Drawing the Lines

November 28, 2012 at 11:42 am | Posted in Congress, Economy, Obama Administration, Politics, Taxes | Leave a comment
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The bombardment has already started, and will intensify until, as the year ends, either a solution to the “debt crisis” will emerge—or our fearless leaders will kick the can down the road. Again.

There are actually three sides to the discussion. One side believes that the need to eliminate the national debt has been overhyped. After all, they say, people have been crying for decades that the sky has been falling. But it hasn’t, and it isn’t. People, regardless of nationality, have been falling over themselves trying to lend us money, with the result that the interest rate on our national debt is at an all-time low. (There are many other arguments for not worrying so much…but I understand that one, and agree with it.) What we need to do is worry about improving the economy as a whole; if we can do that, the national debt will take care of itself.

The other sides are mostly debt hawks, and they have framed the discussion in terms of reducing/eliminating the national debt, with the health of the general economy at a lower priority.

One group (let’s call them conservatives for short) has an economic philosophy akin to the European Austerity policy. They believe we can’t afford social programs, we need to spend more money on the military, and we must reduce taxes. They say that cutting social programs (especially entitlement programs) will save the money we need to reduce the deficit. They say that by reducing taxes we will induce business and wealthy individuals to create more jobs, thus raising more revenue to further reduce the deficit.

But look what Austerity has brought the Europeans: their economies are in decline, and their people are rioting or striking because they’re not getting a fair return on the time and energy they spend working. They’re not creating jobs. They’re not increasing revenue. They are imposing poverty on their populations.

Another group (yes, we’ll call them liberals) believes differently. They’d like to increase taxes on the very rich. The increases won’t make a bit of difference to the lifestyles of these people, nor cause them to fire people. The proposed increases would apply only to the income over $250,000. The liberals would like to eliminate certain tax breaks treasured by big businesses and wealthy individuals, like the oil depletion allowance. They’d like to eliminate tax breaks that help pay for corporate jets, and tax loopholes that encourage businesses to make as much of their money as possible overseas and avoid taxes here. Liberals say that by increasing taxes on the very wealthy and eliminating tax breaks and loopholes we’ll increase revenue we can apply to the national debt.

They’re probably right. But both groups are forgetting that the best way to reduce the national debt is to create jobs. We need to invest in physical infrastructure, like roads, bridges, power grids, and buildings. Those physical projects will create thousands and thousands of jobs, most of which can only be done here. The workers who get those jobs will pay taxes and buy products, creating more revenue for the government and more demand for products, thus even more jobs. Employers will hire, but only if there is more demand for their products and services.

The federal government needs to invest in the states. Money for education will help our workers compete in an ever more challenging workplace—and provide jobs for teachers. Money for public safety will reduce crime rates and improve state and local responses to disasters—and provide jobs for police officers, firefighters, and disaster relief workers. Those are only a couple of examples of areas where federal investment can provide programs, equipment, and jobs to improve our lives. And the workers who get these new jobs will pay taxes and buy products, creating more government revenue and more demand for products and services.

The top priority is not the national debt: it’s the economy. The conservatives and the liberals need to work together, to find compromises that will get the job done. You need to pass this message to your friends and let your elected representatives know how you feel. They need to stop “standing on principle” and start governing: the country is at stake.


The Petraeus Tragedy

November 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Politics | 2 Comments
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Are we a nation of prudes? I don’t condone adultery, but it seems to me that we make unreasonable demands on our leaders. They are not “ordinary” people, or they wouldn’t be leaders. But neither are they superhuman, or immune from the temptations most of us face. In fact the moral temptations they face dwarf those most of us must handle.

Nobody will ever know whether Mr. Petraeus seduced Ms. Broadwell or she seduced him, or whether it was a mutual infatuation. I can tell you that Ms. Broadwell is a very hot lady. She has a great body, and she knows how to make the most of it. She also has a tremendous intellect, judging from her accomplishments. That is a combination that is extraordinarily attractive. Mr. Petraeus is in very good shape physically, and is a superb military leader. From all accounts he was doing a good job as CIA head, too. And I’m told that men who wield power are attractive to women because of it.

