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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nov. 4th: Government by "the Bought?"

It amazes me how quickly the latest news cycle affects this nation's top concerns. The news streams in from West Africa about the Ebola virus and all of a sudden there is panic in this country about an outbreak here. Likewise, we learn about a new faux Islamic jihadist group whose purpose is the take-over of countries to build a new Caliphate and whose strategies include brutal actions toward women and the murder of innocent civilians. Their on-camera slaying of innocent Americans (and others), plus their well-publicized takeovers of towns in Iraq and Syria provoke in us the worst fears about them coming to this nation to perpetrate another 9/11.

There is little doubt that we should prepare ourselves to deal with such outside threats. However, I seem to remember a quote that goes something like this: "The greatest danger to our nation is not the enemy without, but the enemy within." Perhaps I am way off on this, but I think our number one concern right now should be to save our democratic and representative form of government from destruction by a minority faction that has coerced an entire Party to its beck and call.

Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence, contributor to the constitution of the State of Virginia, Governor of Virginia, President Washington's Secretary of State, Minister to France as well as our 3rd President, had much to say, some of it very fundamental, in relation to our nascent democracy. At times he spoke eloquently of human rights and freedom and responsibility. At other times, he acted in violation of the ideas he expressed. Nonetheless, it may be good for us to review some of his quotes in light of our pending election on November 4, 2014, especially since many on the Right love to quote his words as back-up for some of their most outrageous beliefs and actions.

Contrary to that on which too many cast their focus, this election is not about foreign threats, or even about domestic deficits and over-spending. It is about the rule of law and law-making; it is about equality of opportunity and about equal justice and human welfare. This election is about preserving those fundamental elements of our system of laws and our fundamental rights as citizens. Certain of Thomas Jefferson's most famous quotes are perhaps most apropos at this juncture in our national life:

1) “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”
The SCOTUS has interpreted the concept behind this quote as an excuse to open the floodgates of money-power for the richest among us to be able to control elections and politicians. The SCOTUS has legitimized "bribery" and allowed anonymity so that no one must account for their actions or their purposes. As a result, the control of elections and office-holders has begun to shift dramatically to an elite group, whose wealth has already corrupted our electoral system, making a mockery of our "one person one vote" standard.
In concert with that brazen and distorted view of "protecting free expression," the Congress has decided that the will of the people doesn't really matter; that the will of the people voicing overwhelming support for certain broad issues is simply to be ignored. Examples include protection from gun violence by requiring extension of background checks to most sales of guns; opposition to a government shut-down; favoring a Jobs bill of some kind, as in connection to infrastructure repair. In all these matters, strong majorities of the people were in favor; Congress opposed in every case. And here are a few more examples you might remember based on an article by Nate Silver:
impose a "bank Tax"
increase taxes on the rich (over $250,000/year)
greater regulation of Wall Street
election reform; over-turn SCOTUS decision re: Citizens United

Do not forget Republican-dominated states and their opposition to the will of the people. They have attacked labor and bargaining rights, supported voter suppression and refused to allow ordinary citizens the right to re-draw congressional district lines when a census shows they must be altered. The so-called "closer to the people" branch of government has, at least in a large plurality of states, taken on the role of opposing the will of the people on issues of the day, including the right to same-sex marriage.

And just in case you may have forgotten, the use by Republicans of the 60-vote rule to end filibusters in the Senate has done great damage to legislation desired by the people, making it almost impossible to enact.

We are teetering on the edge of a government of the 'bought' where the will of the people is ignored, denigrated, and simply opposed because a small elite want it that way.
Under these circumstances, electing officials who openly tout this form of governing is pure suicide in terms of killing off a government based on the will of the people. We have to guard against a Tyranny of the Elite! In fact, Jefferson expressed that very thought: "The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite."

2) "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government"
It is past time to re-invent not just government, but good government. It is time to say that the Republicans, having gone over to a far Right-wing philosophy, have abandoned the very concept of good government and replaced it with ineffectual government; with government that rewards an elite and not the broad middle class; with a government that is less concerned with the care of human life and happiness, and more with the care and feeding of the rich and their political cronies who represent, not the people, but the very special interests of their only constituents: the richest 1% of our citizenry. Ours has become the government of the few as opposed to the many.

What is more, this is a government that favors non-governing. It is opposed to a strong central government that is able to protect and enhance the lives of the vast array of the people. The radical Republicans in Congress would rather see a weak central government that does not advocate for anyone but the rich and their corporate world. They are well on their way to achieving that goal. If they can gain control in both houses of the Congress (plus maintain the control they already exercise in SCOTUS and throughout the judicial system) they will be able to dismantle all of the social programs that have been enacted to further the care and happiness of the majority of our people. They will first repeal the Affordable Care Act and return us to a disastrous healthcare system that rewards insurance companies, drug companies, and healthcare industry investors.

With the favorable 5-4 majority in SCOTUS, they will dismantle Head Start, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, all affirmative action and equal opportunity programs, all programs designed to help the poor and the disabled, like community development agencies, legal aid, and Planned Parenthood. They will restrict public radio and TV, plus equal access to the Internet. The latter will have different channels for different purposes, and most of those available to the general public will be poor in performance to give another leg-up to the wealthy. They will privatize as many government institutions and departments as they possibly can by devolving them to the private sector's control and supervision. There will be for-profit private schools, private prisons, private mercenaries and suppliers of goods to the armed forces. We will be returned to a place in time when privately-run social service agencies could not keep up with the demands of vulnerable citizens in the absence of government interventions.

