Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hijacking Conservatism

During the Republican primary debates, there was much posturing about who was more conservative than whom.  To prove their conservative credentials, candidates lambasted illegal aliens, contraception, abortion, government regulation, income taxes, infrastructure spending, the poor, President Obama and gay soldiers.  A picture emerged of a "conservative" that ought to puzzle Americans who know their history.

A conservative is one who wants to conserve our way of life, one who is suspicious of change and likely to be heard uttering "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" or its equivalent.  Yet in 2012 we have a Republican party that is the most radical of the past 100 years, clamoring to overturn much of the 20th century.

Don't build or repair bridges, roads, dams or public transportation.  Close public schools and replace them with a privatized system.  Hand over prisons to for-profit businesses. Eliminate regulations on banks or industry, whether for worker or consumer safety, monopolies or the environment.  Eliminate taxes on the wealthiest.  Stop supporting colleges, rolling back access for poor and middle class students.  Eliminate Social Security and Medicare.  Destroy unions.  Defund pensions.

You can argue each of these any way you like, but you would be hard pressed to identify any of these programs targeted by today's GOP as something new.  What's new -- what's in fact quite radical -- are these very platforms.  The past century was a gradual building of national infrastructure, of schooling, of progressive taxation, of increasing access to higher education for all Americans, of worker organizing and worker protection, and of building the social safety net.

Today's "liberals" espouse little that is new.  Liberals are kept much too busy trying to plug the dike, battling ever-more radical assaults on the 20th century gains that made the U.S. the economic, military and political leader of the world (remember that we were none of these 100 years ago).

Republicans are welcome to continue attacking traditional American institutions and values.  That's what a vibrant political sphere is all about.  But please, please stop calling the assault "conservative values".  That mantle belongs to the folks working to preserve what we have, not those railing against it.

Note: While searching online for images of "conservative" and "liberal" for this post, I was surprised that nearly everything popping up for conservative was pro-conservative, yet nearly all those for liberal were anti-liberal, often offensively so.  Liberals, you're losing the Google image search.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Punishing Work

How did we come to a place in America, Protestant work ethic and all, where we reward idleness and punish work? 

From a Tea Party perspective, the problem is punishing wealth and giving handouts to the poor.  But the problem is actually broader than that.  In almost every significant economic of American life, those who clock in to do a day's work are increasingly bearing the burden of a society where everyone else gets a bye.

Taxation -- the highest taxes fall on workers.  
If you make your living from wages, you pay up to 35% income taxes on your net income.  If you make your living from investments -- capital gains and dividends -- you pay only 15%.  And if you were lucky enough to inherit your wealth instead of working for it, you pay nothing.
Only those who earn wages pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.  If you depend on investments instead, no extra 15% FICA/Medicare tax for you.  If you're lucky enough to earn more than $110,000, you don't pay the taxes on your "extra" income.

If you're retired and over age 65, you're eligible for special tax deductions and credits, further reducing your taxable income.  
 Health Care -- workers pay more for less.

In a previous blog post, I discussed my husband's graduation to Medicare eligibility and how superior that coverage is to my own private insurance.  Medicare takes care of the retired person.  Employees on the other hand are likely to have higher out-of-pocket costs for family health care.  In 2011, the average working person's monthly contribution (in addition to the employer's cost) was $377 per month.
Health coverage for the poorest Americans, the disabled and for children are all subsidized.  Working folks end up paying their own way, often at very high costs.
Cost of Living Increases -- only for those who don't work.
Those on Social Security and military retirement received a 3.6% cost of living adjustment (COLA) this year. Public retirees in Oregon received a 1.25% COLA in 2011. 

