November 2011 Archives

A Time To Share Blessings And Burdens?

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          Since President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 for the first national celebration, Thanksgiving has increasingly become a time for families and friends to gather together and to collectively express gratitude for the friendships that they enjoy and the bounties that they have received. This year's civic celebration presents a challenge to our collective sense of what we owe to one another and raises an important question: whether the blessings that many of us enjoy should be more evenly distributed along with the burdens that weigh down upon so many of our neighbors and fellow citizens?   


         The  most recent data from the U.S. Census  Bureau reveals an increasing gap between rich had poor not seen since the time of the Great Depression, as the number of Americans included in the ranks of poorest poor has reached a record high - 20.5 million citizens. These poorest of the poor - 1 in 15 people out of a current estimated population of 312 million  -are dispersed widely throughout metropolitan areas after the collapse of the US housing bubble which had lured many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and reduced jobs and income. Previously, the bureau reported that, as of 2010, 46.2 million people Americans by lived in poverty. That number represents 16 per cent of Americans.  

         At the same time the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, as of October,13.9 million Americans remained unemployed and that the unemployment rates among blacks - 15.1 percent - and teenagers- 24.1 percent were among the largest affected groups, while 5.9 million of the total had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. In addition to the 13.9 million Americans who were reported to be unemployed but actively seeking full time employment, the number of involuntary part-time workers  - individuals who were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time employment - totaled 8.9 million people as of  October.

         The bureau also reported that 2.6 million persons were classified as marginally attached to the labor  - defined as individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. Hence, the total of adult Americans, excluding their spouses and their children, who have been personally affected by the depressed demand for labor in this continuing Great Recession exceeds 22.4 million adults and adolescents over sixteen years of age. 

         Sadly, despite these grim statistics, there is little evidence to show that the business or political elite who control the levers of power in this country have any desire or intention to address the ever-increasing disparities of wealth and the declining social mobility between the wealthiest 1% and the remainder of the population. For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce has reported that U.S. based multinational corporations alone added 2.9 million workers overseas between 1999 and 2009, while they simultaneously reduced their domestic work force by 864,000 workers. Although this trend toward out-sourcing has undoubtedly continued to accelerate since 2009, the figures also do not include the dependence of these multinational corporations upon "unaffiliated" companies upon which they increasingly depend for their products.

        As  a reward for their continuing failure to contribute to this country's economic well-being, Republican Congressional leaders and the GOP presidential candidates propose that, to create further illusive jobs, these multinational corporations be permitted to repatriate to the United States some 15 billion dollars in overseas excess profits that they have accumulated at drastically reduced tax rates, notwithstanding the data  that has shown that, in the previous repatriations granted during the second Bush administrations, the billions of dollars repatriated were invested in zero job creation. Rather, those excess profits were re-distributed as stock-dividends to shareholders and as bonuses to already excessively compensated executives. 

         A further example of moral and economic of myopia of this country's current elite is provided by the most recent proposal by Newt Gingrich who now advocates, along with Congressman Paul Ryan, that an employee-funded component be added to the existing Social Security system that could be invested in a personal account. Employees would be given the option of putting money into a range of investments administered by private companies, similar to a 401(k) plan and these accounts could be passed on to an estate when the person dies. In the event, however, that the employee-invested accounts should not perform as well existing traditional social security accounts, whether because of financial mismanagement or the stock market volatility, the tax payers of the Untied States, through the department of the Treasury would be called guarantee the losses.

         This Thanksgiving provides us with a opportunity to reflect, personally and collectively,  upon the needs of the many versus the needs of the few. The needs of the few, if they are allowed to continue to accumulate ever-increasing wealth and power, will only fuel public discord and will ultimately unravel our political and economic system. By contrast, a commitment to distribute our blessings and our burdens more equitably among all citizens may enable our children and grandchildren to live in a country in which the promotion of social justice becomes the summum bonum.
         This, then, is the choice each of us as citizens must now make. Ignoring the choice will only enable others to decide for us. 


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Occupy America: Is History Repeating Itself?

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Jon Corzine, Governor and former Senator from ...

