Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bring Back The Balance of Powers

(Founding) Fathers Know Best
By Nick Paleologos

Utah Senator Mike Lee, best known for playing Mini-Me to Senator Ted Cruz’s Dr. Evil, has just written a new book called, “Our Lost Constitution.” In case you find the title ambiguous, the sub-title removes all doubt: “The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document.” His thesis, a familiar far right refrain, is that if we could just stick to what the Founders intended, America would be a much better country. I second that motion.

Once upon a time, during a sweltering summer in Philadelphia, a bunch of guys who later became known as the Founding Fathers hammered out a brand new system of government. The constitution they wrote is a Rube Goldberg contraption--chock full of checks and balances--because they all shared one immutable conviction: Too much power in too few hands will always be abused. That is what they believed.

The Founders were so paranoid about the concentration of power that they gave equal leverage to three separate and distinct branches of government as the only practical way they could think of to guarantee the stated goals of their ambitious enterprise: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens in the new country. And even then, they weren’t completely certain. Upon leaving the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously cornered by local citizens eager to find out what kind of government the delegates had created. “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

The Founders had absolutely no faith in mankind left to its own devices. They did not believe in the essential goodness of human nature. On the contrary, from their eighteenth century perch the history of “civilization” was not a pretty picture. Stretching back in time as far as they could see was an ugly and unbroken chain of greed, corruption, cruelty and oppression. Even in the empire they left behind, power was concentrated in the hands of a wealthy self-perpetuating minority doing what they do best: treating everybody else badly. The British Crown seemed to exist only to preserve and protect the plutocracy.

The notion that fairness, justice and prosperity would trickle down from a benevolent few at the top of society’s pyramid was an utterly laughable concept to our Founding Fathers.  Why then do you suppose conservatives like Mike Lee, who worship at the Founders’ altar of separation of powers when it comes to government, abandon the principle when it comes to business? 

Apparently for Mike Lee, somewhere along the road from Washington to Wall Street human nature (as the Founders understood it) does a complete one-eighty. Because today’s Tea Party enthusiasts see absolutely no need for a balance of power between labor and capital. Instead they proudly and relentlessly assert that capital actually deserves better treatment than labor--a favored position in law.

As surely as night follows day they insist, lower taxes (and higher profits) targeted exclusively for the rich will inevitably result in higher wages for everybody else. Because when the rich get richer, they become nicer people. Labor doesn’t need leverage. If the 99% simply work harder, become more productive, and generate more profits, they will most assuredly enjoy the fruits of their labor--courtesy of that grateful one percent at the top. Over the past several decades, this theory has been put to the test in America. And the results have been disastrous.

SOURCE: Park Avenue - Money, Power and the American Dream (2012) directed by Alex Gibney

Source: Former US Labor Secretary, Robert Reich

Since 1980, productivity has shot through the roof while average wages remained flat as a pancake. American workers created heaping piles of wealth. They just didn’t get any of it. Why? Because it turns out the Founders were right. Bad things also happen when too much money is concentrated in too few hands. In this case, the rich kept it all for themselves and then bought control of a government that was originally created to protect the many from the tyranny of a few.

The Founders would indeed be horrified at the “willful subversion” of the balance of powers principle. But not the one Mike Lee's talking about, the other one. The balance of power between labor and capital in a country in which the wealthiest 1% pay lower income tax rates and lower social security tax rates than everybody else; where CEO’s are paid 300 times more than the average worker (up from 20 times more in 1965); where the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation) is actually lower today than it was in 1968; and where unions are being legislated out of existence.

 “When the day comes, when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must…re-adjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions.”

