James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Plain truth about politics: We've been had

“It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe in it.”

-- George Carlin, comedian

By Lydia Howell

A brutal reality is undeniable in the fight over the Bush-era tax cuts and expiring unemployment benefits: American democracy isn't working for everyday people -- that is, the non-wealthy.

Republican and Tea Party yelling about the deficit, supported by most of President Obama’s sort-of bipartisan Deficits Commission, obviously was just theater, as shown by the continued demand that the richest two percent of Americans get to keep their special Bush tax cuts despite the fact that those cuts will add $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years. And that is just a cover for big corporations; most small business owners don’t come close to $250,000 in annual personal income.

In agreeing to go along with that huge tax break for the richest two percent, which he opposed throughout his presidential campaign, President Obama continues what has become a pattern of promise-breaking.

He also continues to insult those who got him elected, showing increasing anger in his press conferences at the audacity of progressive who dare to criticize his actions. Like other elitists, Obama reveals that he thinks public engagement should be limited to campaign contributions and voting.
After the election, we’re supposed to lead cheers for the president or shut up.

We’ve seen this show before, in the Clinton years.

When Republicans win elections (think G.W. Bush), they get everything they want, and when
Democrats win elections, Republicans still get everything they want. When Democrats win, they immediately begin whining that they can’t do anything.

Debt is built up during Republican rule, and when Democrats get into office it’s their job to be the janitors and balance budgets on the backs of working people and the poor. President Bill Clinton gutted New Deal welfare programs for the poor and signed NAFTA, escalating the export of well-paying manufacturing jobs.

Obama repeats Clinton policies by letting banksters off the hook, allowing home foreclosures and offshore drilling to continue. It's tepid “stimulus” for us, while Obama's “free trade” agreement with South Korea will send more jobs overseas.

Adding insult to insult, the companies that send what were American jobs to other countries get special tax breaks for doing so.

Republicans are ruthless and Democrats are clueless, and Obama plays his assigned part. The corporations and the rich win while the majority of the American people keep losing.

This is the plain truth: big money gets almost anything it demands while everyday Americans are increasingly unrepresented in their government and their needs are mostly ignored.

The deficit has grown as the wealth gap has grown, re-creating the situation that existed just before the Great Depression ruined our economy. Corporations, capital gains and Wall Street wealth are taxed
at lower and lower rates---or not at all.

One third of the biggest corporations operating in this country paid no income taxes in 2009. Bailed out banks sit on trillions of dollars while refusing to loan to the real job-creators (small business). Subsidies for corporations rarely draw close government scrutiny, but social services are constantly under examination: take a look at sports stadia built with taxpayer money or the government largess underpinning the building of the latest Wal-Mart in your area.

The public sector gets cut (schools, libraries, infrastructure), while the number of U.S. military bases--now at over 700-- increases around the world. While a particular weapons project may take a cut on rare occasions, the war industries' piece of the national budget grows ever larger, with budget-busting cost over-runs still the norm. Think Halliburton in Iraq; even companies that almost openly defraud the
government of billions of dollars reliably have their contracts renewed and expanded.

The 400 highest income people in the nation brought in a stunning $87,000,000 a year. Only 2.67 percent of US households make more than $200,000 annually. Meanwhile 55,000,000 made do in 2010 with an average of $46,000 or less.

It is those almost unimaginably rich people that Obama and most of Congress are serving while they throw the long-term unemployed citizens of this country – and, ultimately, the vast majority of the population, on the trash heap.

Billionaires and millionaires get deficit-busting tax breaks they don’t need, while unemployment benefits must be paid for by cutting something else in the budget --the way food stamps were cut to allegedly pay for some health care. So far, what’s been called “Obamacare” hasn’t kicked in, but insurance premiums already are going up, which is some of why there’s still resentment over Obama dumping the public option.

Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats assert that people won’t look for work as long as they get unemployment benefits (which average $300 a week). The absurdity of this argument is obvious and maddening.

Consider that Delta Airlines recently announced 1,000 job openings on its website and 100,000 people applied. That’s 100 applicants for each job. Last month, only 39, 000 new jobs were created in the country. That doesn't even keep up with normal growth in the work force.

Many of the most profitable corporations still are laying off people -- and demanding more wage cuts from the workers who remain. Best Buy started another trend a couple of years ago: it laid off many of its most senior workers – not including  top management, of course – so that it could keep, promote or hire younger, more inexperienced –- and, of course, cheaper -- workers.
Communities of color, already at a disadvantage in the American economy, have been hit especially hard by this recession. In inner cities, there's often unemployment as high as 50 percent. Little has been done to target job-creation in those areas.

