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Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Path to Destruction

Like it or not, we are on a course in this country that has been destructive in the past, and will be again in the future.  No one knows exactly how long it will take to destroy a system built on the people’s will rather than on the will of a small group of elites who seek to run both the economy and the government to suit their own ends.  However, I am speculating that another generation is about all that is necessary.  Whatever am I talking about?
 
Let’s start with a societal comparison taken from a very interesting book titled: “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty.”  The authors, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, advance the basic theory that the causes of poverty and prosperity are not so much based on geography and culture, as they are on the kinds of institutions that are developed within a country or settlement.  Their first chapter highlights the differences in prosperity and poverty in the city of Nogales, a city divided by a border fence into Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.  They make the point that there is no difference in geography, climate or disease environment.  And even the background of residents is quite similar; they share common ancestors, enjoy the same food, and the same music – the same culture.

Yet basic components in the two halves of the city are markedly different.  In Nogales, AZ, the average income per family is about $30,000.  Most teenagers are in school, and the majority of adults are high school graduates; the population is relatively healthy with a relatively high life expectancy by world standards.  Many are above age sixty-five with access to Medicare, which is one of the taken-for-granted services government provides along with electricity, telephones, a sewage system, public health, and a road network linking them to the rest of the area and to the United States.  Law and order is another provided service that everyone expects to enjoy.  The government is their agent and their servant and they can vote to replace any official who is not doing an adequate job.
 
Life south of the border fence is quite different.  Family income is about a third less; most adults do not have a high school diploma; many teenagers are not in school.  Poor public health conditions contribute to a lesser survival age and infant mortality is higher.  Public services and amenities are much less – poor roads, crime is high, opening a business is a risky business; paying off public officials to obtain services is a way of life, and politician’s corruption and ineptitude are every-day occurrences.  Democratic processes there are a recent experience since until 2000, the people were under the corrupt control of the PRI – the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
 
The authors draw what they consider a reasonable and self-evident conclusion: not geography, but the economic and political institutions of the United States make the difference.  Being able to choose occupations freely, acquire skills and schooling, and to be able to encourage positive actions by employers - combined with ready access to political institutions that enable them to elect their leaders and to hold their representatives to providing services that citizens demand - all contribute to the relative prosperity on the northern side of the border.  The authors point to early history where “an institutional divergence took place, with implications lasting into the present day.”

Eschewing a similar foray, let us simply enumerate what Acemoglu and Robinson found to be true of early Spanish and English conquests and colonization in conquered lands.  According to the authors, “Early Spanish, and English, colonists were not interested in tilling the soil themselves; they wanted others to do it for them, and they wanted riches, gold and silver, to plunder.”  They generally followed a similar pattern wherever they sought to colonize: capture the indigenous leader, demand tribute from the leader and his people, set themselves up as the elite, and take control of the existing methods of taxation, tribute and particularly, forced labor. After an initial phase of looting and confiscation, the Spanish created a web of institutions designed to exploit the indigenous people, and to force their living standards to a subsistence level while extracting whatever they could for themselves.  This was achieved by expropriating their lands, forcing them to work but offering low wages for labor services, imposing high taxes, and charging high prices for goods, all of which turned Latin America into the “most unequal continent in the world and sapped much of its economic potential.”

The English had a similar model of colonization, but found few riches of gold and silver among the indigenous people of North America, and thus had to amend their strategy of colonization, by utilizing their own human resources, i.e. tradesmen and workers from England, and initiating trade with the native peoples.   However, the Virginia Company, accumulating little or no profit from the Jamestown adventure, decided they needed a new model of governance.  Long story short, there grew up the concept of incentives; settlers were given their houses and freedom from their contracts, and in 1619 a General Assembly was introduced that effectively gave all adult men a say in the institutions and laws governing the colony.  It was the start of democracy in the United States, although as North America developed, English elites tried time and again to set up institutions that “would heavily restrict the economic and political rights for all but a privileged few.”

