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     Sad Implications of the Two Dueling Santa Claus Strategies in Political Economics

                                              An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                                                     August 16, 2012

Politicians are engaged in a power struggle between influential people who demand lower tax rates and competing constituencies that seek more generous government spending on a wide variety of programs and initiatives that include military spending, Homeland Security, disaster relief, health care, public education, environmental protections, maintenance and improvements in the nation’s physical infrastructure, investments in research and development oriented toward the greater food, and an adequate but affordable social security safety net.

This essay assesses two dueling Santa Claus strategies that pander to these two factions.  It delves into these two hyper-partisan strategies of political economics which involve either tax-cutting plans or increased spending plans.  The sad bottom line result of these two competing ideologies is that the rights of people in the future to be free from huge and burdensome debt obligations are being completely ignored. 

A super-charged political conflict took place in the summer of 2011 around the issue of the rapid expansion of the U.S. national debt.  This enormous debt has been increasing rapidly due to record annual deficits in the federal budget in the past decade.  The national debt is approaching 100% of GDP, a level historically associated with dangerous economic risk and heightened political instability and potential national insolvency.   It behooves us to better understand these two driving Santa Claus strategies  in order to see the way clear to smarter national policies.         

Scrutiny of the Two Dueling Santa Claus Strategies

A political economist named Jude Wanniski originally proposed the Two Santa Claus Theory of electioneering.  It is a real interesting idea.  Politicians in our democracy make many promises to voters in order to get elected.  The Two Santa Claus Theory holds that, when one political party and its candidates promise to spend a lot of money providing perks, services and benefits to the populace, the other party must compete with this strategy by promising to cut taxes to attract voters and remain competitive.

Economic monetarists like Milton Friedman contended that the only way to control the growth of government spending is by starving the government of revenue.  To achieve this starvation, the strategic initiative of cutting taxes has been ardently promulgated.  Unfortunately, cutting taxes since 1980 has most definitely NEVER ONCE resulted in lower government spending.  Annual spending by the U.S. federal government has increased every single year since 1980, when it was $590 billion, until 2011 when it was over $3.6 trillion. 

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself;  in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics.”

                                                                --- Mark Twain

The tactic of cutting taxes has not only reduced revenues but also radically increased the U.S. national debt.  In January 1981 when Ronald Reagan took office, the national debt was less than $1 trillion.  It has increased to more than $15 trillion today.  There is no doubt but that large budget deficits and record levels of national debt are the result of these twin Santa Claus strategies of increasing spending and cutting taxes.

The only time that budget surpluses were created in the last 30 years was when President Bill Clinton increased taxes and also did a relatively good job of controlling spending by the federal government.  Clinton compromised by triangulating to economic positions that resulted in these budget surpluses.  In contrast, when George W. Bush was president, he embraced both Santa Claus strategies simultaneously.  He slashed taxes to garner the strong financial support of wealthy people.  At the same time, he profligately ramped up spending on wars and a costly new program for prescription drugs for Medicare recipients and other government initiatives.  The primarily beneficiaries of this strategy were the wealthiest Americans and special interests like corporate entities involved in the military-industrial complex and Big Oil and big pharmaceutical corporations.  These “gains” came at the expense of everyone else in America and the prospects of all in future generations.

Whole edifices of ideology have sprung up to defend Santa Claus spending and Santa Claus tax cutting, and to get voters to go along with agendas of the real decision makers in our society, i.e., people with lots of money and vested interests focused on outcomes which narrowly benefit themselves at the expense of the greater good.

Advocates for increased Santa Claus spending cite the need for Keynesian economic stimulus to get the government to expand investments in education, physical infrastructure, environmental protections and social programs.  They use this rationale to justify unsustainable levels of deficit spending. 

In contrast, Santa Claus tax-cut disciples stick religiously to the “purity” of their dogmas by pledging no tax increases ever, no matter what, come Hell or high water.  Citing “supply-side” economic theories, they disingenuously misconstrue the infamous Laffer Curve to hypothesize that tax reductions will result in higher total tax revenues.  And they work tirelessly to advance anti-regulatory ideologies and pander to social conservatives on the Religious Right to gain more political power. 

Considerations of Supply-Side Economics

Jude Wanniski was one of the first to promote dogmas of supply-side economics and laughable interpretations of Laffer Curve hypotheses of tax revenue optimization.  A little background on these ideas is valuable to see how profoundly and adversely they affect our society today.

Supply-side economics was a theory which maintained that tax cuts stimulate economic growth and thus almost miraculously pay for themselves.  The theory was promulgated by economist Arthur Laffer, who developed the Laffer Curve to explain it.  Ronald Reagan latched onto the simplistic theory and enthusiastically championed it, and it became known as “trickle-down economics”.  George H.W. Bush appropriately described it as “voodoo economics”, and the facts concerning the outcomes associated with this dogma confirm this disparaging characterization. 

Jude Wanniski was a zealous proponent of lower tax rates.  He fancied that the concept of tax revenue optimization that was embodied in the Laffer Curve proved that cuts in taxes would result in higher tax revenues.  It is helpful to understand exactly what was he thinking in these counter-intuitive claims.  At a zero tax rate, no tax revenues would be generated.  At a tax rate of 100%, the theory goes, tax revenues would also be zero because there would be no incentive to work or take investment risks to earn any income, and the motive to evade paying taxes would be powerful.  The Laffer Curve model projects some hypothetical tax rate between 0% and 100% at which revenues would be maximized.  Wanniski argued that tax cuts would result in increased revenues at any point where tax rates were higher than the optimum revenue-maximizing rate.

Substantial controversy surrounds this whole idea.  It is implausible that increases in taxes would actually result in lower total tax revenues at any historic level.  Economist Paul Pecorino argued in 1995 that the peak of the Laffer Curve would occur in the range of top tax rates being around 65%.  Economic conservatives tend always to estimate the point to be lower;  in fact, they claim that every tax cut, no matter what the current rates are, is desirable because it will stimulate the growth of the economy and thus increase tax revenues.  These are the true fanatics amongst Santa Claus tax cut proponents.  The top tax rate today is only 35%. 

Conservatives borrow the aphorism, “a rising tide lifts all boats” to assert that tax cuts for high income earners will benefit everyone.  The evidence, however, reveals that in the absence of appropriate policies, rising tides lift some boats but cause many others to run aground. 

I chuckle aloud, and rather ruefully, at the broad abuses of supposition, simplistic reasoning, dishonest spin, manipulative disingenuousness, and self-serving deception which the Laffer Curve has enabled in the world of political economics.  The Laffer Curve is a hypothetical graph which is a symbol of a cunning propaganda machine that works overtime to cook up rationales to ensure uninterrupted progress toward an increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the Few.  This trend unfortunately has accompanying side effects which lead to an unempathetic exacerbation of hardships in the lives of many.  Tough love?  More accurately, tough luck, brother!

Many wealthy people contribute generously to right-wing politicians and corporate front groups to help enable corporations, insiders, CEOs and investors to gain more profits and perks and privileges and power.  Supply-side ideologues have captured the Republican Party since 1980 by almost fanatically opposing regulations and adhering to discredited claims that cutting taxes will generate more tax revenues. 

The principal outcome of tax-cutting policy in the past 30 years has been to radically increase federal budget deficits and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the Few.  The ideological smoke-and-mirrors story that tax-cutting policy is the best plan for the nation as a whole is transparently erroneous.

   “Follow the money.  Always follow the money.” 