That’s not Elizabeth Warren talking. It’s James Madison.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Assessing Obama

Taking Stock Of The Obama Presidency

by Nick Paleologos

Now that we officially have 2016 presidential candidates from both major parties, we can start sizing up the Obama years in earnest. Breaking down barriers is never easy. As a general rule, being the “first” rarely translates into being the “best.” For example, you need a Jackie Robinson before you can have a Hank Aaron. Charlie Sifford must come before Tiger Woods. Jack Johnson before Muhammad Ali. Barack Obama may be a rare exception to that rule. But before descending into hagiography, here are Obama’s top three worst moments:
1) Looking the other way while millions of homeowners drowned in red ink created, with troubling impunity, by Wall Street bankers who — to this day — still profit handsomely from their perfidy. That was a low point.
2) Trashing Edward Snowden for the crime of telling America the truth, while the president’s NSA and CIA directors were flat out lying to U.S. senators — on national TV. Not good.
3) Giving up on simple background checks — even after so many innocent children were murdered in Newtown, and then blaming American voters for congressional inaction. Don’t get me started.
Now on to the plus side.
Here is an American politician — with the middle name Hussein, no less — who managed to get himself elected president not once but twice, with handsome majorities both times. I can still remember when his out-of-nowhere campaign surged past Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive favorite, in 2008. At the time, a ’60s-era liberal friend of mine observed with astonishment, “Apparently they haven’t noticed he’s black.”
During Obama’s stewardship, despite being relentlessly vilified as a job killing communist, he added more than 12 million private sector jobs to a U.S. economy that was in complete free-fall when he took office. In the process, he managed to cut the jobless rate nearly in half — to 5.5 percent. And far from crippling American businesses, he has presided over a 200 percent increase in the S&P 500. In fact, on his watch, corporations are healthier than ever.
Obama accomplished all of this while knocking annual deficits down to roughly a third of what they were only a few months after he took office. Oh, and did I mention he brought affordable health care to 16.5 million previously uninsured Americans while at the same time reducing the projected overall cost of health care for everybody else?
Yeah. That too. And with absolutely no help from a Congress that had to be dragged along kicking and screaming every step of the way — making Truman’s famous “Do Nothing Congress” seem like a model of legislative productivity.
The Obama foreign policy doctrine has been an unqualified success — if only measured by the trillions of dollars we did not squander pointlessly, and the thousands of young American lives we did not lose needlessly.
By the way, just one of these noteworthy accomplishments would be considered a proud legacy for any other president. Taken together, they represent a truly astonishing record of achievement. And he’s not done yet.
On his way out the door, when most second term presidents are pouring over design details for their libraries, Obama is instead rewriting the rules of relevancy down the home stretch. The press can barely keep up with his breakneck pace. In just the last few months he has:
1) Protected millions of undocumented parents of children that were born in the United States from sudden deportation.
3) Offered free community college to every qualified low-income student in the country.
4) Reversed a half-century of failed foreign policy by proposing trade with Cuba and peace with Iran.
Let’s face it. That’s a pretty impressive litany.  For a guy whose nickname is “No Drama Obama,” this duck is anything but lame.
Plus, he can sing a song and tell a joke better than most of his predecessors, and his wife and kids have set a new standard for First Family Cool. Sooner or later even his harshest critics will have to grudgingly admit that Barack Obama was considerably more than simply America’s first black president. He will be a tough act to follow.
Which brings me back to Hillary Clinton. She certainly had her cross to bear as first lady. Yet she became the first, first lady ever elected to the U.S. Senate — from a state she never lived in — and did a pretty good job to boot. And who could have predicted that after her bare knuckle brawl with Barack Obama in ’08, he’d go and make her the secretary of state, where she also performed admirably.
If Hillary does become the first woman elected president of the United States, and is even half as successful as Obama, it may be a very long time before America sends another white male to White House.
How great would that be?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Money Talks. Big Money Screams.

SOURCE: Park Avenue - Money, Power and the American Dream (2012)
directed by Alex Gibney

“It’s bad enough big money is buying off politicians. It’s also buying off nonprofits that used to be sources of investigation, information, and social change. 

When the Charles Koch Foundation pledges $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department, it stipulates that a Koch-appointed advisory committee will select professors and undertake annual evaluations. 
The Koch brothers now fund 350 programs at over 250 colleges and universities across America. You can bet that funding doesn’t underwrite research on inequality and environmental justice.
David Koch’s $23 million of donations to public television earned him positions on the boards of two prominent public-broadcasting stations. It also guaranteed that a documentary critical of the Kochs didn’t air.
Our democracy is directly threatened when the rich buy off politicians.
But no less dangerous is the quieter and more insidious buy-off of institutions democracy depends on to research, investigate, expose, and mobilize action against what is occurring.”
---Robert B. Reich