Power From The People

Power From The People

In troubling news that could signal a double-dip recession, growth, after expanding at a pace of 3.1 %, has slowed in the first quarter to an annual rate of 1.8%.  What is certain is that the numbers reflect higher food and gas prices hitting consumers hard.  With crude oil prices climbing 32% in the last three months, the 2010 payroll tax cuts meant to stimulate the economy, have been rendered impotent.

As powerful and wealthy corporations seem to be able to dictate what they want to a compliant government without any push back, the total absence of an advocate for the American consumer is shamefully obvious.  Yet as the individual become more powerless, the already powerful are given the legal right to perpetuate more power into the future. 

In a decision that devastates consumer protection and civil rights, last Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court sided with AT&T in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.  In a 5-4 decision, AT&T got the Supreme Court to allow it to use the fine print of contracts to eliminate class actions, overturning the laws of 20 states.

Corporations can now prevent consumers and small business owners from exercising their only effective option to challenge companies that have defrauded them by banding together to file class action lawsuits to collect millions or even billions they are owed.  In a victory for union-bashing that make Governor Scott Walker look like a neophyte, millions of non-union employees who have to resort to class actions to challenge systemic discrimination by their employers, will be permanently shut out.

The corporatist majority on the Supreme Court has given major corporations the green light to screw the little guy with impunity since no one can afford to challenge corporate misconduct without a class action. This decision callously increases the already dominant market power of major corporations over ordinary Americans and small business owners, who are already outmatched, making what puny laws now protecting the public irrelevant, because few individuals can afford to enforce them.

And in terms of the gouging that is slowing down the economic recovery with possibly grave consequences, what is being done to stop the assault on the family budget from Wall Street speculators driving up the price of food and gas?  A massive transfer of wealth is underway from the pockets of consumers to the coffers of big oil who are now making record profits.

The president has announced that he will convene an inquiry into what is behind the core inflation that nobody is counting, as the cruel attack on the middle class and working poor who have to chose between feeding the kids or getting to work, continues unchallenged.

At least one person is calling it like it is and trying to do something about court-sanctioned corporate robbery.  Below is his letter to the president, and once you’ve read it, you might write a letter too.  You could start the push back that is needed from American consumers, finally acting as citizens.

April 28, 2011

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As you know, the skyrocketing cost of gasoline is causing severe economic pain to millions of Americans who have already suffered through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In Vermont, where it is not uncommon for people to commute 100 miles to work and back five days a week, the increased price of gas is taking a serious bite out of the paychecks of middle class families, many of whom are already working longer hours for lower wages. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to lower gas prices so that they reflect the fundamentals of supply and demand and bring needed relief to the American people at the gas pump.

Let's be clear. There is mounting evidence that the skyrocketing price of gas and oil has nothing to do with the fundamentals of supply and demand, and has everything to do with Wall Street firms that are artificially jacking up the price of oil in the energy futures markets.

In other words, the same Wall Street speculators that caused the worst financial crisis since the 1930s through their greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior are ripping off the American people again by gambling that the price of oil and gas will continue to go up.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the supply of crude oil is higher today than it was last year when gas prices averaged $2.81 a gallon, while the demand for gasoline is lower today than it was last year. Based on supply and demand fundamentals, prices should be going down, not up. Instead, gas prices have gone up by over a dollar a gallon since last year.

According to Goldman Sachs, 20 percent of the price of crude oil is due to excessive speculation. Other experts believe that excessive speculation is driving up crude oil prices by 50 percent. This means that Americans are paying a Wall Street premium of between 70 cents and $1.63 a gallon every time they fill up their gas tanks.

This is simply unacceptable. What is particularly offensive is that this could and should have been prevented under current law.

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that you signed into law last summer required the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to impose strict position limits on the amount of oil that Wall Street speculators could trade in the energy futures market no later than January 22, 2011.

It is now April 28, 2011, and the CFTC has still not imposed speculation limits on oil trading in direct violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Wall Street reform law.

Since January 22, 2011, when these speculation limits were supposed to go into effect, until today the national average for a gallon of gas has gone up by more than 80 cents a gallon.