      --- Deep Throat, in All the President’s Men, the 1976 film about the Watergate scandal

The Implications for Future Generations of Competing Santa Claus Gambits

Smiling irony is an endlessly entertaining trickster.  Our national decision-making in the year 2011 was afflicted by a ruthless game of political brinksmanship over the need to find a way to reduce the unprecedented levels of deficit financing in our nation.  Negotiations over the bloated national debt were intense leading up to the brink of a default in August.  A “Super Committee” was then anointed to find a way to cut about 15% of the projected $10 trillion additional increase in the national debt in the next decade.  Moneyed interests have proved to be stubborn and intransigent and completely unwilling to give up one iota in compromise on their cherished low tax rates, tax loopholes, corporate subsidies, and tax evasion schemes. 

Irony looks on.  Only eight months earlier in December 2010, as the Bush tax cuts were about to expire, President Obama and Senator Mitch McConnell reached a compromise deal behind closed doors that will add $858 billion to the national debt.  The Bush tax cuts had already added trillions of dollars to the national debt.  A large proportion of this additional $858 billion in new borrowing will benefit rich people, either directly or indirectly.  Working people were grudgingly granted some gimmicky crumbs in this compromise, in the form of temporarily lowered payroll taxes, to encourage them to continue working really hard for inflation-eroded wages. 

Politicians have failed to govern fairly and sensibly.  They have avoided making what should have been an easy decision on fairer taxation in the December compromise, and they have kicked the decision down the road two years to a time when we will be in the middle of the expedient exigencies of the 2012 presidential election.  Apparently it was all but completely impossible to make a compromise that involved fairer taxation in the current political climate. 

This “compromise” was really just another in a long series of capitulations to the small minority of wealthy people who control our political system.  These people want to have the tax cuts made permanent in December 2012, of course.  They apparently don’t give a damn that this generosity is coming at the expense of the majority of Americans, and of all people in the future. 

This “compromise” also contained a $112 billion provision to cut payroll taxes which finance the Social Security system.  Such a cut will have a more stimulative effect on consumer spending and thus on job creation than tax cuts for the rich, but this gambit erodes the solvency of the Social Security system and is thus a misguided approach. 

Social Security is a retirement income system that needs all the revenue it can get to remain solvent in the coming years.  The year 2010 was the first year that demographics finally caught the system up, causing more money to be paid out than was collected from current workers.  This new provision to cut payroll taxes is another gimmicky and fiscally foolish plan, and it will serve to undermine Social Security, which is vitally important to millions of retired Americans.  We should not so willingly erode its solvency.  For a revolutionarily simple common sense solution to the insecure state of Social Security, see Radically Simple Ways to Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both Social Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues.

The “compromise” left intact one of the most egregious tax-abuse provisions put into place by incomprehensibly wealthy hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, and private equity managers:  the “carried interest” provision.  This provision enables Wall Street types to declare much of their enormous incomes as capital gains rather than ordinary income, so they pay only 15% tax on their earnings rather than the 35% top rate which would otherwise be owed.  This loophole is widely seen as indefensible.  Nonetheless, the influence of this tiny minority of very high income earners is so powerful that they have managed to preserve this outlandish scam.  Doesn’t it seem like these folks have overplayed their hands?  The Occupy protesters think so!

In any case, we are now faced with growing concerns that the two viciously-competing Santa Claus tactics of increasing spending and cutting taxes are creating a risk that could cause another full-blown economic crisis.  This looming crisis is one caused by record levels of national debt engendered by the fiscally irresponsible expediency of unprecedented deficit spending year after year, ever since Bill Clinton left office with an annual budget surplus.

Disaster capitalism and extreme partisanship have collaborated together to double down on bets that this game of stealing from the future to further enrich the already wealthy can be continued a little bit longer before the piper must be paid.  This insidious game is perversely and unjustly predatory upon everyone in the future.

President Obama sought a “grand compromise” that would take $4 trillion out of a projected $10 trillion shortfall over the next 10 years.  This goal is modest, even inadequate, in light of the size of the projected deficits.  Nonetheless, it was summarily rejected by Republicans.  Why?  Because it would include higher tax rates on the wealthiest 2% of Americans.  One of the top priorities of Republicans is to preserve and expand perks for rich people who control our politics and have such outlandish influence in determining all our important national policies. 

The actual stated top priority of the Republican Party is to make sure that Barack Obama is a one-term president.  More than half of all Americans believe the obvious: that Republicans are sabotaging the economy with their obstruction to make President Obama fail.  This is a high stakes game, and a cynically mean-spirited one in its practical effects.  This is their top priority primarily because it would allow them to once again gain the great power of the Oval Office.  With that power, they could then continue expanding perks for individuals with high incomes and high net worths and further advance their narrow-minded agenda.  Newt Gingrich has referred to such an agenda as “right-wing social engineering”. 

Money talks, and if we “follow the money”, we wee that Congress and the Supreme Court narrowly approve of the overriding freedom of moneyed interests to dominate free speech.  In the meantime, in the face of the epic challenges looming before us, we are failing to support sustainable public policies or to commit our country to a fair-minded Bill of Rights for Future Generations.  But there is no question that we need a new mechanism to guide our public decision-making and constrain the unconscionably irresponsible short-term-oriented expediencies that are driving our nation and the world to ruin.

Good solutions to these daunting challenges exist.  They are to be found in cooperation, not in stubbornly uncompromising politics.  A proper comprehensive understanding of the Big Picture nature of the problems facing us, and of the hindrances obstructing good solutions, will provide us with a clear roadmap to smarter ways forward.  Sad Implications attempts to identify this roadmap to our figurative and quite literal salvation here on Earth.

Scrooge, Big Lies, and Real Economic Trends

Santa Claus tax reductions targeted to primarily benefit the rich, it turns out, are really a means of putting cold-hearted, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge sensibilities on a high pedestal of societal righteousness.  Those who emulate Scrooge tend to display uncompassionate attitudes and exploitive behaviors.  In this sense, they emulate Scrooge’s spite “for Christmas and all things which give people happiness”.  The effect of helping make our nation into an increasingly unfair and inegalitarian place is an outrage against honesty and democratic fairness.  It is also an exceedingly cynical means by which to steal from future generations.  Bah, humbug!

No matter how deceptively persuasive the propaganda is which asserts that the right thing to do is to give more tax breaks to wealthy people, it is a “Big Lie” that such strategies will trickle down to lift all boats.  In 1981, when Ronald Reagan slashed taxes on high incomes and increased spending on the military and acted to deregulate banks and bust unions, the wealthiest 1% of Americans had about 20% of all wealth in the U.S.  In the year 2010, after 30 years of supply-side economics and further regressive changes in taxation, the wealthiest 1% of Americans had increased their share of the nation’s wealth to about 40%. 

Meanwhile, as the rich have gotten significantly richer, the 60% of Americans with the lowest earnings have experienced an actual inflation-adjusted decrease in their incomes since 1980.  All productivity gains in the U.S. economy in the past 30 years have essentially been grabbed by the wealthy, with little going to workers.  Prosperity has not been fairly shared. 

During this same 30-year period, as the national debt has increased by more than $13 trillion, it is clear that the tactic of cutting taxes on high incomes and capital gains and dividends and rich kids’ inheritances has resulted in a more extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the Few WITHOUT benefitting the Many.  It is also stunningly clear that this outcome has been achieved by unethically saddling our children and future generations with enormous debt.

Wealth and political power are strongly correlated in our country.  A narrow 5-4 majority of “conservatives” now on the Supreme Court has been ruling repeatedly that money in politics cannot be limited.  One consequence of this fact is that increasing concentrations of wealth are being translated more easily into increasing concentrations of power -- and inevitably to more abuses of this power by corporations, CEOs and billionaires. 

Some say that we have a system that gives us the choice between private plunder or public graft.  I believe that we can design a much fairer system through far-reaching reforms!

