Publius Speaks

Publius Speaks
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Monday, April 25, 2011


Will the off-year elections of 2010 go down in history as the culmination of the turning of the United States government toward something other than democracy?  Is the United States national government now an Oligarchy rather than a Democracy?  That is, are the richest 1-2% of the electorate dictating what will happen to the other 98-99%?  Interesting questions, but not necessarily the most probing.  Maybe we should ask more personal questions of ourselves to bring home what is really happening in our beloved country.  Consider then:

1)  Have your personal views ever been solicited by a Congressional Committee?
2)    Have you ever been asked to suggest or to write a piece of legislation or regulations that would benefit you or your business?
3)    Do you pay a lobbyist who represents your views (and wants) to your Congressman or Senator?  Do you have your own lawyer who finds legal loopholes that benefit your income or your business?
4)    Have you ever met personally with your Congressman or Senator, like on a golf course, at a special resort, or at a private dinner or party?
5)    Has your Congressman or Senator ever voted to help enhance your personal situation or business?  Or, more to the point perhaps: has your Congressman or senator ever not voted, or delayed a vote, or negatively impacted a piece of legislation that would have hurt you or your business?

If you answered “NO” to most of these questions, you have to ask yourself who can answer “YES” ?  It’s very simple.  The rich and powerful can answer YES to every question because they have been given, or taken, special privileges that are not available to the ordinary citizen.  The rich and powerful, like CEOs of major companies, or wall street brokers, or bank execs can “buy” access to their government representatives that you can’t afford.  Your access to your representatives is limited to writing letters, making phone calls, protesting in the streets, and voting.  Some among us believe that this is the way it should be: that the rich have earned their right to call the shots, while the rest of us should support them because they know what is best for all of us! 

YOU don’t have any real access beyond the basics, because the government of this country does not, at the moment, belong to you!  It is totally in the hands of the rich and powerful: both houses of Congress have a majority of millionaires; the Presidency has been occupied by a millionaire for some time now (and the current Cabinet is afflicted with the same oligarchical malady); the Supreme Court has millionaires in the majority (and some of them live in gated communities to separate themselves from YOU). 

And, guess what, it’s your own damn fault, because you have allowed our electoral system to become a system tilted toward electing millionaires when few others can afford to run unless they raise scads of money from the very people who have it, and who want to “buy“ access!  Ask any politician what the bane of their existence is: raising money, is the answer, and money is at the heart of the corruption of our democratic system.

But, back to the questions:

6)    How much of your household income do you spend on necessities: housing (mortgage & maintenance), food, clothing, medicine, all taxes and government fees, transportation, child care, work-related expenses?  How much of that budget do you spend on luxuries: vacations, recreation, club memberships, fine jewelry, art work, “baubles”, collector items like cars, a yacht,  redecoration of your home, etc.?
7)    Can you pay a lesser rate on a portion of your income, say up to $50,000? 
    Can you hide any of your income in overseas bank accounts where taxes are much less? 
8)    Can you deduct for all of the depreciation of a (work-related) piece of equipment at once instead of over the 20 years it actually takes to depreciate (computer, cell-phone, car)?
9)    When did you last receive a raise in pay or a bonus or have an enhancement made to your benefits like health care or pension?
10)    How many in your household have to work to make ends meet?   How many are finding it almost impossible to find a job?  What kinds of temporary or permanent jobs have you had to take to keep afloat?
11)    How much have you had to cut back on in the last decade to make ends meet?
12)    How much debt is your household carrying right now?

These are not questions to be taken lightly.  Do your answers scare you at all?  Do they make you angry, frustrate you, discourage you?  Does it make you the least bit worried that the majority of those in positions of power in this country are not feeling what you feel as you answer these questions; that they are not even having to concern themselves with these questions because they can afford the necessities and the luxuries?  That they are getting bonuses, stock options, pension securities, and Cadillac health plans that you can’t even imagine? That they have special tax breaks that are not available to you?  That when they lose a job because of poor performance, they get a multi-million dollar settlement package that enables them to retire with ease?  That they haven’t had to cut back to “make ends meet” because they have done just fine while the rest of us are taking it on the chin (and everywhere else) during these hard economic times?  And does it bother you at all that the rich and powerful are dictating monetary and economic policy and legislation that continues to benefit them, while cutting back on, and zeroing out, programs that help the middle class and the poor? 

How long do you plan to take the abuse, the condescension, the arrogance of people in power who refer to the other 98% percent of us as “the little people”, the “small people”, “unfortunates”, “lower classes,” and who rant and rave about “welfare cheats” and “those who ought to stand on their own” or “pull themselves up” and make “something of themselves”? 
How long will you stand for the loss of your right to earn a decent wage while those in power cut back on union bargaining rights, and bemoan the audacity of government workers like police, firemen, teachers, health care workers, bargaining for adequate wages, benefits, and pensions. 
How long will it be before you realize that every time the rich and powerful gain another loophole, or privilege, or incentive, or tax break to their benefit that you lose because you have to make up the difference in retail prices or taxes you pay?  In the last 30 years, the rich have gained more money, more riches, more access, more clout, more power while you have gained very little, not only in access and clout, but in wages: just about an additional $300 (adjusted for inflation) over that same span.

But, you did gain some other things caused by those same powerful owners of government: higher (total) taxes; higher prices but less buying power; more inadequate schools; loss of housing; higher interest rates on credit cards; restricted loans from banks;  fewer consumer protections through regulation and legislation; health care insurance premiums up and benefits restricted; health care adequacy down; prestigious private schools for them, diminished public education for you.  You can fill in many of the blanks yourself because you know exactly what has been taken from you.

How long will it take before you realize that our wonderful unique representative democracy has been stolen out from under us by an Oligarchy that rules our lives in much the same manner as the dictators and oligarchs of certain Middle Eastern countries?  The Tea Party missed it entirely, targeting government as the culprit and supporting more robbery (of them and us) by the Oligarchs and Plutocrats.

How long will it take before you realize that nothing short of a revolution will reclaim what has been lost? 
A revolution that requires peaceful demonstrations, constitutional amendments, electoral reform, and term limits;
A revolution that denies the oligarchs the loopholes, breaks and privileges that they now enjoy;
A revolution that requires of the rich (and the rest of us) the responsibilities of liberty and of power: to help the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the prisoner, the elderly, etc. etc.
A revolution that opens up the records and transactions of government - and those of the contributors to legislators - for all to see;
A revolution that does not involve us in preemptive warfare or any more unjust military excursions into other countries, all of which rob us of young lives, money, and prestige as well as our sacred honor, no matter how upright, decent, and dedicated our brave military men and women may be.

How long will it take?