Instead of putting strong speculation limits in place in January of 2011 as required by law, the CFTC proposed a rule on position limits that wouldn't go into effect until late January of next year. Adding insult to injury, these position limits are so ineffective that they would allow just one Wall Street firm to control 25% of the entire U.S. crude oil spot market or four firms to control 100% of this market without violating the regulations.

Three out of the five commissioners at the CFTC must vote to approve strong oil speculation limits before they can take effect. It is clear right now that there are only two commissioners who are willing and able to do what the law requires to significantly limit oil speculation and bring down gas prices at the pump.

I urge you to make it clear to the CFTC that they must obey the law and establish strong oil speculation limits as soon as possible. I would also urge you to ask for the immediate resignation of any CFTC commissioner who refuses to obey the law and nominate someone else who will.

We cannot allow Wall Street speculators to rip off the American people at the gas pump for one more day and the American people cannot wait another eight months to go by before any limits on Wall Street oil speculators go into effect.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely,

Bernard Sanders

United States Senator

The Return of the Know-Nothings

 

Despite the President’s efforts to stop the silliness by producing the long form of his American birth certificate, the “birthers” still insist he could have been born in Kenya. One Republican Congressman cited as evidence, the lack of a plaque at the Hawaiian hospitable commemorating Obama’s birth as evidence he was not born there. Yet there is no plaque at the manger in Bethlehem to commemorate the birth of Jesus, and while many insist on believing in the virgin birth, no such latitude is extended to our first black president. 

Doubtless there is a plaque in Roswell New Mexico commemorating the crash-landing of an alien spacecraft, and that of course makes it official. So how can you stop the unstoppable “birther” movement?  Well not surprisingly the Democrats are resorting to their tried and true 18th Century Enlightenment method of winning the argument by presenting the facts and the evidence.  And of course they will not win because there is such a thing as emotional intelligence and gut feelings that trump any learned discourse or stack of empirical evidence.

Without being too cynical could it be that the Republicans have finally perfected their Reagan Democrat strategy of peeling off enough working Americans to get them vote against their interest in the name of God, the flag and family values.  Could it be that they have discovered that ignorance is the ultimate political strategy.  By wrecking public education and dumbing down the population with faux populist rants on right wing media, you can get enough votes running on ignorance so that you can rule over the stupid.

This strategy almost worked in the mid 19th Century with the emergence of the equivalent of today’s Tea Party, the Know-Nothing Party, or the Know-Nothings.  Their roots are similar to the conspiratorial and secretive anti-immigrant fervor that galvanized the Tea Party and made it the tail that wags the dog of the Republican Party.  Clearly the Tea Party was a brilliant rebranding of the Republican Right by insiders like Karl Rove and Dick Army who created this Astroturf movement backed by plutocrats like the Koch brothers, and by running candidates, with the help of the compliant Press, they made it the phenomenon this it is today.

Although often dismissed as an historical joke, the Know-Nothings were the mirror of Tom Tancredo’s immigrant-bashing Tea Party of today.  American Nativism was inflamed as immigration from Europe increased in the 1800s with citizens who had been born in the United States beginning to feel resentment at the new arrivals.  Violent encounters between immigrants and “native-born Americans” occurred in American cities in the 1830s and early 1840s with riots breaking out in Philadelphia in July of 1844.  Nativists battled Irish immigrants and two Catholic churches and a Catholic school were burned by mobs, with at least 20 people killed in the mayhem.

At the time several small political parties espoused nativist doctrine, among them the American Republican Party and the Nativist Party.  And secret societies, such as the Order of United Americans and the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, sprang up across America.  Like Arizona’s legislature today, their members were sworn to keep immigrants out of America, or at the least to deny them entry into mainstream society once they arrived.

Since the party’s leaders would not publicly reveal themselves, the established political parties at the time were baffled by these organizations.  And members, when asked about the organizations, were instructed to answer, “I know nothing.” That cryptic answer and the secrecy surrounding the membership societies led to it being commonly called the “Know-Nothing Party”, although the official name was the American Party, formed in 1849.