The Goal of “Shock Doctrine” Disaster Capitalism:  Austerity for the Masses

The amount of federal debt per person in the United States is larger today than the debt per person in the nation of Greece, which is all but bankrupt.  Austerity measures imposed on Greece by the International Monetary Fund and European lenders have caused extreme social unrest and violent demonstrations. 

Austerity measures in the U.S. are also growing as federal, state and local governments are being forced to cut spending.  Social inequities, healthcare injustices, and the costs to college and university students for public education are increasing dramatically.  These trends are causing an intensification of social unrest in the U.S.  Such trends are proving to be negative for the vast majority of all Americans.  They also introduce bigger risks of instability to our democracy.

Now that we are facing a more apparent need for austerity measures in America, the idea of “shared sacrifice” is coming into sharper focus.  Republicans are proposing that all of the sacrifices be made by workers, the middle class and the vast majority of Americans, and that NONE of the sacrifices should be shouldered by rich people.  This is ridiculously reprehensible.

Republicans are once again revealing their true colors.  They insist on giving the preponderance of benefits to the rich, and making everyone else shoulder all of the sacrifices. 

Understand this issue in a big context.  To rein in potentially catastrophic imbalances between tax revenues and government spending, the Santa Claus gravy train must be derailed.  In doing so, all special interests must all absorb some of the “sacrifice”.  Republicans insist that they will not compromise their unprincipled principles, but they do this only because their highest value is to win at any cost and to have domineering power over the populace.  If they severely harm the nation and Earth’s magnificent ecosystems in the process, so be it.

This whole story makes an ironic observation by P.J. O’Rourke seem incisively valid:

  “The Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work -- and then gets

    elected and proves it.”       

The Republican Party was once the bastion of small businessmen and fiscal responsibility.  No one 50 years ago would have been able to imagine that Republicans would become pushers for such counterintuitive and demonstrably deceptive and unfair national policies and voodoo economics.  Cutting taxes on rich people and giant corporations is crazy.  These are the two principal groups which can afford to help our nation invest in a stronger and fairer country.  Cutting taxes on the two main groups that benefit from deceptive ideologies is stupid.  Cutting taxes is a Santa Claus strategy that facilitates abuses of power.  Statistics, common sense, and almost all senses of smart, empathetic and responsible fair-mindedness startlingly refute this strategy because it is contrary to the greater good.

Americans must demand an end to this gamesmanship over tax cuts and government spending.  We must recognize that both of the underlying Santa Claus strategies of increasing spending and lowering taxes can no longer be acceptable national goals.  Voters must scrupulously insist that fair-minded compromises be made. 

This new variety of compromise must be an honest and visionary one that takes into account all of the competing interests in this complex equation.  The interests of our children and people in future generations should be given greater weight because their prospects are being adversely affected by the short-term orientation of these expediencies.  It is sensational that we continue to borrow trillions of dollars from our descendents while at the same time stimulating the depletion of resources and allowing toxins and pollutants and climate-disrupting gases to be wantonly dumped into the commons.  It is bizarre that we could continue so obtusely to facilitate practically irreversible damages to Earth’s vital ecosystems. 

Common sense and right understanding and visionary perspectives can coincide.  Now is the time to embrace these healthier perspectives and act to make our nation a better place!

Mark Twain expressed moral outrage at the wickedness of his times.  He derided the gluttony of the Gilded Age and criminal malfeasance in the business world.  He voiced strong opposition to American military adventurism abroad.  He mocked people’s absurd foibles and peccadilloes.  It is healthy for us to laugh at the foolishness of our similar foibles in today’s world.  But while we are chuckling to our selves, we should remember that our most important legacy to our heirs must be to pay forward some good deeds to offset the damages that our collective activities are causing to their prospects and to the planet.

Republican Leadership – A Particularly Clever and Shrewd Coalition of Dunce-Like Leaders

Senator Mitch McConnell wields a lot of power.  It is extraordinary and revealing that this Senator from Kentucky has so much power today, for he gloats about having essentially undermined our democratic republic by opposing campaign finance reforms which would have given the American people more influence and limited the influence of rich people and big multinational corporations.  Mark Twain was sure right when he said that politicians are bought and paid for by narrow vested interests in the United States;  unfortunately, this trend has become much worse in recent decades.

Senator McConnell is a Republican who is the veritable epitome of the outlandish corruption in our politics.  He proudly displays nearly 200 political cartoons on the walls of his Capitol office that ridicule his Machiavellian opposition against common sense initiatives which would limit the corrupting influence of Big Money on those who are supposed to fairly represent all of the American people.  How did such a man reach the highest minority party position in the U.S. Senate?

McConnell is even more ideologically reactionary on the issue of Big Money in politics than the flip-flop-prone Senator John McCain.  McConnell prefers to be regarded as PRAGMATIC.  Like almost every Republican in Congress, he is staunchly opposed to even the insipid accountability of requiring the disclosure of who is bankrolling the obfuscating tsunami of political propaganda that sways the public to elect such unethical leaders.  Republican opposition persists despite the fact that 97% of groups paying for election ads in 2008 disclosed the names of their donors, but only 32% made similar disclosures in 2010.  These statistics have been adduced by the Federal Election Commission.  There is something insidious and wrong-headed about the increasing amount of secrecy and lack of transparency in our democracy!

McConnell’s opposition is strictly for political gain.  Yes, this is pragmatism, alright -- but it is a form of pragmatism which is highly unethical and unscrupulous.  It is a shrewd pragmatism focused on astonishingly unfair principles that are antagonistic to the greater good of working people and the general public and our children.  McConnell’s pragmatism is influence peddling;  it is institutionalized bribery.  It is corruption.  It is truly No Change We Can Believe In.  No No No No No! 

“Against the sound of lampooning laughter, and in the glaring glow of the distant bright light of truth, no bastardized bulwark of unprincipled principles can with impunity stand.”

                                                                                                    --- Mark Twain (paraphrased)

Charles Krauthammer -- what a name for a neoconservative! -- opined soon after the December tax compromise which extended the Bush tax cuts that it would act as Stimulus II and will boost the probability that President Barack Obama will be re-elected in 2012 by stimulating the economy and lowering the unemployment rate.  The jobless rate has gone down a little since then, but in any case I’d have to agree with him on an adjunct point that the bill definitively makes “a mockery of the Republicans newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, Tea-Party, this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.”

There seems to be a lot of sadly ironic truth in P.J. O’Rourke’s humorous observation:

  “The Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work -- and

      then gets elected and proves it.”       

All of this is enough to make one want to cry like John Boehner, the Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives seems frequently to do.  But Mr. Boehner doesn’t deserve much sympathy for his odd tears.  We need not just figuratively cry for Argentina anymore, because we really should be crying for the American people, and for our descendents, and indeed for the prospects of a healthy environment and biological diversity on Earth.

In the most civil manner possible, I’d like to express my deeply felt suspicion that the economist John Kenneth Galbraith was completely correct when he once observed:

  “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; 

      that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Republicans definitely don’t have a monopoly on unscrupulousness, but they sure seem to dominate the market!  As Huck Finn said in The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, these ideas ought “to give the bullfrogs something to croak about for days, I bet.” 

A Revealing Aside, Concerning Karl Rove

Karl Rove is another Machiavellian character in the Republican trenches.  In Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, the authors analyze the effect that Karl Rove had on shaping the policies of the Executive Branch for 8 years.  Rove was Bush’s Senior Advisor in the White House.  He was known for his role as master strategist in the retrogressive social and financial fiasco of the Bush years.  After his White House years, Karl Rove has become, according to Bill Moyers, “a mover and shaker of the money tree for the corporate-conservative complex”.  Rove is raising hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy people in 2012 for Super PACS that want to throw Barack Obama out of office.