So we have a situation of extreme temptation, and the two gave in to that temptation. Their spouses are justly upset, and each family will handle the situation in its own way. Mr. Petraeus and Ms. Broadwell violated their marriage vows and will pay the price in the anger and grief of their families.

There is no question about it: The affair was a violation of our society’s ethics and morals. But there is no indication that the affair had national security implications; according to the FBI it did not. There is no indication that the affair had any effect on the performance of the couple’s jobs.

That’s what sticks in my craw. the nation has lost the services of one of our most brilliant generals because, as Mr. Petraeus put it, he showed bad judgment and behaved in a way that is unacceptable. But his judgment and unacceptable behavior were a part of his personal life, not his public life nor his job performance. Yet because he committed an immoral act he has been pilloried and driven out of a public life that has otherwise been inspirational.

Media attention to leaders has become intrusive. The media seizes on anything that makes a spectacle and plays to the public’s prurient interest. The public throws up its hands in (frequently hypocritical) horror at the stories, characterizing the actions as unforgivably immoral and disgusting.

I don’t think it’s anybody business, except of course for the families of those involved. Without in any way approving what Mr. Petraeus and Ms. Broadwell did, I conclude that the punishment does not fit the crime, and that our nation is being harmed by the loss of a fine leader.

We certainly are a nation of prudes, and we need to do better.

The First Presidential Debate

October 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Diogenes, were he still around and looking for an honest man, would have done well to have avoided the first Presidential Debate of the season. President Obama came out with a few “stretchers” and certainly spun things in his favor. Governor Romney, on the other hand, seems to live in a parallel universe in which arithmetic as we know it does not exist.

Of course people who expect candor from politicians are doomed to a life of disappointment. I don’t expect perfect candor, but in one of only three chances for the candidates to impress people I do expect some wit, some cleverness, perhaps some risk-taking, and some substance. I didn’t get any of the above last night.

President Obama was laid-back, relaxed, and comfortable. He expressed his reactions to his opponent’s remarks far more forcefully in his facial expressions than in his spoken responses. He made his points logically, with little emotion, and failed to point out most of his opponent’s factual errors. When he did remark on a Romney plan he did so with great detachment and little force.

Governor Romney was not cool. He seemed like a kid who, having been sent to the Principal’s office, knew he was in trouble. He sweated. He blinked rapidly. He twisted and turned under the implacable stare of the camera. And, again, he changed his positions on many issues to what he thought his audience wanted to hear. Aside from the nervousness, the few emotions he showed looked phony.

The famous Romney “zingers” were pretty flat. Neither candidate voiced outrage at the policies or the philosophy of the other—or showed much pride in his own. Neither took advantage of a loose, discussion-type format to tear the other up. It was painfully polite, painfully low key.

Most of you know I’m a liberal. Of the two choices I prefer Obama. I just wish he’d come out swinging, because if he did he’d set himself up for a mandate from the voters, and provide some much-needed coattails for Democratic candidates for Congress.

The Last Hurrah?

August 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Note: Health issues, resulting in low energy levels, have prevented me from posting for quite a while now, and it doesn’t look as though the problem is going to go away. It’s not the writing, it’s the research. I have always tried to be factually accurate, even though my conclusions are decidedly opinionated. The following piece, however, is unmitigated opinion, based on observation not research. I hope you’ll read it anyway and enjoy it, even if you violently disagree.

Until Saturday, the Romney campaign was what one observer called “squishy.” It was an amorphous glob of rhetoric, with little substance, and even less detail; a glob that changed constantly, depending on the audience of the moment.

Then, with the picking of Paul Ryan to be Romney’s running mate, the glob extruded a pin with a very sharp point. The Ryan budget plan offends me, but at least it has substance and detail. We all know that Paul Ryan wants to throw the people in the bottom three-quarters of the economy under the bus, and throw the other quarter a bonus they neither deserve nor need. (Give me a break on the numbers here: I’m not sure whether it’s two thirds, three quarters, ninety percent, or what. You get the point.)

The media has relentlessly discussed the choice, the Ryan budget, and the politics involved. Romney rather plaintively said that he has a budget plan too, but few people listened. After all, as House Speaker Boehner observed, nobody loves Romney: those who vote for him will do so because they don’t like President Obama.