Without delving further into their stories of early colonial exploits, let us return to the present and ask just what this has to do with the “path to destruction” of which we speak.  I make no excuses or apologies for saying that there is in this present time, another attempt by the elite, and certain ideologues, to break down or weaken existing financial and political institutions, replacing them where possible with rejuvenated elitist strategies and institutions. 
 
Let us begin with “capture the leader.”  What more need be said than to say that Republican extremists have clearly indicated their willingness to destroy the current President (Mitch McConnell’s famous declaration will suffice:  “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”).  But the “capturing” did not stop there.  Ever since he was elected, radical Republicans have declared war on this President: declaring him to be illegal because he wasn’t born in this country; painting him as a Muslim; calling him a socialist; denigrating every accomplishment, including health care reform, saving the economy, saving the American auto industry, and getting Wall Street up and running again.  His attempts at job creation, economic stimulus, and improvement of our infrastructure were all “too big” and destined to increase the national debt (turns out we needed greater stimulus, more jobs, and more innovative programs that would increase the debt but boost the economy even further).

Nor does it stop there.  The Senate minority took it upon themselves to hold hostage almost every major executive branch appointment, and to require almost all major legislation to pass by a 60-vote majority by using a rule that was meant to give the minority a full voice in debate.  The filibuster/cloture rules instead allowed a minority to stop judicial appointments, cabinet appointments and important legislation that could (and would) have furthered the nation’s recovery.  But neither did the “capture” end there. 

The radical Republicans used their authorization and appropriation power to prevent budgets from passing.  They then had the gall to pass individual appropriations that were way out-of-line, especially in terms of the Department of Defense, and to pass certain tax laws that favored the richest 1% and the biggest corporations so that our Executive was boxed-in by unequal treatment of favored Republican cronies and donors.  The radical Republicans tried to box-in the President even further by holding back their votes on major government issues (like the debt ceiling and extension of unemployment) until they got concessions for their own clients tax cuts and tax breaks.
 
Let us then move to extraction of “riches.”  The radical Republicans have decided to plunder the Treasury of the U.S. Government in order to make their clients and supporters even richer than they had been.  They chose to do so with the most stealth they could muster.  They used the U.S. Tax Code to hide their intentions from the general public who basically think that the tax code deals only with income taxes and how they are paid.  Not so.

Republicans (and Democrats) have so amended the Code that individual corporations and businesses are able to get tax breaks or loopholes applied only to them; even certain individuals have benefitted by provisions that apply almost exclusively to their individual situation.  Then again, these plunderers have added loophole after loophole and break after break, incentive after incentive, to the point where few of the 400 richest people in this country actually have to pay more than 19% in income taxes (some far less, especially corporations like GE).  Mitt Romney was a perfect example of the breaks that enabled him to pay a paltry 14% tax rate in one of the years he reported.

As if this were not enough plundering, many of our political representatives also moved to make money for themselves by being in on the testimony and reports of certain businesses that gave them “insider trading” information that allowed them to make some substantial bucks on Wall Street and in other forms of financial gambling, such as local development. But the buck does not stop there.  These hooligans in the Congress extracted more dollars from the indigenous citizens by keeping their wages low, their taxes high, and their opportunities to advance a rung up the ladder of success at a minimum (in fact, almost impossible).  What middle class family wouldn’t rejoice to have the 33% increase in annual income that has made it into the coffers of the richest 1% in the last 20 years?

Moving even further, as some protests began to surface, the radical Republicans turned their attention full time to the inevitable “destruction of economic and political staples and institutions.” 
First, came an attack upon the democratic and economic institution of labor unions.  Their bargaining rights were curtailed; the minimum wage was opposed, extension of unemployment benefits delayed, extension of middle class tax cuts held up; the closed shop dropped in favor of “right to work laws”; and more restrictions put on government employee unions.  Not only restrictions, draconian cut-backs in numbers of teachers, first responders, and other governmental workers destroyed their jobs so that union membership and representation meant little.  Contractual benefits began to dwindle as well until labor was reeling from the attacks, and the labor movement was diminished once more to fewer than 12 million members in 2010 compared to 20 million in 1983.