Tellingly, Rove’s favorite historical figure was Mark Hanna, a wealthy Cleveland businessman and political operative back in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. During this “degenerate and unlovely age”, as one historian described it, Mark Hanna was the first modern political fund-raiser.  He famously said, “There are two things that are important in politics.  The first thing is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” 

Mark Hanna was depicted by one cartoonist as “Dollar Mark,” the prototype of plutocracy and hardball politics.  Hanna tapped railroads, banks, insurance companies and wealthy industrialists like oil baron John Rockefeller for enough money to get William McKinley elected governor of Ohio, and then he was instrumental in raising ten times as much money in the 1896 presidential election as his populist opponent William Jennings Bryan, ensuring that McKinley was elected President of the United States.

Mark Hanna actually believed that “the state of Ohio existed for property.  It had no other function … Great wealth was to be gained through monopoly, through using the State for private ends;  it was axiomatic therefore that businessmen should run it for personal profit.”  He and McKinley therefore saw to it that first Ohio and then the federal government were “ruled by business … by bankers, railroads, and public utility corporations.”  The United States Senate was infamous as “a millionaire’s club.”  “City halls, state houses and even courtrooms were bought and sold like baubles.”

“Instead of enforcing the rules of fair play, government served as a valet to the plutocrats,” according to the insightful and fair-minded journalist Bill Moyers in a speech on Nov. 3, 2010 at Boston University.  In the speech, which commemorated the life and legacy of the late great historian Howard Zinn, Moyers mentioned that McKinley “governed negligently in the interests of big business”, despite many Americans being “outraged at the rapacity and shenanigans of the monopolies, trusts, and corporations that were running roughshod over ordinary Americans.” 

Moyers compelling speech continued:

The young journalist Henry George had written that “an immense wedge” was being forced through American society by “the maldistribution of wealth, status, and opportunity.”  Now inequality exploded into what the historian Clinton Rossiter described as “the great train robbery of American intellectual history.”  Conservatives of the day -- pro-corporate apologists -- hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress,” “opportunity,” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right.  Laissez faire ideologues and neo-cons of the day -- lovers of empire even then -- hijacked Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and so distorted it that judges, politicians, and publicists gleefully embraced the notion that progress emerges from the elimination of the weak and the “survival of the fittest.”  As one of the plutocrats crowed: “We are rich.  We own America.  We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it.”

And they have never given up.  The Gilded Age returned with a vengeance in our time.  It slipped in quietly at first, back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan began a “massive decades-long transfer of national wealth to the rich.”  As Roger Hodge makes clear, under Bill Clinton the transfer was even more dramatic, as the top 10 percent captured an ever-growing share of national income.  The trend continued under George W. Bush -- those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are now about to be extended because both parties have been bought off by the wealthy -- and by 2007 the wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking in 50% of the national income.  Today, a fraction of people at the top today earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.

You will hear it said, “Come on, this is the way the world works.”  No, it’s the way the world is made to work.  This vast inequality is not the result of Adam Smith’s invisible hand; it did not just happen; it was no accident.  As Hodge drives home, it is the result of a long series of policy decisions “about industry and trade, taxation and military spending, by flesh-and-blood humans sitting in concrete-and-steel buildings.”  And those policy decisions were paid for by the less than one percent who make political contributions in our capitalist democracy. 

Representative Barbara Lee’s Point of View

“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.  And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it is easy, but when it is hard.” 

                             --- President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

Tax-cutting measures have been compromising the hopes and prosperity of people in the future.  Deficit spending allows us to collectively avoid making the difficult decisions we really should be making today.  The December 2010 “compromise” between President Obama and Mitch McConnell pathetically violated the idealistic vision of fairness and reform that the president was elected to pursue. 

The loyal liberal Representative Barbara Lee noted of the tax deal, after it was approved by the House of Representatives on 12/16/10:  “It’s a shame and a disgrace.  We know who’s going to pay.  It’s going to be on the backs of low-income people, the working poor, communities of color.” 

Then again, what should Barbara Lee know?  She was the single solitary voice, out of the 535 members of Congress, who went on the record to oppose giving George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld the absolute power to launch wars against entire nations in the Middle East when she cast a NO! vote on September 14, 2001 in the horrified, angry, and wake of 9/11. 

Ten years later we can have a calmer and more rational perspective.  As the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, the wars we launched after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost more than $3 trillion, once all costs are factored in.  That’s EXPENSIVE!  This will include the costs of healthcare for the rest of the lives of veterans of the wars and the interest expense on the national debt related to borrowings incurred to finance them.  Stiglitz conveys his estimates in a book about the Iraq War called The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. 

Let’s think about this.  The attack on Iraq and its subsequent long-term occupation was military adventurism undertaken because the war in Afghanistan proved to involve inadequately rich targets.  If, instead of launching the war on Iraq, we had invested this money in domestic needs and good neighbor policies, not only would we have saved thousands of lives of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and a pile of money, but we could have avoided antagonizing the estimated 1.5 billion adherents of Islam, the world’s second most populous religion.  We could have invested in energy independence from our addiction to oil from the Middle East.  We could have afforded better programs to create greater fairness of opportunity in public education and employment.  We could have invested in healthcare and the security and well-being of American communities.  And we could have provided very attractive incentives to corporations to keep millions of manufacturing and service jobs at home instead of helping export them abroad. 

We could have had plenty of money left over to set up a robust fund to mitigate the increasingly costly and highly disruptive impacts that billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions are causing every year as a result of human activities.  We could have acted to offset the increasing concentration of these global warming gases in the atmosphere by helping developing countries significantly slow the rate of deforestation of our beautiful home planet.  And we could have increased good-guy humanitarian foreign aid by investing in peace building and respectful diplomacy and international cooperation.  Shucks, we could even have reduced the risky level of deficit spending that we have incurred since 9/11!

Security:  Freedom versus Equality

Freedom is the bedrock of this great American experiment in democratic self-government.  Janis Joplin famously sang that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  That is surely a curious idea in our materialistic society, but one thing seems perfectly clear to me:  to borrow huge sums of money is a shortsighted expediency that is targeted to giving wealthy people very low tax rates while enabling high levels of government spending year after year after year.  This irresponsible gambit could portend that instead of greater freedom, most Americans will suffer increasing insecurity, stress, anxiety and hardship.  Austerity lurks ahead.

National security is one of the most basic of all purposes of government.  One definition of security is the freedom from risk or danger.  Another meaning is the freedom from doubt, anxiety or fear.  The economic course we have been collectively charting in the past 30 years since Ronald Reagan was first inaugurated in January 1981 has been one of insidiously growing economic insecurity for the vast majority of the American people.  This has been caused by the staunch adherence by politicians and those they serve to national priorities that emphasize high levels of spending on the military and entitlements coupled with tax cuts and loopholes and corporate subsidies that are designed to dramatically increase the inequalities between the well-to-do Few and the mightily-struggling Many.

Increases in inequality are contrary to the Founding principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”  Increasing inequality causes greater economic insecurity among the masses, and more stress, harder work, worse poverty, more crime and the need for more spending on prisons.  It also creates an incrementally greater probability of destabilizing change, even possible revolution, if reasonable reforms are not made to create a fairer society.  It is incumbent upon us to find a better strategy rather than continuously caving in to the greedy, stingy and ruthless demands of the wealthy class.  We need legislative reform now!