Jon Corzine

    In the spring and summer of 1932, in the throes of the Great Depression, approximately 17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups descended upon Washington, D.C. These protesters who were popularly named the Bonus Army.

       Many of these war veterans had been continuously unemployed since the advent of the Great Depression. Earlier, in 1924, The World War Adjusted Compensation Act  had awarded them bonuses in the form of service certificates that could not be redeemed before 1945. Each service certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest. The primary demand of the Bonus Army was that they be allowed to redeemed their service certificates in exchange for cash payments immediately.

    On July 28, 193, the Attorney General, William D. Mitchell, ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were shot to death. In response, President Herbert Hoover ordered the army to clear the veterans' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

    At 1:00 A.M. in the morning of November 15, 2011, hundreds of New York City police descended upon Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan and ousted the Occupy Wall Street protestors who had been encamped there since September to protest the ever widening income inequality in the Unites States and the increasingly privileged  treatment of this country's political and economic elite and their having benefited from the financial  bailouts under the TARP program. Many members of this elite bear direct responsibility  for the having destroyed the economy of the United States and, in the words of U..S. Senator Bernie Sanders, for having turned the U.S. economy into a "gigantic gambling casino." Approximately,  200 of the Occupy Wall Street protestors were arrested for disorderly conduct and for resisting arrest.

     Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a news conference in the morning, read a statement he had issued around 6 a.m. to justify the police action:  "The law that created Zuccotti Park required that it be open for the public to enjoy for passive recreation 24 hours a day...Ever since the occupation began, that law has not been complied with...I have become increasingly concerned -- as had the park's owner, Brookfield Properties -- that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protesters and to the surrounding community." Later that same day, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman upheld the city's right to enforce "reasonable" rules to maintain safety and hygiene.
         In the days and weeks prior to this police action, protestors at Occupy Movement sites in Denver, Salt Lake City, Oakland, Chicago and Portland, Oregon were forcibly removed by the police and their encampments dispersed.
         Almost simultaneously, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and other trade publications reported that MF Global, headed by disgraced former chairman of Goldman Sachs and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, had apparently  raided the accounts of some 33,000 customers and removed between $600 and $800 million from private client accounts. Much of this apparent misconduct escaped the scrutiny of putative regulator, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Mayor Bloomberg has yet to criticize Mr. Corzine's conduct or suggest that he and MF Global executives should be criminally prosecuted for plundering clients' accounts, notwithstanding the fact that many of those affected clients are New York City residents.

    The disparity in treatment to date meted out against the Occupy Wall Street and similar Occupy protest movement across the United States - in contrast to influential persons such as Corzine and other financial miscreants who are able to insulate themselves from prosecution and  to avail themselves of the protection of the bankruptcy laws while they move on to other highly privileged position  - offers irrefutable evidence that our economic and political  system is utterly broken. The shallow platitudes about the First Amendment  protections accorded to the voices of the Occupy Movement protestors pale in comparison to the "commercial speech" protections that the U.S. Supreme Court has now accorded to the ruling elite.

         Any pretense that the U.S. still aspires to be a democratic nation has been shattered right before our eyes. In response, citizens whine and whimper, but almost all refuse to exert themselves to take collective action to undo a political and economic system that benefits only a tiny minority. So long as the majority of Americans refuse to understand the lessons of history and continue to reward those politicians who consistently vote against their own economic interests, the country's downward trajectory will continue. A country that accepts growing economic inequality and the spread of squalor and human misery has condemned itself to ultimate extinction.

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Isn't Voter Suppression Illegal and Un-American?

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        When the U.S. Constitution was adopted, only property-owning white males were given the right to vote in the original thirteen states. The Constitution, prior to the adoption of the post Civil War amendments, barely referenced the issue of voting. Article 1, § 2 provides that members of the House of Representatives shall be chosen by the People; Article 1,  § 3 requires  that the members of the apportionment of the House of Representatives shall be based upon a decennial census; Article I, § 4 delegates the responsibility for the election of Congress to the states: "The Times, Places And Manners of holding Elections for Senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the legislature thereof."

The Supreme Court of the United States. Washin...