Perhaps the conservatives will love Mr. Ryan. His budget plan certainly generates strong feelings, although I’m not sure what else he has accomplished. But Ryan stood up on his hind legs and actually said something!

It kind of makes me wonder just exactly who is the leader on this ticket? It makes me think about Bush/Cheney. If we’re dumb enough to elect Ryan/Romney are we going to wind up with Vice running the show?

Think about it.

Debt Ceiling? What Debt Ceiling?

July 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Posted in Congress, Economy, Politics | 4 Comments
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People are going into panic mode—again. We are rapidly approaching the debt limit imposed by legislation and, people say, if we reach that limit the country will default. Defaulting would indeed be a catastrophe for the U.S. and world economies. It would result in a deep recession here and probably across the world. Yet President Obama still leads from the rear, and the Democrats in Congress do little. The Republicans in Congress mulishly refuse to consider increasing revenue, while insisting that we cut spending with a blunt axe before they’ll vote to raise the debt limit even if it sends us into default.

But we don’t need to default. When we reach the debt limit President Obama could thumb his nose at Congress and just keep spending the money to pay the country’s obligations, like Government bonds, Social Security and Medicare payments, subsidies for school lunches, and all that stuff.

President Obama could ignore the debt ceiling and keep spending, because the legislation that imposes the limit is… well, unconstitutional. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

That means we can’t question whether any debt legally incurred by the government is valid (must be paid). It must be paid, and that’s all there is to it. But establishing a debt ceiling casts doubt on whether existing debt will be paid, because the government borrows money to pay its debts: bonds, Social Security and so on. It means that the debt ceiling law is unconstitutional, and the President can ignore it.

That’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of several noted Constitutional lawyers, Congressmen, and other Serious People. The option has been raised to President Obama himself at a news conference, and he did not rule it out. It could happen, and while I hope it’s not necessary, it’s a lot better than defaulting.

Raising the debt ceiling (or ignoring it) would give the politicians a chance to get off their ideological high horses, negotiate a budget in good faith, and get the country moving toward financial stability. Will they take the chance? That’s up to you. Write and tell them what you think.

A Deficit Too Big to Live With

May 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Posted in Banking, Economy, Politics, Taxes | 1 Comment

A few weeks ago at Rotary we were talking politics. (Our discussions sometimes get heated, but never discourteous: they’re a good model for the rest of the nation to emulate.) Somebody asked me how much money the top 2% make—the ones liberals want to tax more. So I did a little research, which turned into a whole lot of research. Most of the statistics I found were less than objective, less than adequate, and difficult to understand: I’m no statistician. Eventually I found some numbers I could both trust and figure out, and the following article is the result.

Most people agree: the deficit is too big. We have to do something about it, and the politicians are making loud noises about how to fix it. They have politicized the discussion beyond all belief, which guarantees that any “solution” they come up with will be a disaster.

The sad fact is that solving the deficit problem is going to require sacrifices from all of us: we’re all in the same boat; it’s sinking, and we must all help to bail.

Sensible, precisely directed spending cuts will help reduce the deficit, but they won’t eliminate it, nor will they achieve objectives like repairing crumbling infrastructure, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, or adding the huge numbers of jobs we need to get the economy back on its feet. Draconian cuts to needed programs won’t help either: in the long run they’ll destroy our economy and our people.

Well if you can’t solve the problem by cutting government spending, how can you solve it?

By increasing government revenue.

One approach we ought to take is to eliminate tax loopholes. The tax code could be vastly simplified to ensure that every individual, household, and corporate entity pays a fair share. Some deductions ought to remain, because they encourage behavior we want to encourage. Charitable giving is an example. Others, like the mortgage interest deduction might be phased out over the next several decades, but slowly, because the mortgage interest deduction is a huge factor in many families’ financial security.

Another approach is to increase the tax rates. Doing so would have an immediate effect, yet could be designed make the comfortable and wealthy contribute more, while minimizing the sacrifices made by those who can least afford to sacrifice. Some of you will recoil in horror: “Redistribution of wealth!” you will scream. Perhaps, but we need to increase revenue to reduce the deficit, and some of us can well afford to provide more revenue, while others cannot.

