Thursday, April 08, 2010

How the Right Wing Destroyed America

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The U.S. Supreme Court has decreed: corporations are now people. They have been given rights that only real people had before. Worse --corporations remain 'privileged' in ways that real people could only dream about! Corporations enjoy 'limited liability', a privilege which, in fact, defines them. Corporations are above the law.

Real people meanwhile may be prosecuted for murders and, if found guilty, sentenced and possibly executed. A mere legal abstraction need never fear the hand of justice. They have been made 'people' but very, very privileged people to whom the criminal laws may never be applied. Examples are Exxon with respect to the Exxon Valdez disaster and Dow Chemical, Union Carbide et al with respect to mass deaths at Bhopal.

Real people, meanwhile, have been robbed of any real power by which they may influence the direction of government. The power resides primarily among the corporations and an increasingly tiny elite which control them from the board room. This is symptomatic of dictatorial plutocracies that result when the rich are enriched! We witnessed recently the most absurd SCOTUS decision in U.S. history in which it is decreed that these mere legal abstractions --corporations --are real people to which all the Bill of Rights apply, to which the protections of Due Process of Law apply! This unconscionable outcome is the reductio ad absurdum of right wing thinking in general and fascist policies specifically. Unless this decision is reversed or may irrelevant by law immediately and a Constitutional Amendment in the longer term, you can kiss the last vestiges of American Democracy goodbye.

Today --just one percent of the U.S. population owns more than some 95 percent of the rest of us combined and the trend is toward even greater concentration of wealth into yet fewer hands. The trend began in earnest with the Reagan years --heady boom times for the idle rich, offshore banks and the Military-Industrial complex. But in real America, the growth industries were poverty and crime.

Even in the second half of the 19th Century, when big 'combines' were industrializing the world, it was not believed that these mere agreements on paper were 'people'. Even so, organized labor was in a fight for its life, a fight that it did not lose decisively until Ronald Reagan busted up a strike of air traffic controllers in the 1980s. Concurrently, the conduct of American politics morphed. Politics, over the years, ceased to address the needs of 'people'. Politics became the process by which 'money' bought influence in DC and the various state houses throughout the nation.
We'll never raise as much money as Bush is going to raise and his corporate lobbyists, I can promise you, because he has paid them back in spades.

--James Carville
Carville refers to the very purchase of the government, a purchase analogous to the sale of Rome by the Praetorian Guard which literally auctioned and sold the Empire to nobleman Didius Julianus. The sale was transacted in Greek Drachmas --not worthless Roman sesterces.

Rome was then as the U.S. is now a plutocracy.
KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think we have one now and we didn't, 12 years ago when I wrote THE POLITICS OF RICH AND POOR is when money has ceased just entertaining itself with leveraged buyouts and all the stuff they did in the '80s, and really takes over politics, and takes it over on both sides when money not only talks, money screams. When you start developing philosophies in which giving a check is a First Amendment right. That's incredible. But what you've got is that this is what money has done. It's produced the fusion of money and government. And that is plutocracy. ... a plutocracy in a way that we haven't had before, since the gilded age.

BILL MOYERS But the signers of the Declaration were representatives of America's first and wealthiest families.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, they were, but, you know, a funny thing about that, because they were simultaneously people who were furious with the British. Furious with the British for taxing them, for not letting them make their pig iron into hammer and spades, for not paying the right amount of money for tobacco.

And if you read what they had to say, it sounds like the American version 100 years earlier of what the people out in the plains said about the bankers in New York and the railroad owners in Minneapolis. So they were fighters in a way. And Thomas Jefferson pretty much stuck with that. You had a divergence within the founding fathers of those who became, in the American context, pretty conservative, and those who like Jefferson maintained their anger they had against the British economic elites in the United States.

BILL MOYERS: But where is that anger today? Because the ... the two men who spoke most consistently with what you're saying in WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY in 2000, John McCain and Willi... Bill Bradley, Senator Bradley, both got defeated in their primaries. And they were the ones who were registering the discontent of which you are ... are writing about. What happened? The peop... that the majority of people don't share your convictions and mine?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, I'm not certain whether they do or they don't. But the ... the key thing in the year 2000 was that if you look at all the psychological profiles of the United States, of the electorate during that period, even though the Nasdaq had started to crash they still thought things were pretty good. The real dive didn't come until after the election when you had the miserable elections stalemate and the sagging economy.

So that basically, you never get one of these reactions against big money until you've had this speculative implosion. And normally I think if we were seeing any kind of debate in Washington, and the Democrats have all kinds of things they could say about the Bush dynasty and Enron, for example, it's mind blowing, but they don't.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think partly because they're so interested in raising money that they can't see their soul in the mirror.