Many Americans were appalled by the Know-Nothings and Abraham Lincoln expressed his own disgust with the political party in a letter written in 1855.  Lincoln warned that if the Know-Nothings ever took power, the Declaration of Independence would have to be amended to say that all men are created equal "except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." He went on to say he’d rather immigrate to Russia, where despotism is out in the open, then live in such an America.

The movement imploded in 1856 when former president Millard Fillmore ran as the Know-Nothing candidate for president.  His campaign was a disaster and resulted in a crushing defeat with the election of James Buchanan who won on the Democratic ticket, beating Fillmore as well as Republican candidate John C. Fremont.

Buchanan turned out to be the worst president in U.S. history, only to be recently supplanted by George W Bush.  So what does that say about politics today?  Go ask Mitt, Donald, Sarah, Michelle, Mike, Newt, Tim and Paul.  They may know something. 

"Big government" or better government?

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows a 75% disapproval of Congress and a 57% disapproval of the way Obama is handling the economy.  What is even more troubling for the president and his party facing elections next year, is that 55% of respondents would prefer fewer services from smaller government, and an astonishing but slight majority would support Congressman Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare with vouchers for the elderly to purchase medical services in the private market. 

The utter failure of the Democrats to defend their party’s achievements and protect popular programs like Social Security and Medicare could not be more dire and disappointing.  As the national debate moves to the right, and what few services the American taxpayers gets for their taxes now facing privatization, how soon we forget what George W Bush chose as his number one priority on which to spend his reelection capital; the privatization of Social Security.

And had Bush succeeded where would we be today?  Holding worthless private pensions downsized by the Wall Street crash?  If Wall Street could con people into buying houses they could not afford and siphon trillions from the poor in the sub-prime bubble, imagine what they could have done with the Social Security Trust fund?

The other startling statistic that tells the even bigger story is the amount of the $13.53 trillion National Debt that the last three Republican Presidents (Bush one and two and Reagan) ran up.  More than twice as much as all the other presidents combined.  Surely this is no accident.  Indeed it is clearly a strategy to transfer public money into private hands and foreclose the possibility of spending on public services, paid for or not.

When Reagan ran up deficits, about which David Stockman his budget director went to the woodshed to take a beating for telling the truth, the strategy to undo the New Deal was implemented.  Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan saw it at the time and warned that excessive tax cuts for the rich, combined with massive borrowing, was a deliberate strategy to transfer billions of public money to the Military Industrial Complex. 

This form of right wing socialism he warned, would foreclose discretionary spending on other government services for those in need who had already paid for them.  Moynihan described this raid on the treasury as an additional tax burden for the already overburdened middle class and working American now paying more because the rich were paying less.  Indeed adding insult to injury, the punitive payroll tax was added at the time, taking money from hard-earned wages not profits. 

By creating a deficit, Reaganomics became a double jeopardy for the taxpayer because the burgeoning debt had to be serviced by the same over-burdened taxpayers.  And who owns the debt?  Those responsible for the debt, the wealthy, and banks and foreign institutions who buy our T-bills.  And as the compulsory interest payments become the biggest single item on the federal budget after defense and Medicare, guess who gets to service the debt?   

The Republican debt strategy exploded under George W Bush, whose co-president Dick Cheney famously remarked in a moment of accidental candor, that “deficits don’t matter”.  The 9/11 attack became a perfect excuse for an unprecedented transfer of public funds into private hands and, not just government programs became fair game, but government itself was privatized, in a Fire Sale to crony-capitalist Republican insiders like Halliburton.

When you add up the bill for defense contactors, agribusiness and the $96 billion in tax breaks and royalty free drilling the Republican Congress is giving the oil companies for the next 15 years, you begin to get the picture.  They did not manage to get Social Security last time, but maybe next time.  But perhaps at last they will get their hands on the biggest pot of public money, Medicare. 

That is not to say that already Medicare transfers public money into private hands, but with Ryan’s voucher system, private insurance companies will get the money first and then decide how much they want to trickle down to the poor suckers who paid for healthcare with their taxes.