      Notwithstanding these scant provisions, in cryptic language, Article IV,  § 2, states that  that  "The Citizens of each State shall be entitled  to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several states; Article IV,  § 4, in similarly laconic language, provides that "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government..." In addition, the so- called elastic clause, Article1, § 8 [18] specifically enables the Congress "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Office thereof."

      After the Civil War, the XV amendment extended the franchise to newly emancipated slaves. Some sixty years later, the XIX Amendment granted the franchise to women, and, fifty-one years after that amendment, the XXVI Amendment granted citizens over eighteen years of age the right to vote. Each of these amendments gave Congress was the right to enforce those provisions by appropriate legislation. Despite these specific grants of legislative authority and the language of § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment that guarantees each citizen in the states the "equal protection of the laws" the Congress of the United States has refused to establish uniform rules for voting, to address the problem of gerrymandering or to enact legislation that makes voter suppression a federal crime.     
          Inexcusably, for more than one hundred years after the Civil War, the Congress of the United States refused to outlaw the poll tax, literacy tests and a variety of other measures that were specifically designed by state legislatures to disenfranchise millions of potential African American voters and other minorities. Finally, in Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 117, (1964), the Supreme Court opined that "No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a choice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, they must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined."

         Since the end of the Warren Court era, an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court has consistently backpedaled on the issue of voting rights. Most egregiously, in the case of Bush v. Gore, 532 U.S. 98 (2000), a five member majority of the Rehnquist Court was permitted to stage of a judicial coup d'etat in which they overturned the results of a presidential election and awarded the election to the loser, despite overwhelming evidence of voter suppression and illegal vote rigging by Florida GOP officials. The Court's decision in that case did not elicit even a whimper of protest from the organized bar. Subsequently, the evidence of voter suppression and vote rigging that were brought to the attention of the federal courts and the Justice Department concerning  2004 election results in Ohio was met with silence.

        To the present, the United States is the only putative democracy in the world that refuses to enact and enforce measures to ensure the rights of all citizens to vote and require that their votes count equally. Rather, New York Times' correspondent Michael Cooper reported ("New State Rules Raising Hurdles at Voting Booth, October 2, 2011) that, after Republicans won control of many of the state legislatures and  governorships in the election of 2010, more than a dozen states controlled by the GOP have passed new laws to make voting more onerous. The new rules included requirements for photo identification cards in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin; requirements to present proof of citizenship in Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee; restrictions on  voter registration drives in Florida and Texas; repeal of voter registration in on Election ay Maine; and an end to early voting in Florida, Georgia and Ohio.

         A study released by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law n October of this year attempted to determine how many voters could be disenfranchised. The center reviewed 19 laws that passed and 2 executive orders that were issued in 14 states this year, and concluded that they "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012." The report estimated that more than 5 million people could be affected by the new rules which is a number greater than the margin of victory in the popular vote in 6 of the last 13 presidential elections from 1960 to 2008.

        These recently enacted legislative statutes and executive orders violate a fundamental premise of democratic government: the equal rights of all citizens to participate in the election of those who profess to govern them. As such, these measures to restrict voting rights should be an affront to every sentient person. Why has the party of Abraham Lincoln turned its back on democracy? Why have the Congress, President Obama, the Justice Department, the federal and state courts, elected officials in every state, county, and citizens, lawyers and every bar organization, and the millions upon millions of American who claim to be patriots remained silent and indifferent while the machinery of our political institutions is subverted from within? 

     Have we become so timid, so disillusioned, so jaded , so morally corrupted that we have lost our capacity for outrage? 

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Why Has Government Become The Enemy?

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      The GOP Presidential debate in Michigan yesterday evening was an extraordinary spectacle to view. It raised a troublesome concern as to whether, because of decreasing levels of political literacy, a decline in reading and the constant onslaught of propaganda from 24 hour cable television stations, it is no longer possible to insult the intelligence of the viewing public. One is reminded of Erasmus's observation that "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."


       In that debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry could not remember which three federal departments he would try to eliminate. Former Speaker Next Gingrich castigated his questioners because they did obsequiously endorse his economic worldview concerning the centrality of corporations and the professedly essential roles they played in creating jobs and wealth, even though the evidence shows that corporations have largely helped to destroy the American Dream. Mit Romney repeated that, were he the president, he would have allowed GM and Chrysler to have gone into bankruptcy, rather than permit a government bailout that saved thousands of jobs and restored a vital part of America's decaying manufacturing sector.        

