges.  The power to change any of it rests in Washington where the “telecoms” are firmly in control.

And it goes without saying that the Airlines have little respect for us either.  Their “profit plan” forces us into the six-hour marathon through their hub in Atlanta for a flight that should have taken ninety minutes.  Passengers are treated rudely by airline personnel who have seen their own salaries and benefits slashed repeatedly.  “Baggage Fees” and “Rescheduling Fees” distort the real cost of flying.  Passengers are stranded on the tarmac for hours and forbidden to leave the plane because of airline errors.  Flights are cancelled at the last minute for “mechanical reasons” because too few tickets have been sold.  Sorry about the chaos this causes in your business or personal life.

These examples are but a sample of the injustices that the consumer must face at every turn.  “American Capitalism” is constantly praised as our economic salvation, but true capitalism depends on competition and in many industries competition is disappearing in America.  

As corporate conglomerates grow larger and larger through mergers and acquisitions more and more industries have become dominated by monopolies and oligopolies.  This of course leads to more and more manipulation of the political system for their benefit.  Some of this has always taken place, public rail transportation was ripped up in most American cities after World War II so General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler could sell more buses, for example.  But today, blatant manipulation of our government for the benefit of one or another giant corporation is on steroids.

Giant Oil Companies, for example are wallowing in record profits yet still receive billions in subsidies even as we fail to take the necessary steps to make clean energy technologies profitable.  Solar and Wind technologies developed in this country are producing a million manufacturing jobs in China and other countries instead of here in America because our choices are manipulated by Big Oil’s influence on our government. Because of rising oil prices our addiction becomes more expensive every year.  And even more offensive is the terrible price we pay in American lives sacrificed as we are drawn into unnecessary wars to defend a commodity produced in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.

Throughout the ever larger corporations that dominate nearly all industries, massive profits are channeled not to workers or even to stockholders but to ever-increasing compensation for the corporate managers whose salaries and bonuses are approved by interlocking boards composed of other executives and consultants they choose and compensate.  Whenever and wherever this happens the consumer is sure to lose.

So it’s no wonder that the average Middle Class American, struggling to get by feels alienated by a system that treats them like sheep, expecting them to accept without question whatever commercial products or services are offered to them, in whatever form.  The “customer is always right” philosophy that built American Capitalism died long ago and Americans feel it in their bones.  

What progressives need to do now is to ignite a massive national movement to fight back against this brazen corporate takeover of our country.  It will require us to pivot and broaden the protest beyond the discussion of benefits or the right to collective bargaining or any other issue and confront the unholy alliance between our politicians and the corporations who finance their elections.  It is that alliance between the corporate class and the political class that drives the seething anger of so many Americans, even if they do not yet fully comprehend it.

Failing to understand the causes of that anger and respond to it is the principal reason for the electoral debacle we suffered in November.  We Democrats have forgotten who we are and who we are fighting for.  Our message fails to resonate because we seem to be more concerned with the battles of the last generation than with the collapse of our economy and the indifference of the corporate class to the millions who are out of work .  When we figure that out and fully embrace the causes of the beleaguered and rapidly disappearing Middle Class, only then will we be able to build that mass political movement and take the country back from the corporations that would kill the American Dream for their own selfish interests.  But we are running out of time.

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