Many long-term unemployed are workers over 45, who regularly face age-discrimination, a fact that has been ignored, especially since now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the 1980s. There’s bipartisan silence about those who are apparently “too old” to hire, yet too young to collect Social Security (another public service on Obama’s Deficit Commission chopping block). The United States has become a culture that has no respect for experience, which hollows out knowledge, wisdom and problem-solving in favor of producing on the cheap.

There obviously are not enough jobs for the unemployed, so, why the “conservative” desire to cut unemployment benefits? (They already cut welfare to a 5-year lifetime limit, with the help of  Bill Clinton.)

It's basic supply and demand and the desire to manipulate that equation: An oversupply of  desperate workers seeking too few jobs means corporations can slash wages and cut or eliminate benefits even as the pay of senior managers soars into the stratosphere. Manufacturing jobs that once paid more than $20 an hour now often pay half that or less, with few or no benefits. That's the template.

Threats to move factories long have been bludgeons to keep workers in line as union protection declines. Since the 2008 election, President Obama and the Democrats shelved the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have leveled the playing field somewhat between bosses and workers
when it comes to union organizing.

Democrats have no problem taking campaign contributions from unions, yet do little or nothing for labor. They do serve their corporate sponsors, however. Republicans (with President Obama’s help) have expanded their war against unions to include government workers and teachers unions

The obscenely wealthy are now mislabeled “job creators” even as they export jobs and/or demand public subsidies. CEOs allegedly “deserve” their multi-million dollar salaries, while employees who do the work that creates the profits are expected to make do with lower and lower wages. Everyday people are being priced out of home ownership, are increasingly unable to pay for college for their kids. They are losing ground steadily in the class war.

Again, here on Earth, 75 percent of Americans make $50,000 a year or less---often far, far less. With the 2008 financial meltdown and its fallout, millions of working families have lost retirement savings, and millions have lost their homes to foreclosure. The almost 10 percent unemployment rate tells only part of the story; millions of people who used to make decent money at steady jobs now get by on part-time and temp jobs (the latter now are almost 25 percent of jobs in this country) or no longer are counted as unemployed because after years of trying, they stopped looking.
The middle-class is being eroded while the poor are eviscerated. This is a basic equity deficit.

We could be employing millions in WPA-style: repairing infrastructure, making the transition to clean energy, caring for children and the elderly, and investing in a sustainable future. Obama’s stimulus was a tepid less-than-half-measure. War abroad and increased policing at home get unlimited money while any plans for helping people go begging.
There’s a job deficit when there’s so much important work that needs doing.

Even with a Democratic majority in Congress and a Democratic president, Wall Street financiers are riding high, sometimes on ill-gotten gains, but suggestions for a freeze on home foreclosures have been ignored.

Goldman Sachs, insurance and pharmaceutical companies got what they paid
for in backing Barack Obama

The term “bipartisan” should now be understood to mean doing whatever the Republican Party demands as the upfront mouthpiece for the top two percent, the wealthy would-be oligarchs of this country. The role of the Democratic Party is to mollify (confuse) the majority of Americans who
are expected to work for lower wages -- hen they still have a job at all -- and to expect less and less in government services in exchange for their increasing taxes.

The Tea Party reinforces the reactionary tendency to blame the most vulnerable---the poor, people of color, undocumented immigrants -- when it is (mostly white) wealthy guys at the top who are robbing us blind.

For more than 30 years, we’ve been culturally brainwashed to worship the wealthy, to use income and possessions as indices of the worth of human beings. The demonization of the poor also has seeped inward: more and more of us see ourselves as “losers” or project that onto people father down the income ladder that we’re clinging to.

Americans have fallen for a materialistic make-believe with their Nike sneakers, high-fashion knock-offs and high-tech status symbols, such as plasma TVs and smart phones. Recently, thousands of people stood in line all night to be among the first to purchase the 4g iPhone (which ironically then failed to work as advertised). I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those people in line had ever participated in a picket line or protest.

After two years in office, it’s undeniable: Obama was simply a celebrity candidate intended to reinvigorate the sadly dented Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story -- America’s favorite myth and a useful distraction from the yawning equality gap in a new Gilded Age. More and more everyday people are disposable, and the rest are intended to be corporate serfs, who are supposed to be grateful for any job at all.

That top two percent has the money -- but, we have the numbers, which has always been aristocrats’ biggest fear.

We must re-discover solidarity with one another, stop living as spectators and wake up from a fake American dream. Ultimately, what it comes down to is a democracy deficit that only We the People can solve.

Lydia Howell is an independent journalist in Minneapolis, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She is producer/host of “Catalyst: politics & culture” on KFAI Radio at http://www.kfai.org