Harken Back to 2008 for Perspective

Long before the Occupy movement began, the frustration with increasing economic inequity was finding its most powerful expression in reactionary Tea Party sentiments.  Remember the Town Hall meetings on healthcare reform which were disrupted in 2008 by angry people who were bizarrely demanding things like “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”  One of the primary behind-the-scenes influences that stoked the formation of the Tea Party movement was right-wing organizations funded by the Koch brother billionaires.  They took their clues from anti-tax, anti-government, anti-family planning ideologues and extreme organizations like the National Rifle Association (the NRA). 

The Tea Party ran a bunch of candidates for office in the 2010 midterm elections who loved guns and violent imagery.  Sharron Angle, the failed Nevada Tea Party candidate for Senate in Nevada, called for “Second Amendment remedies”.  We emphatically do not need violent remedies to our national problems.  This heated rhetoric is symbolic of a deep lack of civility in our national discourse.  People attack other people rather than their opinions, and use violent metaphors like calls to put Democrats “in the crosshairs”.  They support the NRA and its agenda of allowing anyone to buy assault weapons without restriction. 

The process of confederating all the competing interests in our competitive society is one that should culminate in the ballot box, not in a hail of bullets.  It is unfortunate for our democracy that wealthy people and the gun lobby have such domineering influence in the intense competition of interests in our society, because this tends to lead to many outcomes that are disastrously contrary to the greater good. 

It is astonishing that supporters of the Tea Party could be so easily exploited as pawns of the privileged and the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers.  See the Earth Manifesto exposé Common Sense vs. Political Realities: An Anatomy of Dysfunctionality for the details of Koch brothers’ activities.  It is stunning that members of the Tea Party effectively do the bidding of the powerful with such seeming gullibility, ignorance and wrong-headedness. 

   “Just as we can walk without thinking, we can think without thinking.”

                                                                                --- The cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky

Communities across our great country would be considerably healthier and safer if people were subjected to less economic insecurity, less stress, less injustice, less frustration, and less anger, alienation, desperation and hostility.  The elephant is figuratively in the room; the solution is obvious.  We need fairer political representation for the majority of people, and greater fairness in the workplace.  We need greater fairness in healthcare, greater fairness in the courtroom, more egalitarian tax policies, and greater liberty and justice for all. 

Our nation also must become more fiscally responsible.  The expediency of deficit spending must yield to balanced budgets.  We can no longer afford to allow wealthy people to pay the lowest tax rates in more than 80 years -- and surely not LOWER ones.  It is a crazy national policy to steal from the future to give bigger benefits to the powerful privileged few.  This priority could only have become dominant as a result of abuses of power by the rich.  And it can only be remedied by a resolute and peaceable ejection of the influence of Big Money from the driver’s seat of our politics.

Introspection into Gun Violence in the U.S.

The shooting tragedy that took place in Tucson on January 8, 2011 involved an agitated and seriously disturbed 22-year-old white male who shot 19 people, killing 6 of them.  The gunfire was an attempt to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a congressional Democrat in Arizona.  This shooting was done with a semi-automatic weapon which would have been illegal from 1994 to 2004 under the provisions of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  This sensible ban expired in 2004, and it has not been renewed principally because of the unduly powerful and unwarranted influence of the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment fanaticism of its members and the affiliated ranks of lobbyists that this extreme-right organization uses to prevent the passage of sensible gun laws.

  “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very

     thing it seeks to destroy.”

                                         --- Martin Luther King, Jr.

This shooting exposes deep anxieties amongst hyper-stressed Americans and a host of negative psychological changes that inevitably accompany widespread economic insecurity.  Our society is unnecessarily vulnerable and insecure in part because of the “tough love” policies that go hand-in-hand with attitudes that are focused on providing the preponderance of benefits in our society to people who are already exceptionally privileged. 

Increasing Concentration of Stupidity Takes Humanity by Force

Sad Implications originally contained a story about El Gaviero and the Goddess of Poetic Justice, a story that has been moved to Happy Harbingers.  Things happen.  After that took place, I looked around for a way to make an intuitive transition herein from the paragraphs above to the ones below.  I decided a new focus was needed on the increasing concentrations of wealth and power and uncompromising foolishness in our society today.

I began to reminisce about past opinions I’ve expressed, and how strong my conviction was that there actually is a bright silver lining to all the dark clouds that are gathering on our human and biotic horizons.   All of my ruminations led back to abuses of power by rich people.

Why is it that we allow wealthy people to abuse the power of their money to get more and more of the national wealth for themselves?  The richest 1% of Americans has already almost doubled their share of the national wealth in the past 30 years, for Christ’s sake!  This wealthiest 1% of Americans possessed 20% of the national wealth in 1980, and today they have about 40%.  In absolute dollar terms, this is an increase of more than $18 trillion. 

Current Republican proposals to cut corporate taxes and taxes on high income earners from 35% to 25% would likely ensure that, in the next 30 years, the share of the nation’s wealth owned by the richest 1% would increase to more than 50%.  How much more can they grab before a powerful movement arises that unequivocally demands greater fairness, and even a measure of civil restitution?

This increasing concentration of wealth is obscene in light of the gambits by multinational corporations to get the government to allow private interests to gain bigger profits by externalizing real costs onto society.  This increasing concentration of wealth is also unethical from the standpoint that this scheme is causing an increasing subversion of our democracy and harming the prospects of future generations by mortgaging their future with unprecedented amounts of debt.

We collectively face epic fiscal, social, demographic, moral and environmental problems.  It is starkly wrong-headed to allow the wealthy to gain more and more of the nation’s common wealth in light of the ever-more-difficult challenges that the majority of Americans face in their struggle to make ends meet.  The problems of most Americans are becoming increasingly challenging as jealous rich people insidiously increase their share of the national wealth and abuse the power of their influence while everyone else endures more intense hardships in dozens of significant and measurable ways.

“Damn compromise!”, say rich people to all of our representatives.  “We want freedom, not taxes.  Just wait, and prosperity will trickle down to everyone.  Our policies guarantee it.”

God hardened the heart of the oppressive Pharaoh in ancient Egypt when Moses asked for his people to be set free from the bitter bondage of their labors.  The children of Israel asked for three days off from their work to journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the LORD their God to appease Him, but God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh over and over again, according to the Exodus story, so the Pharaoh commanded the Egyptian taskmasters to lay more work upon the men, who he charged with being lazy for wanting a few days off from work.

“I don’t mind going to work, but the thing about having to wait 8 hours to go home is

   really bullshit!”   --- A photo of a humorous workplace sign on the Internet.  Ha!

If God is still hanging around these days and supervising human affairs, He is up to His same old tricks of hardening the hearts of the rulers and taskmasters, that they may prosper at the expense of the people.  Redeem us, oh Lord, with great judgments.  The lack of empathy associated with greed-driven, sink-or-swim capitalism and Strict Father dominion are sad and pathetic and unconscionably unfair.  Let’s change this!

   “Pity those who’ve doubted Tiffany!”

                                                   --- El Gaviero

A Review of Where We Stand

These words first germinated on the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  Since this daring declaration of freedom from British colonial control, the United States has been engaged in an epic experiment in self-governance. 

A marvelous evolution of ideas and policies has taken place during these years.  Extraordinary progressive advances have been made.  A first-rate Constitution was adopted in 1789, slavery was abolished in the 1860s, and women were granted the right to vote when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.  A social safety net was established during the Depression of the 1930s, and a wide variety of economic reforms and protective labor and environmental laws have been enacted since then.  Civil rights have been expanded, and rambling forays have been made in the direction of greater overall fairness in American society. 

What great accomplishments!  Just imagine how these progressive advances have made our nation better in light of the greed and brutality of capitalism in the first 200 years of the Industrial Revolution.  During those early years, people worked long hours and received low wages and often lived in slum conditions and worked in unsafe workplaces.  Child labor was rampant, and men and women were forced to work hard with few rights.  Discrimination against women and racial minorities was widespread.  Collective bargaining rights were suppressed or violated, and rules protecting the environment were more or less nonexistent.