BILL MOYERS: What has happened to the word equality? When you and I were young men in politics it was a common reference in our political discourse. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, a lot of others too, but you don't hear it in the political lexicon anymore.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: You hear it in twisted ways. There is a view in some conservative circles that it doesn't matter much what concentrations of wealth you have or disparities of income. It's equality of consumption. It's the right to have Nike shoes, to listen to a boom box, to take a plane ride. And ...

BILL MOYERS: Nothing wrong with that.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, no, but on the other hand, that didn't solve problems in a depression when you had the right to watch a plane fly over Kansas. Or turn on the radio. So you've got these different ledgers that are kept. And people that try to say "consumption is the yardstick" usually have it in mind that democracy is not ... that income differentials are not, they stand for a different philosophy.

BILL MOYERS: Didn't the word "equality" disappear because the people who believe in inequality won the elections?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, there's a certain truth to that. And going back to the time when we were both in politics on different sides of the aisle, the ... one of the great weaknesses, in my opinion, in liberal politics, was to start talking about social equality in a way that had never really occurred in the United States. People came to this country as immigrants and they ... they suffered all kinds of hardships and "no Irish need apply" and everything you could name. Nobody ever tried to draw blueprints for bussing the Irish around Boston ...

BILL MOYERS: Mm-hm.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: ... or things like that. And there was a sense that equality in the social sense could be obtained through government, that became powerful in the '60s. And in my opinion, that was the beginning of the tending of the idea of equality in the sense of ... of economics. Now, conservatives will still say all that matters is equality of opportunity.

BILL MOYERS: The market will produce the equality.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Yes, exactly.

BILL MOYERS: You ... you know that I was quite taken with your book "The Politics of Rich and Poor," what, a decade ago?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: 1990.

BILL MOYERS: 1990. In it you told of how the wealthy had made great gains in their power. They had ... are you writing the same thing now? Has it changed quantitatively and qualitatively?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think there are two stages, the 18- ... the 1980s were the first stage in the sense that Ronald Reagan wanted people to have a chance to get rich. He liked entrepreneurs, he liked people who owned 14 department stores or two movie studios. It wasn't for the big old steel companies or anything, but he liked money. And he and Don Regan, the Treasury secretary, created a political culture in which fashion became in, making money became in, paper entrepreneurialism was the key, all the leveraged buyouts. And that was a whole culture of... people got a lot of money at the top.

But what you got then in the 1990s was, in my opinion, stage two. And this was the technology mania, and the rise of the securities markets, taking technology and making this incredible bubble out of it. And a new crowd of people got rich. Plenty of the old people, but a whole lot of new people. New people who tended to have a more liberal politics in many cases, to name Internet companies, things like Yahoo! and AskJeeves, and what have you.

If you look at the list of new money in the Forbes 400 say in 199... 1998 or 1999, when the Internet crowd was coming in big time, we've got an awful lot of Democrats. And the Democratic Party has in its own way started to be a party of a different type of wealth. The Republicans have the smoke stacks and the polluters and the ranchers and the oil companies, and the Democrats have a lot of the communications media, a lot of biotechnology, a lot of the coming stuff ...

So what we've got are two sets of people in Washington who basically because of the whole demand of financing campaigns go to people with money. They go to different sets of money and you've sort of got what you had in politics before the Civil War: the Democratic Party, that basically was in with a southern plantation aristocracy, and Republicans who are in with the merging industry. Nobody was for the little guy.

BILL MOYERS: What's the ordinary Joe and Jane to do? I mean, the guys running these cameras working here, whom you've met, they can't write big checks to either political party or political candidates, and yet it's a struggle not to leave people despairing today when they read an analysis such as "Wealth and Democracy." What are the average folks to do?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, one thing I think they have to do is they really have to say on certain issues, which are not strictly party issues, we've just got to mobilize on the issues, whether it's campaign finance or other things like that. But secondarily they've got to work to make the party system make a difference. You can't have two parties that represent different flavors of great wealth and expect not to see all these weaknesses continue to grow.

BILL MOYERS: But you've already said that both parties spend all their time raising money. And they don't listen to the people running the cameras. They listen to the people writing the checks.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Yeah, well, some of the time they do, because you keep reading about votes in Congress periodically, where these outrageous proposals, be they tax or trade or other things, they only make it through by one, two, three votes. People are standing there twisting arms of Presidents, giving them six post offices and three favors.

Now, if there wasn't some responsiveness to public opinion and a sense that things have gone too far, that wouldn't happen. So the trick is to mobilize somehow or other institutions in this political culture that will take those issues on which Congress ... some of them would like to be made to vote against their contributors. And, you know, I'm ... I'm not sure how to do it. I think ...