Who? Let’s take a look at how wealth and income are distributed and at how we are taxed.

Economists define wealth as being equivalent to net worth. A person’s wealth is the sum of the values of his or her marketable assets (like real estate, stocks, and bonds) less the value of his or her debts (like mortgages, and credit cards).

2007 is the latest year for which good numbers are available. In a paper titled Wealth, Income, and Power, Professor G. William Domhoff of the USC Santa Cruz Sociology department says that in 2007 the top 1% owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Remember the 80-20 rule? Well the wealthiest 20% owned 85% of the wealth, leaving only 15% for the bottom 80%! (The amount of wealth held by the top 20% is shown by the red and green areas of the chart combined.)

If that comes as a shock, don’t feel lonesome: a 2010 study showed that most Americans, regardless of income level, gender, or political affiliation, have no idea what the distribution of wealth is. If you’re ready for another shock economist Edward Wolff estimates that since 2007 there has been a 36.1% drop in the wealth of the median (middle of the middle class) household, while the wealth of the top 1% dropped only 11.1%

Wealth and income are two different things: income is money earned from work (wages and salaries) and from wealth (dividends, interest, rents, and royalties).

Looking at income gets us to the question I was asked at Rotary: “How much money does the top 2% make?” The answer is…I dunno. But I do know this: in 2009 the top 5% averaged $295,388 in income. In 2007 it was $287,191.

In the table below, the top 5% is included in the top 20%. That is, in 1983, the 20% with the highest incomes earned 45.1 percent of the aggregate income and the rest of us earned 54.9%. (Also note that we’ve added a year not included in the wealth chart.)

Income distribution is important because income taxes are the biggest source of government revenue. Our Federal Income Tax system (like most) is progressive, meaning that the richer you are the higher your tax rate. The theory is that the richer you are, the more of your income you can afford to pay in taxes. The chart below shows how much people paid in taxes (Federal, state, and local) as a percent of their income. Our system, when you count all taxes, is mildly progressive—until you get to the top 10%, where it flattens out. Then it becomes regressive: the top 1% (who held about a third of the wealth) paid a smaller percentage of their income.

They paid less because, as you can see from the blue areas on the chart, state and local taxes are regressive, meaning that the poorer you are the more of your income goes to these taxes. The problem is that the less income you have the more of it you need.

The chart below is another way to look at how income—and tax liability—are distributed. The lowest 20% earned about 3.5% of the aggregate income in 2010, and paid about 2% of the taxes. The fourth 20% earned 19% of the income and paid 19% of the taxes. Only the top 20% paid a larger share of taxes than their share of income, with the top 1% earning 20.3% of the aggregate, and paying 21.5% of the taxes.

I’ve been told, by my conservative friends, that 47% of the population doesn’t pay any taxes. Well that’s a great number to feel outraged about, but it’s not quite true. According to Congress.org, the number came from a study done by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The study does estimate that 47% of U.S. Households did not pay any Federal Income Tax in 2009. 85% of them, however, paid payroll and Medicare taxes, and of the 6% who did not, most are elderly or very poor. Fair enough: they can’t afford to both pay taxes and eat, so let them eat. Over the years, the Congress has consistently ensured that the poorest Americans don’t have to pay taxes.

In a “normal” situation, that is when we don’t have huge deficits, the effects of our tax policy are reasonably fair, except for the regressive State and local taxes. I think the tax code ought to be simplified drastically, and many loopholes, subsidies, and entitlements eliminated. But the simplification needs to be done carefully, so that our tax system continues to encourage socially useful behavior and doesn’t impose an unfair burden on those who are already suffering. And we should change the tax rates appropriately. What is appropriate? Let’s look at some history.

The first Federal income tax was imposed during the Civil War, but was repealed afterwards. The current system was enacted in 1913, and the chart that follows shows how the top tax rate has changed over the years.

The table will make more sense if we add some historical events:

Between 1914 and 1918 the top tax rate shot up to nearly 80% to pay for World War I. After the war the rate came down, but in 1929 the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression. The top tax rate started going up again to pay for President Hoover’s attempts to improve the economy, and then for President FDR’s New Deal. Then, between 1941 and 1945, the top rate soared to over 90% to pay for World War II.