The only good news for Democrats is how hopelessly bereft the Republican bench is of presidential material.  From the mechanical Mormon to the mad women, they range from bald-faced liars to babbling idiots.  But if a new Ronald Reagan were to emerge from the pack, with sunny optimism and patriotic promises, the country would be swept up into the final embrace of a complete surrender to Reaganomics. 

Evening in America, as the sun sets on the last vestiges of social democracy.  With the taxpayer subsidizing a thriving corporate plutonomy, while the average American struggles to get by on worthless pensions, with unaffordable healthcare and air you can’t breathe, water you can drink and food that makes you obese and diabetic.      

Suicidal Tendencies Among Democrats

It used to be that the Republicans wanted to overturn the New Deal and take us back to the days of Herbert Hoover but lately it has become clear that it is the other Roosevelt, Teddy, whose legacy they want to expunge and return us to the Gilded Age. 

The radical budget they just passed is a roadmap to a new American plantation, with tax cuts for the super-rich who have already been taken care of by the Bush tax cuts that were extended.  As the rich get even richer than ever, having successfully sold the deficit hoax, the Republicans are now selling their solution to a mythical problem.  Lower the deficit by cutting programs for the elderly, the poor and children.

At the heart of their mean-spirited social Darwinism is a strategy to lock in the redistribution of wealth so that the bulk of the public money from middle class and working American’s taxes, is transferred into private hands.  No other democracy operates this way with citizens paying their taxes but having their services cut while subsidizing the rich and private corporations. 

If only the Democrats would describe it for what it is, not “tax and spend” but "spend and cut".  We don’t have a deficit problem.  We have a revenue problem!

With more tax cuts for the top one percent, and a blank check for industry to pollute and charge whatever the market will bear without regulation or consumer advocacy, clearly the plutocrats who back right wing ideologues like Congressman Ryan are getting more than their money’s worth.  But what explains the supine silence on the Left?

The dynamic is in place and the Republicans are calling the shots as they inexorably move the debate to the right.  Ryan’s budget is a giant leap into right field, but guess what the Democrats will do?  They will compromise and in doing so they will move further to the right too.  In a negotiation that is the equivalent of one side asking for more and the other side not offering less.  So when they eventually meet in the middle, the side that asked for more gets it while the side that agreed to compromise gets screwed.

But the reason for the craven and cowardly silence of the Democrats can be squarely laid at the feet of most people who call themselves Democrats.  They are just not motivated and fired up like the Tea Partiers are.  In fact they are plain disengaged. 

And to the extent they are engaged, they complain about their Party and its leaders, but do not have their backs.  The Tea Party is pushing the Republicans into enacting their crazy ideas, but Democratic activists are whining and bitching about Obama selling out as though the last election did not happen.  Haven’t they noticed that they lost the House in 2010 and are in danger of losing the Senate in 2012?  Will they blame that on Obama too? 

Last night I hosted a farewell dinner for an old friend who is one of the country’s leading authorities on power generation and the most knowledgeable advocates of alternative energy.  He is on his way to a new venture to make Palestine the world’s first solar state.  

When the discussion turned to Obama, the sparks flew.  Then the debate got pretty boisterous when a friend of Dennis Kucinich argued that Obama is a “Manchurian Candidate” and we should run Sherrod Brown against Obama in the primary.

This is not new in the annals of the suicidal tendency of Democrats to self-destruct.  In 1968 liberal Democrats abandoned a good progressive Humphrey for a quixotic Eugene McCarthy and helped elect Nixon.  In 1980 they abandoned Carter for Ted Kennedy in the primary then supported a phony Republican Anderson in the general, thus helping elect Reagan. 

In 2000 enough progressives on the Left voted for Nader to ensure Bush’s fraudulent victory in Florida, thus resulting in one environmentalist defeating another and helping elect an anti-environmentalist who ran up a third of our national debt on losing wars and appointed two reactionaries to the Supreme Court who have permanently enshrined Corporate control of our elections.   

And so it goes, as the poet Yeats lamented, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity”.  As I watched the argument rage between disillusioned progressives who were insulting the hopeful pragmatists, and vice versa, my daughter stood up and called for a time out, suggesting that this senseless infighting was making it easier for the very people we believe are ruining the country to plunder it further, capture it completely and irrevocably change it to the detriment of all but the fortunate one percent. 