Attacks upon the rights of women, minorities, seniors and the poor will continue unabated, for the dismantlers believe there is nothing sacred except the armed forces, the militarized police and first responders, and the unfettered ability of business to sell itself in whatever way benefits that particular segment of society. What they will support with the co-opted central government will be those programs most able to benefit their own off-shore bank accounts.

It is a shame that there are so many voters who have no idea what is coming if this one election gives Republicans control of both Houses of Congress. It would be a tragedy of major proportions, and there are still millions of people who have no idea what this means for their lives. Every day someone is going to have to pay extra for either their absence from, or their miscalculation in, this election.
Every day the banks are going to exact higher interest rates, heavier penalties, charges for personal accounts, higher and higher interest on student loans. In addition, they are going to pay out less interest on private savings and retirement accounts, particularly on what may be newly-instituted private social security accounts. They will keep interest paid on other instruments as low as possible. Debit and credit cards will carry enhanced fees, and the ability to get a loan in the first place will be surrounded with all kinds of restrictions and penalties. If you have to deal with a bank, your life is going to change.

There are not enough words to describe the attacks upon public education. No rehabilitation of old buildings; no new equipment except from corporate donors who use their gifts to sell their products. But mainly, when our very smart middle-class sons or daughters want to get into an elite private school like Harvard or Princeton, Duke or Stanford, there will be a sudden shift in their ability to do so (which has already begun, by the way). Scholarships and grants are drying up; interest on loans is becoming so expensive that it threaten a student's future; few slots left open because the progeny from the wealthiest families are already filling them, no matter what their grades or qualifications. In some cases, the elite Right-wingers have even been able to influence whole school districts and universities to adapt their curricula or their societal activities to conservative interpretation and ideology.

The welfare and happiness of the people and good government are not the issues the radical Right-wingers care about. Their goal is control of people and institutions so that they can dictate the kind of society they desire: one in which all programs policies and laws are aimed at success, elitism, and the total aggrandizement of the richest, most prosperous, most powerful people in our population.

Let us remind ourselves constantly that Jefferson expressed the fears of many of the Founders when he exclaimed: "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

3) “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
“No people can be both ignorant and free.”
"Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government"
Voters sometimes like to grumble when they see the results of an election that didn't go as they had expected. But, it is the grumbling of non-voters - non-participants - that is the major factor in the takeover of government by the monied few.

The point needs to be made and made forcefully: it is non-participation and lack of education that will lead us down the road to destruction of our form of governance. The elitists, the oligarchs, the plutocrats are simply taking advantage of our ignorance and of our non-involvement and lack of commitment.

For instance: the attack upon voting rights in many of our states is not attributable to "voter fraud." The Right would never attempt to disenfranchise anyone on that flimsy basis; they use the phrase simply as a rhetorical tool to bamboozle the uninformed voter. They know they can enact restrictive voting laws because of the ignorance and non-participation that runs rampant in the electorate. The radicals know that this is their ticket to the Promised Land - control, Control, CONTROL! What they are doing seems intolerable and yet there are millions of people in this democracy who don't even understand the implications of voter ID laws, or laws that restrict early voting. They don't understand how closing registration offices in certain areas can influence the outcome of an election. They do not know anything about why congressional districts must be re-drawn in conformance with each ten-year census, and they understand less about who draws the districts and how they are "gerrymandered" to favor one party in so many cases.

We cannot survive as a democracy if the people have not been educated as to their civic duties and responsibilities, and also fail to participate in those duties. We have failed, are failing and will fail if this unacceptable situation continues. It is reported that in any given presidential election, one can expect to see fluctuation in turn-out between 50-55%. In off-year elections, anywhere from 40-50% could be the turn-out depending on the issues. The California Voting Foundation found in one of their studies that 40 percent of non-voters were under the age of 30 and 76 percent of non-voters had less than a college education. Another study makes clear that the higher the education level of the voter, the higher the turn-out of that cohort: around 84% for those with education beyond a college degree.

It is clear that voting turn-out has been on the decline in leading democracies over the last 40 years, which is just one huge example of failure that we are ignoring. How come we have competency tests for reading, history, math and science, even for foreign language in many school districts, but we do not test for competency in political science or civic responsibility anywhere in our public school system? Do we believe that the responsibility of citizenship is such that we should treat it cavalierly? We require immigrants who want to be citizens to pass a test on citizenship, but we have eliminated any such responsibility on the part of our natural born citizens. We even require basic knowledge of laws having to do with driving a car, and test all applicants for a license both by written test and driving test but no such thing is required in terms of registering to vote for the first time. Is that how we protect democracy -- by promoting ignorance of the sacred privilege of citizenship?

Because we are failing in the most fundamental ways to educate the electorate as to government and politics, and are also failing to teach the responsibilities of citizenship involvement, we are putting our democracy on the chopping block, and a Right-wing fringe movement is about to take it over, re-make it, and shove their ideological distortions down our throats.

As we approach November 4, 2014, we are standing on a precipice, with one foot already sliding toward the abyss. If Republicans of any stripe - moderate, socially conservative, classic conservative, or right wing radical -- achieve a victory in this election by taking control of both Houses of the Congress, it will be practically impossible to rescue our system of representative democracy once they put their agenda into effect.
I leave you today with some quotes from Thomas Jefferson that are at once disturbing and prophetic:

"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. The liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties."

"The best principles of our republic secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights."

"To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom"

"Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government..."