It stayed up there until 1968, paying off the war debt, and paying for the Marshall Plan and other forms of foreign aid. But (believe it or not) dropped during the Viet Nam War! It has continued to decline since then even though we spent huge amounts of money fighting the Persian Gulf War, beefing up internal security after the 9/11 attacks, and fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There’s a pattern here: raise taxes to pay for wars and economic disasters. That technique worked for 60 years after the income tax started. Then we got the idea that we could pay these extraordinarily large expenses without extra revenue and our top tax rate is lower than it has been since 1928! We also have a deficit so big it’s incomprehensible, and an economy that totters along like a drunk navigating between curb and gutter.

We’re not going to get out of this situation by cutting spending, even if we use a dull axe and turn the whole middle class into a lower class. That strategy would turn us into a Third World country and probably a wholly-owned subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China.

We need to raise taxes. How much? I don’t know, but it’s clear that our government needs a lot more revenue to do what it needs to do. The lower income people among us are teetering on the edge of total financial disaster, and much of the middle class is close to disaster as well. We need to continue the programs that are keeping those people going, and we need to require that those who can afford to pay do so. We must make our Federal Income Tax system fiercely progressive and a whole lot simpler.

The boat is going down, and we’re all going to sink together, so pay up or start swimming.

Unemployment Compensation vs. the Bush Tax Cuts

November 20, 2010 at 11:31 am | Posted in Congress, Economy, Politics | 2 Comments
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Thursday evening the House of Representatives defeated a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits. It would have cost $33 billion next year, but would have added thousands of jobs, pumped $1.90 per budget dollar into the economy, and allowed the unemployed to live with at least some dignity while they’re looking for a job. It would have been a net gain for the economy and a humane thing to do.

Many of those who voted against the bill are also opposed to the Democratic plan to let the tax cuts for the very wealthy expire, while keeping the tax cuts for the middle class. That plan would provide $700 billion in revenue that could be used for aid to states, tax credits for job creation—and unemployment compensation. Everybody, including the very wealthy, would still get a tax break, because the first $250,000 of income would be taxed at the lower rate.

By the way, the argument that letting the tax cuts for the very wealthy expire would hurt small businesses is complete and utter nonsense. Less than 2% of small businesses would be subject to the tax increase. More than 98% would continue to get the middle class tax break we now enjoy.

Also nonsense is the argument that ending the tax cuts for the very wealthy would slow economic growth. Tax cuts lower government revenue and raise government debt; higher government debt leads to higher interest rates, which restrain growth.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), extending the Bush tax cuts would have little effect on the economy, increasing the GDP by only 10 – 40 cents per dollar. The very rich don’t spend as much of their income as lower income people do, so extending the Bush tax cuts only for the wealthiest 2% would be even less stimulative than extending all of the tax cuts. The CBO said that extending tax cuts would have the least value of the eleven economic stimulus policies it studied. A combination of direct aid to states, tax credits for job creation, and extended unemployment compensation would have three times the effect of extending the Bush tax cuts. Extending unemployment compensation alone would add as many as 600,000 jobs and boost economic output by as much as $1.90 per budget dollar. That’s because people will spend the money right away. For necessities. And for Christmas.

Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats who claim to be deficit hawks say we can’t afford to spend $33 billion to help the unemployed, even though it would add hundreds of thousands of jobs and put nearly $2 per budget dollar into our struggling economy. Nor do they want the government to have the $700 billion in extra revenue that would result from ending the Bush tax cuts for the very rich, even though the revenue could be used reduce the deficit or stimulate the economy.

Please write your elected representatives and tell them you want unemployment compensation extended. And tell them you want to let the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy expire. That will help the economy and reduce the deficit. Pretty good deal, huh?

It’s Over; the Democrats lost. Why? What’s Next?

November 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Congress, Economy, Obama Administration, Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Unprecedented Republican sweep.” OK. Democrats, Progressives, and Liberals lost. The Republicans gained control of the House, and made gains in the Senate.