BILL MOYERS: It took a rich man, Ross Perot, to make it happen in any significant manifestation ... eight years ago, ten years ago.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: But see, part of the thing in ... in the United States, is that the minority of rich people are usually on the side of trying to make America work like America. You had in the last election, in the three people who were running sort of as populist, John McCain, millionaire, son and grandson of four-star admirals, Bill Bradley, multi-millionaire, former basketball player, even Ralph Nader's got three or four million dollars worth of investments. So all kinds of people go against what should be their interest financially because of what they think is the right thing to do. That's really something to build on.

BILL MOYERS: What's been the biggest change? You ... I was in Washington in the '60s, you came right after, helped elect Richard Nixon, we were both in our 30's then, very young 30's, what's been the biggest change in Washington since we were young men there?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think the entrenchment of money in ways you can't even begin to count. It used to be that when a new wave politically came to Washington they swept it out. And that was certainly true with Lincoln, it was certainly true with FDR. It couldn't happen even in the '60s, in my opinion. There's no way to sweep now. The whole structure was just a pyramid of ... of economic influence mongering.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think the new McCain Feingold ban on soft money will have any positive impact on this?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Oh, it'll have some positive impact, but in many ways, it's gonna be another version of the lawyers and accountants full employment act.

BILL MOYERS: So what do we do?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Keep fighting. I think there are signs that it's turning now. To me one of the most important milestones will be if people, and I include the media here, have the courage to document and put on the front page what they won't really touch now, which is ...

BILL MOYERS: Which is?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: All the examples of the Bush family's role in the rise of Enron. Here, we're running around, we're blaming these accountants, these tricksters that were in Enron, but George W. and George H.W., his father, were very much involved in the whole rise of Enron's influence and power in this country. But you ... you don't see that. People in the press have a lot of trouble touching these issues right where the rubber hits the road.

BILL MOYERS: Well, when you've got anchors making eight, nine, ten million dollars a year, when you've got a handful of huge media corporations owning over half of the outlets in this country, do you expect much populism from those people?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: No. And that's the fundamental problem. How do you get dynasties to talk about other dynasties? I think it's a real difficulty. Unfortunately, that means that some of us have to start talking about stuff we'd rather not do all the time because if you don't make a lot of friends by doing it ... it's tough, but a dynasty is a dynasty is a dynasty and these problems are there, and this incredible amount of money is ... is just staring this country's historical role in the face

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain that the pro-wealth policies of the right, the conservatives, have endured so much support among working Americans and low income Americans?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, all I can say is if I were a Democratic senator, I would go on and make a speech that might remind Democrats of stuff they haven't heard in a long time. You get professors who are dedicated liberals and they go on and they make these speeches and nobody pays any attention. You have to basically go in there and do a number. You have to go in there and just stand there and describe who supports somebody, who is paid for and who has done this, that and the other.

If the Democrats wanted to take all these issues out and run 'em up the flagpole, there is still plenty of people ready to salute. That's why we have some of these close votes. But you've got to be willing to do it. And I understand why a lot of them don't want to do it. But, you know, who's gonna do it? Ralph Nader couldn't do it. His friends dropped him when he talked about all of this.

--Kevin Phillips, Author of 'Wealth and Democracy', Now with Bill Moyers
Why does the GOP insist upon repeating failed strategies? Reaganites promised that the stimulated economy would outgrow the deficit and the budget would be balanced "...within three years, maybe even two." It didn't! Reagan tripled the deficit and, on the way, doubled the size of the federal bureaucracy. Reagan's tax cuts were followed promptly by the longest and worst recession since Herbert Hoover's Great Depression. As Robert Freeman correctly points out: "...Jimmy Carter's last budget deficit was $77 billion. Reagan's first deficit was $128 billion. His second deficit exploded to $208 billion. By the time the "Reagan Revolution" was over, George H.W. Bush was running an annual deficit of $290 billion per year."

How will Bush the lesser compare to Reagan? By the year 2002, Citizens for Tax Justice were already writing:
Over the ten-year period, the richest Americans—the best-off one percent—are slated togwb0602a.gif - 10559 Bytes receive tax cuts totalling almost half a trillion dollars. The $477 billion in tax breaks the Bush administration has targeted to this elite group will average $342,000 each over the decade.

By 2010, when (and if) the Bush tax reductions are fully in place, an astonishing 52 percent of the total tax cuts will go to the richest one percent—whose average 2010 income will be $1.5 million. Their tax-cut windfall in that year alone will average $85,000 each. Put another way, of the estimated $234 billion in tax cuts scheduled for the year 2010, $121 billion will go just 1.4 million taxpayers.

Although the rich have already received a hefty down payment on their Bush tax cuts—averaging just under $12,000 each this year—80 percent of their windfall is scheduled to come from tax changes that won’t take effect until after this year, mostly from items that phase in after 2005.