For perspective, keep in mind a demographic trend since 1900.  In that year, there were 75 million people in the United States.  A full 60% percent of them lived in rural areas.  Today, there are 310 million Americans, and only 17% live in rural areas.  This concentration of populations of people in urban areas, together with our infinitely-complex and marvelously consumeristic economic system, have wrought profound changes in politics and human relations and morals and sexual expression. 

The great progress adduced above has been made in the face of strong opposition by special interests that are invested in the status quo, and are thus opposed to such progress.  There have, of course, been significant periods of retrogressive change which have taken place in our society, particularly in the past 30 years. 

A sustained ideological offensive by “conservatives” in this period has been characterized by regressive changes in taxation together with union busting, anti-regulation ideologies, profligate spending on the military, skyrocketing budget deficits, irresponsible profiteering through the expediency of externalizing costs onto society, and other extensive usurpations of power by rich people and multinational corporations.

Mary Elizabeth Lease was a Populist advocate and political activist who strived a century ago to get the right for women to vote.  She once stated that big business had made the people of America into “wage slaves”.  She declared, “Wall Street owns the country.  It is no longer a government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.”  To believe any different today is a form of absurd self-deception, especially in light of bank bailouts and tax breaks like the “carried interest” provision.

Tax evasion is a serious crime for ordinary Americans, but if you are one of these Bonfire of the Vanities “Masters of the Universe” who makes many millions of dollars per year, the system is there for the gaming, and institutionalized cheating is apparently regarded as eminently respectable.  This is just another insidious aspect of the status quo of our criminal justice system in America today, which is characterized by unequal privilege, class discrimination, tax inequities, prison mania, racism, and sexism.

It is stunning, when you think about it, that not a single person has been prosecuted for the epic economic calamity and record costs incurred due to the whole mortgage-backed securities scandal and the consequent credit crisis and severe economic recession.  Filmmaker Charles Ferguson, the producer of the compelling documentary Inside Job, says that he had “grossly underestimated the level of extraordinarily unethical and even fraudulent behavior that had occurred on such a large scale.”  This is justice for all?

Politicians, in any case, will say anything to get elected, but once they are in office, they all seem to have only one overriding goal -- to get re-elected and remain in power, with the gravy train privileges attendant to such positions.  In our political system, elected officials seem to be far more concerned about getting re-elected than about doing what is best for the country, or for the people, or for our descendents.

Historical Perspectives on Extremes of Economic Inequality

There is great risk even for wealthy people in being too hard-nosed in über-negotiations concerning economic fairness.  Will and Ariel Durant point out in The Lessons of History that sensible compromises are necessary to prevent forces which advocate revolution from acting to overthrow the privileged class when the concentration of wealth becomes too starkly unfair.  Rich people would be wise to be open to more fairly compromise.  Otherwise, wealth is as likely to be destroyed as to be more fairly partially redistributed.

History demonstrates that too extreme a concentration of wealth in the hands of a Few, and too large a gap between the wealthiest and the poorest, must be offset by legislation that partially redistributes wealth, for otherwise the risks rise of a revolution which has the net effect of partially redistributing poverty.  Warren Buffet would concur, since he has repeatedly called for immediate increases in taxes on what he called the “coddled” super-rich.

In ancient Athens of 594 B.C., the gap between rich and poor reached too great an extreme, and poor people were faced with deteriorating conditions and corrupt courts that decided every issue against them.  Violent conflict seemed inevitable.  Good sense prevailed, however, when moderate elements secured the election of Solon, a wise businessman of aristocratic lineage.  Solon instituted a number of courageous and fair-minded reforms.  This importantly included the establishment of a graduated income tax that required the rich to pay taxes at a rate 12 times the rate required of the poor.  The measures he instituted didn’t please either the rich or the radicals, but within a generation almost everyone agreed that his reforms had saved Athens from violent revolution.

In contrast, the concentration of wealth and land ownership in Italy under Roman rule reached a similarly explosive point in 133 B.C.  Conservative elements in the Roman Senate, however, were strongly opposed to agrarian reforms, so they adopted an uncompromising course.  This led to 100 years of class and civil war.  It was not until Caesar Augustus came to power that a sensible “Principate” was created in which a Pax Romana was maintained between the classes for two centuries.  Augustus succeeded by means of forming coalitions and skillfully promoting peace.  This demonstrated that an era of moderation and peaceful coexistence is vastly preferable to a period of stubborn refusals to compromise. 

Other Ways of Understanding Big Lies

Repeat after me:  It is a Big Lie that tax cuts for the wealthy will make most Americans better off.  The fact of the matter is that when marginal tax rates on the highest incomes were more than double what they are currently, between 1940 and 1980, our society ran more smoothly and equitably and humanely, and the middle class prospered.

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself;  in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics.”

                                                                        --- Mark Twain

The marginal income tax rate on the highest incomes was more than 80% from 1940 to 1963.  It was between 70% and 80% from 1964 to 1980.  It was dramatically reduced by Ronald Reagan, reaching a low of 28% in 1988, and it has been 35% since 2003.  The middle class was far better off when wealthy people were paying higher tax rates, and definitely not now, when rates for them are at multi-generation lows.

The “Big Lie” was a term first coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf.  It was made famous by Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister for the German Third Reich.  The idea was that if you tell an untruth often enough, most people will come to accept it as the truth.  During World War II, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA), noted that the Germans promulgated Big Lies by never admitting a fault or wrong, never conceding that there may be some good in opposing ideas, never leaving room for alternatives, and never accepting blame.  “People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one;  and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it."

Understand this concept.  If someone tells a relatively inconsequential lie, like “I did not have sexual relations with that woman …”, demagogues and outraged partisans will hound them quite mercilessly.  But if someone tells a Big Lie, and repeats it enough times with conviction, a large number of people will believe it.  And Big Lies can persist for decades.

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan is sticking to the Republican lie about the supposed beneficial aspects to society of tax cuts for wealthy people and big corporations.  He is proposing the latest coup:  slash taxes on the wealthy and corporations even further, from a top rate of 35% to 25%, and simultaneously eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid and environmental protections and family planning programs and public broadcasting and funding for National Parks and protected open spaces and dozens of other aspects of a civilized society.  He is making this proposal while pretending that it is the best way to balance the budget and get the national debt under control.  Orthodoxy and doublethink, Big Brother! 

This Republican plan is a form of radical social engineering.  Once again, they are advancing a scheme to cut important programs for the middle and lower classes in order to give the savings to the wealthy.  It is obscene for the Republican Party to keep pushing for more and more and more benefits for rich people and corporations at a time of such desperate needs for us to collectively formulate smarter and fairer policies.  Republican stances are an unkind kind of rigidly ideological voodoo economics that is not fully based in fact or truth.

George Orwell is probably chortling cynically in his grave, seeing the parallels between his dystopian novel 1984 and the oligarchic authoritarianism of current day politics in the United States.  He accurately foresaw a government that would actively involve its people in perpetual wars.  He imagined a time where the government engaged in pervasive surveillance, and made incessant efforts to manipulatively control public opinion and promote propaganda and dogma, and advance ideological certitudes.

The biggest Big Lies tend to be about the motives for war.  See Reflections on War in the Earth Manifesto for a succinct 60-page diatribe that explores and evaluates expansive and compelling understandings related to War and Peace.

Harry Truman denounced war profiteering as “treason”.  He called for an excess profits tax on military industries which profit from war.  There is common sense in this idea.  We should act decisively to assess higher taxes on military/industrial complex corporations.  This is needed particularly because we are apparently completely unable to enforce a common sense frugality in government procurement from armaments manufacturers and war services industries.

