Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Biggest Problem

As I write this I'm watching House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) squirming on "Meet The Press," while attempting to tell David Gregory what exactly the Republicans will target for spending cuts in order to reach their goal of reducing federal spending by 100 billion dollars. He couldn't name anything specifically right now of course. His new found Tea Bagging peers, and the controlling factions behind them want to go way beyond that figure, wishing to trim the budget by two and a half trillion.
I say fine. Let's stop the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring our soldiers home, reduce defense spending, cut tax loop holes for large corporations and the ultra rich, end the freaking tax cuts for those same ultra rich, and we'll probably be saving more than even the Tea Baggers want.
But that's not likely to happen. What will happen is what Congress always does when it needs money, siphon it from the backs of the middle class in the form of cuts for social programs.
An example of what I'm talking about, this from Les Leopold's (author of "The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It") "Wall Street's 10 Biggest Lies of 2010":

4. "The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by employees of the federal government."
But not by Wall Street. President Obama's words of November 29th came only days before he "compromised" with the Republicans to continue the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich and to bestow an enormous estate tax gift to the 6,600 richest families in America. Mr. President, the "hard truth" is that you're slapping around public sector workers because you don't have the nerve to take on Wall Street. If you had the guts, you could raise real money by going to war with Steven Schwartzman [complaining hedge fund manager] and eliminating the hedge fund tax loophole. By the way, closing that loophole for just the top 25 hedge fund managers would raise twice the revenue than you'll get by freezing the wages of all two million federal workers!

The funny thing is, and the thing that no one talks about, or if they do they are summarily ignored, just like those who predicted the financial collapse before it happened, is that the embrace of austerity measures, which is what Obama and the Republicans are talking about when they say the only way out of our current predicament is to cut spending, is just wrong. What needs to be done, but what is currently politically inexpedient, is to increase federal spending, increase stimulus spending on projects like the country's infrastructure. Austerity measures will only draw out these economic doldrums we find ourselves in for the foreseeable future. So Obama is dooming the country into a long, needlessly painful recovery entirely due to political considerations. Freaking great!
This is what Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said about this very issue Sunday on Fox "News."
The president's bipartisan deficit commission: "They said be careful,” Mr. Durbin, a member of the commission, said. “Don’t start the serious spending cuts until we’re clearly out of the recession in 2013. Maybe it will be sooner. But that warning is something we shouldn’t forget. We learned in history with President Franklin Roosevelt that after the Great Depression when they started to hit the deficit brakes too soon, they went into a double dip recession and higher unemployment.”
Anyway, since this is the way were headed let's examine these spending measures.
We all know that taxing the rich and large corporations is completely off the table. Why? Because the system is geared that way. As it stands the political system is completely focused on increasing the profits of corporations and super rich people at the expense of everyone who is not a large corporation or super rich, by any means. Like the example above, programs for working families, the middle class as a whole, and institutions that our country has relied on to maintain a leadership role throughout the world, like NASA, and the FBI, will be drastically cut to maintain the myth that this country needs to reduce it's federal deficit, or else (as well as the myth that we're doing something worthwhile in Afghanistan). Well, I do know what would happen if we don't reduce our federal deficit immediately, in actuality nothing would happen. The need to reduce the size of government, and the deficit is a myth. That is not the largest problem facing this country. Politicians do not want to face the largest problem facing this country, they don't even want to talk about it. They don't want you talking about it either. So they pretend it doesn't exist, just like Global Warming, just like the oil that is still in the Gulf of Mexico that just can't be seen because it's underwater. Close your eyes and the problem simply isn't there. If the problem isn't there there certainly there is no reason to deal with it, certainly there is no political pressure to deal with it, and if there is no political reason to do something, nothing is exactly what will get done.
What's the largest, the greatest problem this country faces? I'm not going to tease you dear readers, the largest problem facing this country, as I've said on numerous occasions in the past, is the money that surges through the political system by outside interests, and the inevitable corruption that ensues.
Yes, our federal government is corrupt. No doubt about it. Of course it is. When a senator's first thought upon waking each and every day is how he has to raise at least $20,000 or else he won't get reelected, how could it not be corrupt. Lobbying is a legal form of bribery. Promising members of Congress lucrative jobs after they leave "public office" is a legal form of bribery. How could making large contributions to a senator's or congressperson's campaign fund not influence said senator or congressperson?
So the answer to America's biggest political problem is to get the money out of politics for good. So guess what? The Supreme Court goes way beyond it's traditional boundaries, and beyond precedent and decides to set law rather than interpret it as being Constitutional or not, via Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opens the floodgates allowing unprecedented amounts of corporate money into the election process. The exact opposite of what the country needs for a functioning legislative branch. Because of this ruling it is now estimated that Barack Obama will need to raise at least one billion dollars to get reelected. One billion.
Ladies and gentlemen... we're screwed.
The only way I can see to get us out of this mess has always been the answer. Election Reform, or Campaign Finance Reform.
Have you heard anybody in Congress talk about election reform, or campaign finance reform? I haven't. Maybe Bernie Sanders and Thom Hartmann, the independent senator from Vermont, and the progressive talk show host. Hartmann talks about it all of the time, and he's right to do so. Nothing meaningful can get done in Congress until Congress is fixed. It's like an alcoholic trying to perform brain surgery but can't stop drinking. He can try, but he'll probably not get it right. He has to stop drinking first.
But a lot of Congress people don't want Congress fixed. They like it just the way it is, especially those in the Republican Party. Why? They traditionally have the backing of monied interests. They are the servants of those interests. They get elected because of the money they get from those interests. If that were to end due to campaign finance reform they would no longer have an advantage. Democrats aren't any better because they receive money from these interests too. Everybody freaking addicted to the relatively easy money that flows into their campaign coffers due to no rules against it.
But still the subject of campaign finance reform comes up every now and then. The last attempt was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, but many of it's provisions for corporations and unions were struck down due to the Citizens United case. Public matching funds in primary elections and general are a good idea, and available to those viable candidates who qualify for them. The problem is that these candidates tend to opt out of these plans in order not to place limits on their spending.
In order to get corporate money, or money from wealthy individuals or organizations out of our elections, said candidates must be forced to follow the same rules during the election process with public financing, and that raises First Amendment problems with the freedom of those who wish to make contributions to the candidates of their choice.
It's a thorny problem, one not easily addressed, but one that needs to be for our government to function properly, for the people rather then the corporations.

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