Why? Let’s look at some numbers. Republican leaders, who surely read the exit polls, say the message is clear: “Repeal healthcare reform!” But according to those exit polls, only 18% say healthcare reform is the top issue. 48% want to repeal it. 47% said keep or expand healthcare. Doesn’t sound like a mandate to me.

House Minority Leader (and presumptive Speaker) John Boehner says the “loud message” from the voters is “Cut spending!” Well, 39% say that cutting the deficit should be Congress’ top priority—but 37% say the government should spend more, to create jobs. 39% to 37%: another non-mandate.

It’s interesting to note that most of the voters in this election cycle were older, blue-collar white men from the South and Midwest. Those areas are not the twinkling stars of our economy, folks, and those voters are suffering.

“It’s the economy, Stupid!” Some voters wrongly blamed the Obama administration for the sullen economy, but more of them blamed Bush II, and even more blamed Wall Street. The last two groups had it right: the economy was sliding into the tank when Obama took office; the TARP package was started under Bush but passed under Obama. (After they helped pass it the Republicans repudiated it.) The Obama administration successfully bailed out the U.S. auto industry (American made cars are selling better than foreign cars and the automakers are healthy again), and bailed out the financial sector as well. (We, the taxpayers are making a profit on the bailouts, by the way.) The Obama administration passed financial regulation and consumer-friendly credit card laws that will help prevent problems in the future. And they did it over the anguished screams of Republicans—and constant Republican obstructionism.

The avalanche of money from the big-money crowd both at home and abroad is another reason the Democrats lost so many seats, but I’ve already commented on that and will do so again elsewhere. In the main it was the poor economy that bashed the Democrats, even though it’s not their fault.

But the Democrats could have done a lot better on November 2. They simply did not get their message across to the voters, or motivate the voters to go to the polls. During the first two years of his administration President Obama should have exercised the charismatic leadership that got him the job. He, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi should have imposed better discipline on the Democrats in the Congress, should have been less anxious to be “bipartisan,” and should have used the bully pulpit to counter Republican arguments.

What’s going to happen in the next two years? I had lunch yesterday with a friend who had the most likely answer I’ve heard: nothing. Nothing will happen. The House will pass legislation that nobody really likes, after endless hours of wrangling, and between endless hours of hearings and endless investigations of Democrats that will turn up virtually nothing. The Senate will sit on any legislation the House manages to pass. If the Congress actually passes something on the Republican agenda (like the repeal of healthcare reform or the privatization of Social Security) Obama will veto it.

Doing nothing puts us on the road to disaster. If you don’t go forward you will go backward. It’s a law of nature as immutable as the law of gravity. The Democrats—from Obama on down—must get their act together. Get your agenda straight, Democrats! Negotiate among yourselves, but come to an agreement—and stick to it! Work together. Don’t bother to try to work with the Republicans: they’ve said time and time again that they won’t compromise. You still have power, Democrats. Use it.

Or the United States of America will end up being a Third World country.

Big Money to buy U.S. Congress

October 26, 2010 at 8:37 am | Posted in Politics | 1 Comment
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Our political system is in jeopardy. A couple of really nasty problems have reared their ugly heads, and the situation is extremely dangerous.  It’s not a partisan issue, although most of the beneficiaries at the moment are Republicans. What we are seeing amounts to the sale of the United States Congress to interest groups with deep pockets—including foreign governments.

Problem #1 is the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations (or anybody) to make unlimited donations to political campaigns.  Corporations don’t have the same agendas that ordinary people do.  Corporations exist to make a profit.  If they think they can maximize profits by clobbering the environment; taking short-sighted and  dangerous financial risks; screwing up the economy; screwing the customer; and driving the rest of us into the poorhouse—they will do it.  They do not want to be regulated because regulation prevents them from doing things that may benefit them but are bad for society.

The idea of a “free market” is fine: competition lowers prices and improves quality and variety. But an unregulated market is a war, and guess who gets clobbered by collateral damage.

(You and I don’t want to be regulated either, but we recognize that laws are necessary. The alternative is the Law of the Jungle, which is the ordinary citizen’s version of the free market.)