While we are in the sensible reform mood, we should make the tax structure in the U.S. more progressive by increasing marginal tax rates on the highest incomes so that they are 12 times the rates paid by the lowest income earners, as the wise Solon did long ago.  We should reduce subsidies to record-profit-making oil companies, and we should create powerful and effective incentives for multinational companies to pay a fair share of the total tax burden rather than allowing them to hide their profits abroad in tax havens.  We should also find good ways to discourage giant corporations from exporting American jobs abroad. 

Specific proposals on how to achieve these things are contained in One Dozen Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies and other recommendations in Book Two of the Earth Manifesto (Part Four online).  Check them out!

The Impasse of Politics in America Today

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated in late June 2011 that tax increases are “politically impossible”.  He stubbornly refused to allow any revenue increases to be part of any debt-cutting agreement as a national debt-limit ceiling approaches.  What baloney!  With taxes on wealthy people at the lowest rates in generations and record levels of deficit spending and national debt, and with Republican refusals to compromise on rich people’s ever-greater perks, our political system is badly broken.

Our tax system is a hornet’s nest of absurd tax loopholes like the one mentioned previously which allows hedge fund managers who earn hundreds of millions of dollars per year to pay low capital gains tax rates on their enormous earnings instead of higher income tax rates.  This “carried interest” provision will cost $20 billion over the next decade.  It is astonishing that anyone can defend such a glaringly generous provision for a few people with defiant airs of principled righteousness.

Republicans voted seven times to increase the debt ceiling under the Administration of George W. Bush.  Vice President Dick Cheney famously declared in 2002 that “deficits don’t matter”.  The rapid growth in the national debt in the past decade has been due to the enormous tax cuts passed by George W. Bush which are still in effect today after the December 2010 compromise by President Obama with Republicans over the pending expiration of those cuts.  The other primary factor in the large increases in the national debt in the past decade have been big increases in military spending driven by the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequent military occupations.  Military spending is out of control, and neither party has the courage to scrupulously address the myriad details of this glaring problem.

In light of these facts, it is startling and hypocritical for Republicans to have been so dramatically intransigent in opposing an increase to the debt limit to prevent a potentially cataclysmic default.  They seem to have had a “come to Jesus moment” and suddenly oppose deficit spending now that Barack Obama is President, even though they provided the majority of votes in favor of increases in the debt limit every time it was increased since 1997.  What egregious gamesmanship!

The Republican Party attempted to extort some serious concessions from unions and workers and old people before agreeing to another increase in the debt limit.  At the same time, they stuck stubbornly to their Santa Claus tax cut ideologies in vehemently opposing any higher taxes on the highest income earners.  They have held the nation hostage in their attempt to gain power and make President Obama fail, even if it severely damages our nation and the global economy in the process.  A default might be a good thing, said the Tea Party types, even though it would probably have cost trillions of dollars in immediate stock market losses worldwide.

Economic precautionary principles indicate that we should be honest about the growing risk of a severe debt crisis, and consequently act boldly to intelligently forestall the danger.  But the main idea Republicans have advanced to deal with the increasing national debt is to cut the top tax rate on the highest income earners from 35% to 25%.  Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has set forth this plan, which would make the tax revenue shortfall radically worse.  Significantly lower government revenues would force deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and discretionary federal government spending. 

The fact of the matter is that a balanced budget cannot realistically be achieved without more revenues.  If Congress went along with radically reductions in government spending for the military and entitlements and a wide range of important government functions and investments, we still would not be able to balance the budget without more revenues because large spending cuts would cause severe economic dislocations.  Another recession would likely result from sudden cuts in government spending on a scale adequate to balance the budget. 

In any case, it is a recipe for almost certain fiscal disaster to continue to have low levels of government revenue and high levels of government spending, as we have had since George W. Bush’s huge tax cuts and high levels of spending. 

Less than a week after Senator McConnell’s remarks about the political impossibility of any tax increases, he stood in front of national cameras on June 29, 2011 and audaciously declared that a balanced budget amendment should be passed.  Talk about “politically impossible”!  In order to enact an Amendment to the Constitution, 2/3 approval is required in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and 3/4 of the State legislatures must ratify it.  It would be radically more challenging to get this passed than to merely agree to fair-minded compromises on increases in taxes on incomes in excess of $250,000 and other initiatives like the elimination of some tax loopholes and corporate subsidies and tax evasion schemes. 

Besides, it would be ridiculous and inflexibly risky to set a balanced budget requirement in concrete for each year rather than allowing the federal government the flexibility to manage the economy more intelligently in accordance with business cycles.  The devil, as they say, is always in the details.  A balanced budget amendment is a backhanded approach to making the actual specific decisions on how to reduce the budget deficit.  Almost all economists agree that balancing the budget by slashing government spending and increasing taxes during times of recession could lead to a much more severe economic downturn. 

One pundit proposes an Unbalanced Budget Amendment.  Such a Constitutional Amendment would make practical and propitious sense by requiring budget surpluses in good economic times to offset counter-cyclical fiscal policy deficit spending stimulus during recessionary times.

Good proposals are made in the Earth Manifesto on how to fairly and sensible balance the federal budget.  See One Dozen Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies in particular.

Theft and Other Idiocies

   “Thou shalt not steal.”

          --- The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:15)

Since 1980, more than $13 trillion has effectively been stolen from our children and people in future generations by cutting taxes while profligately increasing spending on wars, munitions, prisons, pensions, corporate subsidies, tax cuts, pork barrel projects, no-bid contracts, and a wide range of “entitlements”.  Our political system is terribly dysfunctional when it is so EASY to cheat people in the future to benefit the Few today and so HARD to increase taxes on the wealthiest people as a component of broad measures to bring the federal budget more nearly into balance.

We have backed ourselves into a desperate corner where we seem to be completely incapable of making fair-minded and farsighted decisions.  Big Lies have enabled this state of affairs.  Mitch McConnell promulgated another one of these lies when he declared it politically impossible to increase taxes on the wealthy because “we all know that including massive, job-killing tax hikes would be a poison pill.” 

Tax increases on incomes exceeding $250,000 per year need not be “massive”, and such increases would not “kill jobs” anywhere near as seriously as the 2008 financial crisis did.  That economic crisis was caused by bubble economic policies and the deregulation of financial derivatives and the banking industry.  The crisis has been made worse by an insistence on low taxes for those who benefit most from the status quo and who could most easily afford to pay more of the costs of ensuring that our nation remains prosperous and strong and fair.

Conservative politicians have allied themselves with wealthy people and the Religious Right to subvert honest governance.  They have helped facilitate a system of institutionalized bribery and corporate malfeasance and unethical Congressional pandering to lobbyists.  In the process, they have allowed wide-ranging cost-externalizing practices by corporations.  They have also helped perpetuate discriminatory unfairness toward women, workers, young people, and all people to come in future generations.

A new vision is needed for our nation.  We cannot allow the current corrupt system to continue without substantial reform.  Our political system is not only uncompromisingly dysfunctional, but also ecologically insane as well.  This system is undermining the health of our home planet’s ecosystems, thus reducing their ability to support humanity and millions of other species of life.  This makes the system ever-more starkly wrong-headed. 

We must collectively find a way to practice better stewardship of natural resources and all of “Creation”.  Damage to habitats and ecosystems and the wantonly wasteful depletion of resources must be discouraged through powerful incentives and disincentives.