But compare that to the typical wage earner during this recession.  Excluding college-educated professionals, American workers earned 4.6% LESS in 2010 than in 2007.  Furlough days, layoffs, reduced hours and losses of benefits characterized both public and private sector work since the recession began.  Instead of a COLA, workers received a COWA -- cost of working adjustment.
Random Discounts
The elderly receive special discounts for restaurant meals, travel services, entertainment, discounted property tax amounts and much more.  Why?  What is it about seniors that entitles them to pay less?  Shouldn't young families with children be the ones getting the discounts?
These categories do not cover all the ways the non-working -- whether investors, heirs or those of us retired -- are rewarded in our society while workers get second place.

Although I'm one of those beginning to reap the benefits of this system, I have difficulty wrapping my head around its logic.  Somehow the Tea Party saw the problem but misinterpreted it, understanding that there was gross unfairness but miscalculating perhaps who the winners and losers were.  But I get their point.  We've become a society where those who work, those who haven't the spare time to lobby their government for consideration or to study up on the issues, are falling well behind while others increase their share of the booty by not working.

Come on, fellow progressives, we can do better than this.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Undermining Citizens' United

In 2010, the Supreme Court removed restrictions on campaign financing in the Citizens United decision.  The Court, in a 5-4 vote, determined that corporations are people and that governments could not restrict the size of their "voices".  Money spent in elections was decreed to be unlimited 1st Amendment speech.

In this campaign season, we are seeing what Citizens United has wrought.  Nearly $1 Billion from independent Super PACs and even worse, "social welfare organizations" like Crossroads GPS, has already been raised, nearly all of it contributions from billionaires and powerful business interests.  The level of corruption in American politics unleashed by this single ruling threatens to swamp our democracy.

There are at least two efforts underway to reverse Citizens United.  The first is a Constitutional Amendment introduced by Senator Tom Udall authorizing state and local governments to regulate campaign spending.  The second is a current Supreme Court case, brought by the Montana Attorney General, challenging the Court's decision to overturn Montana's anti-corruption law.

In Wisconsin's recall election against Governor Scott Walker, $63.5 million has already been spent, nearly all of it raised outside of the state.  Of that, $2 million came from unions and the other 97% from the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity and similar conservative groups.

Let me propose a third, a very simple third.  It does not replace the other two but is a stop-gap designed to minimize the impact of all that cash spent to purchase our elected leaders.  It begins with a survey of the kinds of ads being bought.  At Race for 2012, television, radio and web ads for the candidates are posted.  Right now, there are two ads per day being released on behalf of Governor Romney or attacking President Obama.  The Romney campaign, American Crossroads (Super PAC) and Crossroads GPS (so-called social welfare charity) are behind most of these.  There have been thirty pro-Romney ads released since the most recent pro-Obama ad.  Since the beginning of the year, there have been 78 pro-Romney (or anti-Obama) ads compared to 2 pro-Obama. 

The ads are designed for television viewers and web distribution.  Are they effective?  Of course they are.  And regardless of the source -- Democrats or Republicans -- you can count on them to twist the truth, tell half-truths or even tell bald-faced lies.

But you have the power to undermine them.  And it's actually quite simple.  Just do the following:
  1. Don't watch television ads.  Record shows you plan to watch -- including nightly news -- and fast-forward through commercials.  Don't watch political ads.
  2. Download an ad blocking app to your browser.  With the app installed (tiny programs that take little time to download), you won't see any third party advertising.  Ever.  Here are the links:
    • Mozilla Firefox:  Ad Block Plus 
      • I use this one and will vouch for its excellence.  I never see ads -- not on Facebook, not in the New York Times, nowhere.
    • Internet Explorer: Instructions here
    • Google Chrome: Ad Block
  3. When someone shares an ad with you, by email, Twitter or Facebook, challenge it.  Ask for sources and comment or reply.  I say this even though I'm as guilty of spreading political bits as anyone else.  
If we could all conspire together to not see the ads the anti-democratic forces are spreading, their dollars won't buy our votes.  If we see them, odds are we'll be swayed.

It's in your hands.  Don't just wait for the Montana decision or for a Constitutional Amendment that will be years off, protect your vote.  Protect your elected representatives.

See Also:  Are you for Sale?