Corporations are, in the legal fiction, persons. They have most of the rights of citizenship—but few of the responsibilities.  That worked in the past, but it’s not valid any more.  Corporations’ freedom of speech, like their freedom of action, should be limited.  They should not be allowed to lobby Congress or contribute more than a token amount to political campaigns—because they are very powerful, and their interests conflict with the interests of society. I believe that the nation ought to belong (as our founders said) to the people.  I believe corporations ought to be strongly regulated to prevent them from screwing up the economy, the environment—and the rest of us.

Problem #2 derives from Problem #1.  PACs are spending obscene amounts of money to influence our elections. As a reader commented after my previous post, enter “600,000 in pac” (without the quotes) in any search engine and look at the results. You should be horrified.

Worse, the United States Chamber of Commerce is actively soliciting donations from foreign corporations, some of which are owned by their governments, as well as domestic corporations.  The money is not, it’s true, earmarked for political purposes; quite the reverse, in fact.  But a dollar is a dollar:  money contributed by foreign corporations and earmarked for nonpolitical purposes enables the chamber to spend equivalent amounts for political purposes.  Effectively, that foreign money is interfering in our internal affairs.  That’s a completely unacceptable situation, and a very scary one, because foreign corporations and governments are not part of this country; they have interests that conflict with our national interest as well as with our personal interests.

It doesn’t matter whether the huge corporate donations go to PACs that support Republicans or Democrats.  It doesn’t matter whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money to support the Republicans or the Democrats.  It doesn’t matter who benefits: It is wrong, it is frightening, and it ought to be illegal because it is terribly dangerous to our country and to our form of government.

Trick or Treat 2010

October 24, 2010 at 10:59 am | Posted in Politics | 4 Comments
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It’s Halloween and the doorbell rings. You grab the candy and open the door but it’s not a group of kids. The smiling man on your doorstep is wearing a business suit that cost enough to pay off your mortgage. There are several big men with him, all with very short hair and dark suits. They talk softly into the radios they carry, and a couple of them have foreign accents. They shoulder their way into your home.

Their leader pulls out the ballot for your district. He gently but firmly shows you where to put the check marks. “It’s for your own good,” he says. He tells you his candidates will reduce the deficit by eliminating wasteful programs like Medicare. He says they’ll repeal healthcare reform—but doesn’t mention that the legislation they’d repeal makes it unlawful to deny you insurance because you have a preexisting condition, mandates that the insurer can’t cancel your policy when you get sick, and allows your kids to stay on your policy until they’re 26. He says his candidates will repeal financial regulatory legislation to restore the free market, but he doesn’t tell you that the legislation they’d repeal makes credit card processors treat card holders more fairly and restrains excessive risk-taking by financial institutions. He tells you a lot of things that sound good, but doesn’t tell you they’re trying to take us back to the policies that ruined our economy and made the very rich very much richer—at the expense of the middle class.

He’s not your friend; that smile is really a smirk, because your whole house would fit in his living room.

The Democratic candidates, he says, are terrible people who just want to spend your money on wasteful government programs. Like Social Security. Food safety. Veterans benefits. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Elect our candidates and everything will be just fine.” Yeah. If you make over $250,000 a year.

Is this just a scary fantasy? No. The United States Chamber of Commerce, financed by secret U.S. and foreign donors, has launched a $75 million campaign to attack Democratic candidates. Many of the donors are large corporations like Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon (a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands), and the parent company of the famously “fair and balanced” Fox News. Others are foreign corporations. They come from from China, India, and the Middle East, and some are owned by foreign governments. They are certainly not your friends.

Large corporations aren’t your friends because their charter is to make money for their stockholders, and, incidentally, for their top executives. They don’t care about you; they care only about their bottom lines. And they’re too short-sighted to see that by running our country into the ground they are destroying themselves in the long run. In the meantime, they’re spreading misery for the middle class.

Foreign governments are not in the least bit interested in the American middle class, or the American national interest. China wants what benefits China. India wants what benefits India. Dubai wants what benefits Dubai.

That’s very scary, and it’s no fantasy. The big money interests here and abroad are trying to buy this election, and they have the money to do it! This is the most serious threat to our democracy in the 234 years it has existed. They want to run our country in their interest, not ours. Don’t let them get away with it. For the very life of our country…vote Democratic!

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