From the generation we are handing this mess over to, a moment of wisdom caused the gathering to pause for a moment and agree that divided we will be conquered.  Then the argument resumed.

Suicidal Tendencies Among Democrats

 

It used to be that the Republicans wanted to overturn the New Deal and take us back to the days of Herbert Hoover but lately it has become clear that it is the other Roosevelt, Teddy, whose legacy they want to expunge as they return us to the Gilded Age. 

The radical budget they just passed is a roadmap to a new American plantation, with tax cuts for the super-rich who have already been taken care of by the Bush tax cuts that were extended.  They've successfully sold the deficit hoax, so as the rich get richer than ever, they're now selling a cynical solution to a mythical problem; lower the deficit by cutting from programs that help the elderly, the poor and children.

At the heart of their mean-spirited social Darwinism is a strategy to lock in the redistribution of wealth, so that the bulk of the public money from middle class and working American’s taxes it transferred into private hands.  No other democracy operates this way with citizens paying their taxes, but having their services cut while subsidizing the rich and private corporations. 

If only the Democrats would describe it for what it is, not “tax and spend” but "spend and cut".  We don’t have a deficit problem.  We have a revenue problem!  

With more tax cuts for the top one percent, and a blank check for industry to pollute and charge whatever the market will bear without regulation or consumer advocacy, clearly the plutocrats who back right wing ideologues like Congressman Ryan are getting more than their money’s worth.  But what explains the supine silence on the Left?

The dynamic is in place and the Republicans are calling the shots as they inexorably move the debate to the right.  Ryan’s budget is a giant leap into right field.  But guess what the Democrats will do?  They will compromise and in doing so they will move further to the right too. 

In a negotiation that is the equivalent of one side asking for more and the other side not offering less. So when they eventually meet in the middle, the side that asked for more gets it, while the side that agreed to compromise gets screwed.

But the reason for the craven and cowardly silence of the Democrats can be squarely laid at the feet of most people who call themselves Democrats.  They are just not motivated and fired up like the Tea Partiers are.  In fact they are plain disengaged. 

And to the extent to which they are engaged, they complain about their Party and its leaders, but do not have their backs.  The Tea Party is pushing the Republicans into enacting their crazy ideas, but Democratic activists are whining and bitching about Obama selling out as though the last election did not happen.  Haven’t they noticed that they lost the House in 2010 and are in danger of losing the Senate in 2012?  Will they blame that on Obama too? 

Last night I hosted a farewell dinner for an old friend who is one of the country’s leading authorities on power generation and the most knowledgeable advocates of alternative energy.  He is on his way to a new venture to make Palestine the world’s first solar state.  

When the discussion turned to Obama, the sparks flew. Then the debate got pretty boisterous when a friend of Dennis Kucinich argued that Obama is a “Manchurian Candidate” and we should run Sherrod Brown against Obama in the primary.

This is not new in the annals of the suicidal tendency of Democrats to self-destruct.  In 1968 liberal Democrats abandoned a good progressive Humphrey for a quixotic Eugene McCarthy and helped elect Nixon.  In 1980 they abandoned Carter for Ted Kennedy in the primary then supported a phony Republican Anderson in the general, thus helping elect Reagan. 

In 2000 enough progressives on the Left voted for Nader to ensure Bush’s fraudulent victory in Florida, thus resulting in one environmentalist defeating another and helping elect an anti-environmentalist who ran up a third of our national debt on losing wars and appointed two reactionaries to the Supreme Court who have permanently enshrined Corporate control of our elections.   

And so it goes, as the poet Yeats lamented, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity”.  As I watched the argument rage between disillusioned progressives who were insulting the hopeful pragmatists, and vice versa, my daughter stood up and called for a time out, suggesting that this senseless infighting was making it easier for the very people we believe are ruining the country to plunder it further, capture it completely and irrevocably change it to the detriment of all but the fortunate one percent. 

From the generation we are handing this mess over to, a moment of wisdom caused the gathering to pause for a moment and agree that divided we will be conquered.  Then the argument resumed.