1968 was the year in which measured postwar income was at its most equal for families. The Gini index for households indicates that there has been growing income inequality over the past quarter-century. Inequality grew slowly in the 1970's and rapidly during the early 1980's. ...Generally, the long-term trend has been toward increasing income inequality. Since 1969, the share of aggregate household income controlled by the lowest income quintile has decreased from 4.1 percent to 3.6 percent in 1997, while the share to the highest quintile increased from 43.0 percent to 49.4 percent. Most noticeably, the share of income controlled by the top 5 percent of households has increased from 16.6 percent to 21.7 percent. Over the same time period, the Gini index rose 17.4 percent to its 1997 level of .459.

Income Inequality, Census Bureau

The trend began then has continued: October 2003 figures from the US Census Bureau make stark reading:
Median household incomes are falling The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 5.7 percent to 43.6 million individuals.

The number of people living below the poverty line ($18,392 for a family of four) climbed to 12.1 percent — 34.6 million people.

Wages make up the majority of income for most American families. As "Downward Mobility," NOW's report on workers and wages illustrates, many American workers are facing corporate efforts to cut pay and benefits, which could lead to more American families struggling to stay out of poverty.

The results in black and white:
  • Twenty percent of the population own 84% of our private assets, leaving the other 80 percent of the population with 15.6 percent of the assets.
  • In 1960, the wealth gap between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of Americans was thirty fold. Four decades later it’s more than seventy-five-fold.
  • Either way -- wealth or income – America is more unequal, economists generally agree, than at any time since the start of the Great Depression…
  • And more unequal than any other developed nation today.
  • Inequality.org

The most pernicious effect of GOP economic policy is the effect of declining opportunity, a corollary of declining in wealth among all but the very rich.

It is merely rhetorical to ask: why does the GOP seem to repeat ad nauseum utterly failed strategies that have never been shown to work? The answer is simple: the GOP sales pitch is what Reagan Budget Director David Stockman called a 'Trojan Horse'. The purpose of the tax cut is not to trickle down. The tax cuts always do precisely what the GOP insiders know they will do: they enrich the GOP base! Here is how someone who lived through the Reagan nightmare remembers it:

I was in the automotive field at the time, and dozens and dozens of established tool manufacturers, unionized shops, producing high quality tools, small companies with deep roots and real a commitment to the towns they were in all across the Midwest and the local communities, went out of business.

Why? Because with deregulation any hustler could get virtually unlimited financing and set up manufacturing plants overseas producing exact copies of American made tools and flood the US market with them with no fear of the Reagan administration enforcing any laws against them.

It also became easier, and far less risky, to get financing to set up a thousand junky identical chain outlets than it did for small local businesses to get credit or tax relief - restaurants, auto parts stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, florists - thousands and thousands of small businesses chewed up and destroyed.

We have a younger generation of people who have no personal experience with so many things - local businesses and tight knit communities, affordable, convenient and efficient public transportation, wages that allowed one person in a household enough income to support the family, homes that were homes, not investments, easy access to public recreation, confidence in the safety of food and other consumer items, all regulated and inspected for the public welfare, freedom from the relentless intrusion of corporations into our lives, and on and on and on.

Reagan destroyed the country, and if we try to gloss over that (which at the very least Obama's remarks have done) or if we buy into the dishonest rationales and excuses and obfuscations that the Reagan administration used to disguise their agenda and to sell it to the public, we surrender any chance at real change, we bury the coffin forever into which the right wingers have put the left - and by extension, the majority of the American people, and we condemn ourselves to living in this ongoing nightmare of destruction and human suffering.

It is not time to make nice with the Reagan legacy propagandists, even by implication or omission. It is time to relentlessly and fearlessly point out that the crisis the country is in is best described and analyzed as the chickens coming home to roost from the Reagan era.

It is time to fight. It is not time to heal or move on—no matter how attractive and appealing this may be—it is not time to paper over the profound divide in the country, it is not time to accommodate or apologize for

--Found on the Democratic Underground

Paul Krugman can always be depended upon to put this kind of thing in perspective.
Bill Clinton knew that in 1991, when he began his presidential campaign. “The Reagan-Bush years,” he declared, “have exalted private gain over public obligation, special interests over the common good, wealth and fame over work and family. The 1980s ushered in a Gilded Age of greed and selfishness, of irresponsibility and excess, and of neglect.”

Contrast that with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?

For it did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.

When the inevitable recession arrived, people felt betrayed — a sense of betrayal that Mr. Clinton was able to ride into the White House.

Given that reality, what was Mr. Obama talking about? Some good things did eventually happen to the U.S. economy — but not on Reagan’s watch.

--Paul Krugman, Debunking the Reagan Myth

Reagan/Bush tax cuts are payoffs to the very rich for their support. For everyone else, the GOP prescription is simple: just take another dose of what's making you sick.

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