This new vision must honorably embrace a Bill of Rights for Future Generations to ensure that shortsighted political expediencies do not completely dominate our decision-making.  We must, simply put, adjudicate deep conflicts of interests in public planning in ways that allow us to more nearly balance the federal budget and create sustainable economic growth in the long term.  It must no longer be politically impossible to achieve fair-minded compromises that respect future generations.  Read the persuasive proposal for a Bill of Rights for Future Generations in the Earth Manifesto.  And SUPPORT the ideas therein!

We need a new economics and politics for a crowded planet.  Jeffrey Sachs cogently makes this point in his insightful book Common Wealth.  He also provides numerous recommendations on the directions we must take to make our future safer.  The Earth Manifesto also contains great ideas for how we could achieve a sensible role reversal from the dominance of our politics by entrenched-interest-perpetuating entities that define the status quo. 

Happy News

There is great hope.  It is here and now.  The next step in evolution for the human race is a transformation that favors survival, prosperity and sustainable existence for our species in the long run.  This transformation requires a revolutionary new worldview.  Such a new approach is suggested in the compelling book, Spontaneous Evolution - Our Positive Future (and How We Can Get There from Here).

This propitious change must begin with a better balance between environmentally sane ways of seeing the world and ones that are essentially ecologically insane.  Empathetic cooperation is more important than ruthlessness of competition.  Intuitive understandings are needed in addition to analytical comprehension.  A better balance is needed between spiritual and material perspectives, between the feminine and masculine, and between liberals and conservatives. 

Cell biologist Bruce Lipton and political commentator Steve Bhaerman, aka Swami Beyondananda, have collaborated in Spontaneous Evolution to combine penetrating insights, the latest scientific knowledge, and clever humor in the perspectives contained in this sweeping book.  A brilliant web of provocative and enlightening understandings is provided which gives readers a cogent sense of hope that we human beings really are capable of choosing to save ourselves and other species of life on Earth.  This vital goal can be accomplished by coming to grips with a new worldview that emphasizes a deep sense of connectedness with other people and other species of life and the natural world.

Fascinating Words Written by President Dwight Eisenhower

In 1954, Republican Dwight Eisenhower wrote a letter that addressed the need for what he called “moderation” in government.  He made this cogent observation:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.  There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. … Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

How is it possible that Paul Ryan and the Republican Party can now brazenly propose to slash spending on social safety net programs?  There are several reasons for this apparent political kamikaze act.  For one, our democracy has become so obedient to the desires of the top 1% of income earners that politicians from both political parties vastly over-represent the desires of moneyed interests.  They pathetically do this while significantly under-representing the interests of the majority of people.  As a result, we have the current travesty of social justice in which the rich are getting richer while the nation is falling apart, prisons are overcrowded, and the majority of people are seeing their life fortunes and prospects diminish.

Our Congressional and judicial systems are so powerfully influenced by the corrupting influence of Big Money that they are hindering the fair representation of the interests of the majority and of the greater good.  Our corporate-dominated media machine is partly to blame, because it is too much influenced by propaganda and economic fundamentalists’ ideologies and corporate interests and right-wing front groups.  This is how radically inegalitarian initiatives have gained so much sway.  Deceptive argumentation, divisive tactics, narrow ideological doctrines, effective uses of framing and fears, hyped-up extreme partisanship, arrogantly uncompromising stances, and dissatisfaction with continued high unemployment have surprisingly duped Tea Party types and religious evangelical voters into supporting this Republican position. 

Make no mistake about it.  The potential debt crisis is serious.  The solutions proposed by Republicans are ideological false choices that are contrary to fairness principles upon which our nation was founded.  We do need to reduce budget deficits.  Fairer tax policy and spending plans must be fairly implemented.  It is not impossible.  Let’s get it together!  And in doing so, let us not forget the overarching context of the need for a fair-minded Bill of Rights for Future Generations in these considerations.

In response to the severe financial crisis of 2008, a Great Recession began and the housing bubble burst and unemployment skyrocketed.  The Federal Reserve and the federal government were forced to resort to drastic economic stimulus measures to prevent another Depression.  It was an inopportune and risky time to cut back on either Santa Claus spending or Santa Claus tax cuts.  So the record deficit spending of the Bush years has become much higher deficit spending under the Obama Administration.

Now we must have the sense to find common cause to move toward a comprehensive solution to this epic economic challenge.  This must involve both higher taxes on all incomes in excess of $250,000 per year and lower government spending.  The Bush Santa Claus tax cuts must be ended.  Higher marginal tax rates must be put into effect on all income earned in excess of $250,000 per year, with progressively higher rates for income over $1 million per year and even higher rates for income over $10 million per year.  The tax rate on capital gains should be increased.  So should the amount of taxes on the largest 1% of all inheritances.  Corporate subsidies and agribusiness farm subsidies and tax loopholes like the “carried interest” provision must be reduced. 

It is also time to sensibly control government spending.  This can be done without slashing spending on vital programs like education, environmental protections, National Parks, emergency first-responders, family planning, public broadcasting, and the nation’s physical infrastructure.  We should significantly reduce spending on wars, war services, weapons, troops stationed abroad, and military occupations.  We should reform entitlement spending in ways suggested in the Earth Manifesto proposition, Radically Simple Ways to Make America Fairer, and to Fix Both Social Security and Health Care So We Can Move On to Address Much Bigger Issues.  There are surprising and simple and fair ways to achieve these reforms.

Conclusion: The Rule of Two Impossibles in Human Affairs

When something is declared politically impossible, and yet the alternative option is proved to be impossible to an equal or greater degree, the first impossibility becomes curiously more feasible.  Intransigent Republican adherence to the goal of providing ever-larger tax cuts to rich people may make it “politically impossible” to achieve fair-minded compromises, as Mitch McConnell has arrogantly declared, but this can be seen to be a kind of brinksmanship that is likely to become untenable because it is really a form of national political and economic suicide. 

To ravage the social security safety net even further in order to continue padding the bank accounts of the wealthy is a course of action that seems likely to be more impossible than the gambit of continuing to pander one-sidedly to the power-abusing wealthy. 

Let us debate these issues honestly, and chart a future course that is fairer to the majority of Americans and all our heirs in future generations.  Let’s have a truly honest conversation about resource conservation.  Let’s be honest with each other -- and with ourselves, too.  Let’s sort out special interest considerations and focus on the greater common good.  We can no longer allow short-term oriented profiteering to trump longer-term considerations of the greater good for our human race.  New farsighted priorities are required.

Revolutionary changes are needed to make sure our ship of state is on course toward a healthier future.  We cannot continue to pursue an unsteady course toward dangerous shoals of converging ecological, political, economic, social, and demographic catastrophes.

King Louis XV of France accurately foresaw the approaching turmoil that later resulted in the French Revolution of 1789.  “Après moi, le deluge”, he said.  He was aware of the irresponsible extravagances of his royal court and the huge expenses related to decades of warfare.  Today, we are facing an even greater deluge of debt and costly militarism.  In addition, far-reaching demographic challenges beset our societies and ecological disasters loom before us, and yet we are acting as if we cannot do anything about it.  We are acting as if, “Après nous, le deluge viendra.”  (After us, the deluge will come.)  I feel strongly that we must act on our best understandings and work committedly together to prevent economic and environmental disasters from severely affecting us and our descendents.

A new Enlightenment Era is dawning, an era shaped by an awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence with other people and natural systems.  Moral propriety, Golden Rule fairness, and social cohesion make it mandatory that we incorporate intergenerational fairness into our national policies.  It is becoming increasingly important for us to work together to create a system which is more holistic and sustainable and responsible to planetary ecosystems and other people and other species of life.  We can do this.  We must do this.  Let’s start NOW!


      Dr. Tiffany B. Twain   

        Hannibal, Missouri    

           August 16, 2012 (First versions were published in August and November 2011)


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