     It is apparent that none of these candidates have ever read a serious work of political philosophy or taken even one course in macro-economic theory.Four of the basic propositions that all of these candidates accept as Gospels are demonstrably untrue:

      First, the argument that the role of government should be limited and passive is a conviction first posited by John Locke based upon his experiences and observations as a participant British politics in the late 17th century. Locke's notion of a limited government, if it had been not abandoned during the New Deal, would have utterly destroyed the ability of the Roosevelt administration to address the social and economic misery caused by the Great Depression. Instead, FDR's advisers wisely adopted both T. H. Green's vision that government should be used a positive instrument for the public good and John Maynard Keynes ideas about pump-priming the economy to create demand through government stimulus. By contrast, the GOP's arguments that governments, at all levels, must practice economic austerity and reduce taxes have exacerbated the current Great Recession and led to the firing of hundreds of thousands of public employees, including teachers, librarians, police and fire fighters, throughout the United States.

       Second, the argument that government regulation thwarts economic development is belied by the experiences of India, Brazil and China. These three countries have vastly more extensive and onerous government regulation regimes than does the United States. Each of these economies have been expanding while the U.S. economy continue to stagnate. Irrespective of the arguments for or against government regulation, there is no evidence that shows a positive correlation between a lack of government regulation and overall economic growth

        Third, the argument that the private sector, when left to its pursue its own profit-making agenda, will create well-paying jobs is nonsensical. Since the advent of the Reagan administration, corporate American has out-sourced, down-sized and destroyed the economic vitality of the United States through "fee-trade" and the transfer of investment assets to third-world countries while seeking the lowest possible labor costs and the highest possible returns for shareholders.The data compiled by the U.S. Census  Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor has abundantly documented that, despite deregulation during the past thirty years, poverty and economic inequality has grown exponentially and destroyed the social mobility of a majority of the American population.

        Fourth, the argument that  government does not create jobs is a myth. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry are proof positive that some politicians can spend almost their entire lives in the public - "socialist"  - sector and still deny that they have been the beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse. In point of fact, governments at all levels employ millions of workers. Equally important, governments, when properly funded, through their employees provide the essential infrastructure and the public goods that the private sector depends upon and would never invest in unless they could find a possible profit. Health care, public education, vaccine, roads, airports, regulation of food and drugs, public safety, air pollution, and the laws that punish wrongdoing and promote the general welfare are by definition public goods because they are essential public services that are inherently not profitable.   

       The etymology of the word idiot comes from the Greek: It meant a person who was not involved in public affairs, one who did not participate in politics. Aristotle states that a person who does have a polis - one who is not involved in a political community - is either a barbarian or a god, but surely not a man. From the time of the ancients to the present, students of politics have emphasized the role of the state and the duty of citizens to become involved in politics. Cicero asks, "For what is government except the people's affair. Hence, it is as common affair, that is, an affair belonging to a state. And what is a state except a considerable number of men brought together in a certain bond of harmony?"

       Edmund Burke, whom William Buckley revered as great conservative thinker, insists that political society is an historic project into which individuals entered into and departed from while sharing a common destiny: "..society is a... contract...It is to be looked on with reverence; because it is not a partnership in things.. Since the  ends of  partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born."

       Burke's idea of a political society stands in stark contrast to the views of current GOP presidential candidates, each of whom is unable to imagine a political vision that sees beyond the needs of solitary individuals and corporate entities that seek solely to maximize their own selfish, short-term interests even when those interests have been shown to be detrimental to the needs of the majority of other citizens. The Lilliputian views of those presidential candidates and the GOP in general about the role of government, if accepted by voters, will ensure that the worst excesses of avarice, poor business decisions, and economic inequality will continue to haunt our children and our grandchildren.  

      In a  truly democratic society, government, as the agent of the people, cannot be the enemy; and, Jacques Maritain reminds us, "the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of social justice." Those who deny the duty of government to promote social justice -  or who remain oblivious to the pervasiveness of continuing  injustice in our society - are the real villains.  
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