Next, let us remind ourselves that the elitist Republican conservatives, who have always been uneasy with women in the workforce, in the military, and in the Board room or in Executive offices began to attack women’s rights to contraception and abortion; as well as their health needs.  Equal pay for equal work was scoffed at, and the Violence Against Women Act first went down to defeat, but was then passed.  But again, that was not the end of that. 
Some forget that these right-wing lawmakers have taken aim at women another way: through their children.  Women who work must depend on certain supports, one of which is child care.  Is that what the sequestration cuts in Head Start amount to? Another attack on women?  What about cuts to acute care centers, or cuts to research into child diseases, or the refusal to pass expanded background checks for gun sales, or drastic cuts in the WIC program, or food stamps, or any other program that protects children.  Are these veiled attempts to put mothers in the uncomfortable and difficult position of having to return from the work place to the home base to care for their children?

Let us remember vividly that the right-wing reactionaries are after government programs that help populations that are most vulnerable.  These are well-established programs that have been in the forefront of government services to the elderly, the disabled, children, wounded warriors, those with physical or mental challenges; the poor, the student, the underserved, the under-employed, the uneducated, the destitute and the homeless.  All of these face drastic cuts, and some face extinction:  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, Meals on Wheels, subsidized housing, food stamps, veteran benefits and subsidies, school rehabilitation, special education.  You name it; this radical elitist Congress will take some action to nullify or diminish it.

And let us remind ourselves once more that certain institutions and cherished principles and rights are also under attack from the Right-wing: public schools,  the disestablishment of religion or separation of church and state, free and fair elections, voting rights, majority rule, the welcoming of immigrants to our shores and over our borders, racial integration, but mostly, these radicals have disavowed, and worked against, a strong central government which is essential for a multi-faceted society dealing with multi-faceted problems, and with a multi-cultural population.  These Republicans want to turn their backs on a constitution which is very explicit in assigning primacy to a central government revolving around a working Congress.  Instead they prefer to bring back the rejected model of state supremacy which, as far back as the Continental Congress, was found wanting by the Founding Fathers or they would never have done what they did which was to fashion a model of a strong central government restrained by checks and balances.

Under the guise of smaller government, reduction of the deficit, reform of the Tax Code, and states’ rights, modern-day radical Republicans are seeking to change our institutional structure so that they can hold on to power and use government in ways that advance the prosperity, rights, privileges and property of a small elite group of the richest and most powerful men in this country.  They have already begun to accomplish several major strategies that put them closer to their goal (some of which we have already mentioned or referenced):
1.    Control of state houses and legislatures
2.    Drawing congressional districts in ways that favor Republican representatives being safely elected time after time
3.    Controlling elections by the utilization of unlimited PAC and super-PAC monies that are also unrevealed as to their sources mainly to distort the issues and to denigrate the opposition candidates (SCOTUS helped further this by allowing unfettered campaign contributions from individualized  corporations in Citizens United)
4.    Disenfranchising certain voting blocs that are known to favor progressive candidates: Hispanic- and Afro-Americans, women, students, labor (again, the SCOTUS recently aided this with its strike-down of certain voter protections that checked the tendency of certain states to discriminate against blocs of voters, sending several states into a frenzy to pass voter restriction legislation)
5.    Deregulating restrictions on businesses, industries and corporations while increasing the restrictions on consumer protection laws and agencies (which helped lead to the recent Great Recession and a corresponding diminution of the buying power of the middle class)
6.    Increasing the acquisition of media outlets that can be used to promote conservative and reactionary viewpoints (the Koch brothers have moved to buy up certain media outlets to further this aim)
7.    Attacking programs that are at the heart of the New Deal, such as Social Security, but also attacking the principles behind those government social programs to the extent that people will come to believe that government should not be in the business of supplementing or uplifting anyone with special or exceptional needs
8.    Reducing the political and economic power of unions and the Labor movement
9.    Making males (and some females) of certain ethnic groups felons for life, so that they cannot obtain well-paying jobs, nor have a normal life ever again.  This has happened to African-American males in particular, but also to Hispanic males.  All this is being done under the guise of law and order but more particularly under the guise of a “War on Drugs” (consult Michelle Alexander’s excellent book, “The New Jim Crow”).

