Right Wingers Want Their Way Even if it Kills Our DemocracyFriday, May 10, 2013
(Rochester Business Journal)After the Senate vote to block a watered-down
requirement for background
checks on purchasers of lethal weapons, I hear
a refrain from my
childhood in my head. It's from the Webster's
Bible translation of
Matthew: "For what shall it profit a man to
gain the whole world and
lose his own soul?"
Do those words also apply to the nation once considered the world's greatest democracy and greatest hope-something different from the world's strongest military power? I am not just talking about the tragedy of Newtown and our inability as a nation to respond in any humane way with the democratic rule of law. To me, that sentence from Matthew is a metaphor for the loss of democracy.
Despite poll after poll finding that overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and NRA members, and about 90 percent of all Americans were in favor of background checks before people are allowed to own some of the most deadly weapons the world has ever seen, the vote was lost 55-45 in the Senate. If one were to tally the populations of the states represented in the vote, the majority represented 65 percent of the people, but the legislation was defeated by senators representing just 35 percent of the population.
This is the rule now-and has been for more than five years. We have had votes during Barack Obama's presidency when 41 senators from states representing as little as 25 percent of the population frustrated the will of those representing 75 percent of Americans. That is not democracy; it is a plutocracy of the wealthy 1 percent and their lobbyists, aided and abetted by a lunatic fringe Supreme Court.
That court had the unbelievable audacity to claim that the Bill of Rights handed down by the founding fathers intended personhood for artificial constructs known as corporations. Furthermore, corporate "persons" now have the right to drown out the exercise of First Amendment rights by the rest of us, because free speech is synonymous with money.
In reality, and without exception, all Western democracies except ours legislate based on the will of a simple majority, 50 percent plus one. The enforcement of existing laws, such as the National Labor Relations Act or Dodd-Frank, which was enacted to protect us from further disasters caused by casino capitalism on Wall Street, have also been sabotaged by the filibuster. Using this unholy procedure, a minority has obstructed agencies that protect our food safety, environment and many other public interests, by withholding funding or refusing for years to confirm presidential appointees needed to run these agencies. This cynical abuse of the rules is for the minority's political gain at the expense of democracy. In my view, this sabotage of democracy constitutes a form of treason.
In this toxic political climate, President Obama naively feels compelled to put "chained CPI" on the table to cut Social Security benefits, veterans' benefits and benefits for the disabled. This change in how inflation is calculated for cost-of-living increases would decrease spending by $163 billion over 10 years-only about 25 percent of the revenue that would have been gained if the Bush tax cuts, which were supposed to be temporary and created zero jobs, had been allowed to expire for the richest Americans.
Some argue that adopting chained CPI is not a cut but only a reduction in the rate of increase in future Social Security spending. Not true. Many economists have shown that the Consumer Price Index captures only about 60 percent of inflation, especially since volatile items like the prices of gas and oil are generally excluded from calculations. The CPI is designed to stop Social Security benefits from being deceased by inflation. If you lower it, you are cutting benefits, period-by about $600 a year within the first decade.
Technically, of course, cutting Social Security does nothing to reduce the deficit because it has been funded separately since the bipartisan compromise of 1983. I know, because I was part of the lobbying effort for my union in 1982-83. Labor did not come on board until the legislation guaranteed that Social Security taxes paid would be spent on-you guessed it-Social Security! Ronald Reagan, like many before him, had been spending Social Security revenue on other budget items.
To guarantee that the revenue went to Social Security, Treasury notes were placed in the trust fund, which some called IOUs. This is why GOP fiscal conservatives (an oxymoron if ever I've heard one) want entitlements cut legislatively. They cannot default on these Treasury notes because they are the same Treasury notes held by our biggest creditors, China and Japan. To default would destroy the full faith and credit of the United States and cause worldwide economic strife.
It is of interest that not even Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget cut Social Security, and some Republicans immediately attacked Obama for cutting Social Security when he brought up chained CPI. There are much better budgetary alternatives. A minute sales tax on financial speculation would squeeze small profits out of lightning stock market trades that inflate bubbles, benefit only insiders and caused the Great Recession. We had speculation taxes until 1966. Such a tax would raise more money in a year than chained CPI would save in 10. Alternatively, we could cut part of just one defense contract, on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for 2,457 fighter jets over 10 years at a cost of $1.5 trillion. Cutting this contract to, say, 2,200 fighters saves about $180 billion.
The federal spending cuts already made, still without the full effects of the sequester, gave us a poor March jobs report of a mere 88,000 jobs gained. This means a sluggish economy. The sequester and an increase in payroll taxes are taking too much consumer demand out of the economy. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office says the cuts from last year and this year will cut economic and job growth in half. Any grand bargain between Obama and the GOP is leaning toward a decade of cuts in the range of $3 trillion to $4 trillion, and this will give us another lost decade of slowdown in jobs and growth. Social Security and Medicare are the crown jewels of the Democratic Party. Such a grand bargain will leave working-class voters without trust in either political party.
All this, and every week I still hear members of the GOP demand austerity and a balanced budget, because "we are not Keynesians"; translated, this means they are members of the Flat Earth Society. It seems to be of no concern that balancing the budget was Herbert Hoover's policy from 1929 to 1933, or that austerity has worsened the economic crisis in the eurozone for three years and has harmed our own recovery.
Fiscal conservatives claim they hate spending and big government-unless, of course, it's for national defense, homeland security, surveillance, prisons, the war on drugs, subsidies to big oil or coal or corporate agriculture, bank bailouts, tax expenditures that benefit the rich, or anything to do with interference in women's reproductive rights or women's bodies. Other than that, they hate big government.
A good place to start addressing the sabotage of our democracy and the current economic insanity would be to reform the filibuster and end the corporate personhood of Citizens United.