And that leads us to the big fat elephant in the room: under the guise of smaller government, states as laboratories and being closest to the people, reducing the deficit, plus getting rid of social programs, the right wing of the Republican Party is practicing what Republicans have always endorsed and kept alive – racism, pure and simple.  This is not the first time that a conservative movement has attempted to use states’ rights, nullification of federal laws, and even secession from the union as their credo when all along they simply wanted to protect and defend the institution of slavery, then of Jim Crow laws, then school segregation, etc.
 
Writing in the New York Times on July 11, Robert Perry sums it up neatly: “Mainstream commentators endlessly dance around the obvious explanation for the Right’s intense anger against “guv-mint” – and indeed against any significant legislation that addresses the suffering of minorities and the poor, whether it’s immigration reform, health care or food stamps. That unspoken word is racism. Racism is the subtext for many of the actions of the modern Right and the modern Republican Party. The mainstream media may desire to dress up the motivations as some principled commitment to small government, but both historically and currently, the insistence on a tightly constrained federal government has been about maintaining white supremacy.  This aspect of “colonialization” is well underway. 

Again, according to Robert Parry, “Patrick Henry and George Mason fought ratification of the Constitution because they perceived that the document’s concentration of power in the federal government – stripping the states of their ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’ as specified in the Articles of Confederation – would eventually doom slavery. Slavery, after all, was not just some peculiar institution, part of the South’s unique cultural heritage. It was the South’s dominant industry. It was where the Southern aristocrats had invested their money.  The Constitution’s key Framers, including George Washington and James Madison, were determined to expand the power of the central government out of frustration with the states’ rights-oriented Articles of Confederation. That was the document that made the states ‘sovereign’ and ‘independent,’ language that was eliminated by the Constitution, which shifted national sovereignty to ‘We the People of the United States’ and made federal law ‘supreme’.”

The “path to Destruction” is not just a title for this piece.  It is a description of the chaos and vituperativeness that dominates our current economic and political scene.  It is illustrative of the reactionary attitude of radical Republicans both in the Congress and in the SCOTUS that threatens to move us back to a non-effective system of government (Articles of Confederation) that will allow the elites to destroy the will of the people and the powers of central (federal) government.  For those who think that this is just “politics,” let me assure you that you are mistaken.  This is not just legislative acts, or judicial decisions made separate from each other, so that each piece stands alone. 

This is part of a Plan and Strategy that intends to “capture,” “enslave,” “plunder,” and finally, disenfranchise, if not the entire broad middle class, then certainly enough parts of it so that economic and political power will be returned to the less-than-one-percent of this country’s population where “they” believe the power and control should be.  Yesterday’s decision by the jury in the George Zimmerman trial indicates that another step has been taken.  That is: that the “Stand-your-ground” “self-defense” laws of certain states will allow the killing (lynching?) of certain racial group members without a worry that one will be punished for the wanton manslaughter of another human being.

This is not “politics as usual.”  This is an all-out power-grab by privileged white people who have always believed that they should be the ones to determine the destiny of this nation.  They are relentless in their mission, and they are gaining, even though they did not achieve their goal in the last Presidential election.  Since then, however, they have made progress; so much so that they are undeterred in their quest.  Be warned: this movement is the result of 40 years of neo-conservative ascendency through planning and manipulation of every system and process available for capture and plunder. 

Progressives, as usual, are late to the field of battle with no cohesive on-going plan of their own.  The question persists: when will it be too late to stop this destruction by the right-wing?  The answer lies with a new, untrained generation of very smart Progressive students who now have to contend with a rise in the interest rates on their student loans, and the lack of really decent jobs.  Was this part of the radicals' Plan to divert the attention of nascent Progressive/Liberal leaders?  A negative answer to that question could be why so many of us have not prepared adequately for the steps it will take to divert us from the elitist “Path to Destruction!”