Friday, September 5, 2014

What's The Reason It Isn't Treason?

"Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason." Words of wisdom from Sir John Harrington (1561-1612), Elizabethan Era courtier, affectionately known as the Queen's "saucy Godson," until he fell out of her good graces by penning a political allegory and coded attack on the monarchy titled A New Discourse on a Stale Subject in 1596. He is perhaps better known, appropriately, as the inventor of the flush toilet.

And, indeed, "it" does prosper. What's it? "It" is pseudo-Americans depriving the nation of untold billions of dollars in revenue by hiding much of their income in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and the Caribbean, and by practicing "inversion": partnering with foreign companies to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. income taxes. "It" is ersatz Americans reaping obscene profits by enjoying the manifold benefits and protections of U.S. citizenship, while not contributing their fair share of the costs.

Of course, every American schoolchild knows that the Constitution defines "Treason" very narrowly and precisely: Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or to adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.    

The use of them is perplexing. It seems to indicate a pre-Constitution mind-set that the United States means the States that happen to be United, which sounds like the nature of the Union as set forth in the Articles of Confederation and the Ordinances of Secession proffered by southern slave states in 1861. In any case, that fiction was obliterated by the preamble to the Constitution and a plethora of Supreme Court decisions.: "We the people of the United States...In order to form a more perfect Union." So who is them? The States or The People? Whose "ox is being gored"? Who or what is the victim of Treason? Can the "victim" and the "perp" be one and the same? The Civil War and the 14th Amendment (which obviously came much later) supposedly settled that question in favor of the people, but many of "the Makers" seemingly meant the States.

That aside, the Constitution defines Treason itself "levying war against them" or "giving them Aid and Comfort." The first offense clearly means taking up arms in a "shooting war" against the U.S. You could possibly interpret what these "tax dodgers" are doing as waging metaphorical "war," but that would be quite a stretch, one which their army of obsequious attorneys would have no difficulty in laughing out of court.  <I have always assumed--obviously naively--that  paying one's fair share of legally constituted taxes is one absolute and irreducible principle of true citizenship and patriotism. Apparently not everyone agrees! To clarify that issue, it would probably take a constitutional amendment--one that would obviously be vehemently opposed by the nation's most rich and powerful. But something very similar was accomplished during the Progressive Era, when a broad-based, painstakingly constructed nationwide coalition eventually overcame the adamant opposition of the "robber barons" and "malefactors of great wealth" to enact the Sixteenth Amendment and the federal income tax. [See  my The Income Tax and the Progressive Era  (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.,1985).

That signal achievement took from 1895 until 1913, and survived a veritable tsunami of attacks and challenges, but it finally succeeded! Whether the construction of such a coalition is even a remote possibility today seems highly problematic, but what is the alternative? I seriously doubt that any of todays' "malefactors of great wealth" would ever "confess in open court," but they might possibly be convicted by the testimony of millions of witnesses.

To quote Senator Elizabeth Warren, "these companies are renouncing their American citizenship, turning their backs on this country, simply to boost their profits." To stop this nefarious and unpatriotic practice, she and fellow Senator Sander Levin have introduced the "Stop Corporate Inversions Act," which allows American corporations "to renounce their citizenship only if they truly give up control of their company to a foreign corporation and truly move their operations overseas." These corporations, Senator Warren correctly charges "are not actually leaving America behind. They just don't want to pay for it." America, she boldly asserts, "is a great place to do business because of the investments we have made together." Those investments, she insists, include public education to produce millions of skilled workers, the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and ports that make it possible to move products to market, and scientific and medical research giving American  corporations access to the most innovative and cutting-edge technologies.

How absurd can it get? In the Wisconsin State Senate, minority leader Peter Barca has managed to hoist Governor Scott Walker on his own petard, so to speak. Barca has introduced a bill that would prevent firms "offshoring" jobs from receiving state money and tax incentives. Since Walker is normally one of the big supporters of permitting Wisconsin corporations to "offshore" everything, it would follow that his administration would fight Barca's proposal "tooth and nail." BUT, it turns out that one of his biggest attacks on his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Mary Burke, is that her jointly-owned company--Trek Bicycles--has, in fact, "offshored" some of its jobs. So Walker, the candidate, had no choice but to publicly support Barca's bill, thus enraging the very companies that  Walker, the governor, relies upon for campaign contributions and other considerations. Irony doesn't even begin to describe his dilemma!  So now Walker, who, from day one, has alienated most of the state's  moderate to liberal voters, is also getting some flak from the right. This "flip flop" is even more problematic than insisting that he has fulfilled his pledge to create 250,000 private sector jobs, when he has clearly failed to produce half that number (and has eliminated tens of thousands of public sector jobs in the process.)

Like the reactionary, corrupt, racist Senator Billboard Rawkins in Finian's Rainbow, Walker is boldly leading Wisconsin FORWARD--FORWARD TO YESTERDAY!!!! 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Need a 28th Amendment--NOW!!!!!!

To save what little semblance of democracy we still have left, we absolutely need to overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC. According to Public Citizen News, 83 percent of Americans favor limiting the amount of money that corporations and other organizations can spend on elections. By its calculations, about $7 billion was spent on the 2012 federal elections--most of it due to Citizens United, which permits corporations and the wealthy to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads and other campaign activities. The elimination of the old $123,000 limit in  McCutcheon enabled the 600 individuals who exceeded that amount to funnel up to $5.9 million into the political process. What can we do about, while we still have the machinery---even if not much of the substance of---the democratic process?

One of the most effective strategies is for progressives everywhere to throw their support behind S.J. Res.19, which has been in the works for four years. It was introduced by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and it would overturn not only Citizens United and McCutcheon, but also Buckley v. Valeo,  a 1976 Supreme Court decision that established the doctrine popularly called "money equals people." On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the proposed amendment, which would give Congress and the states the authority to regulate and limit campaign spending, including expenditures by, in support of, or to oppose candidates in federal elections. Before the hearing even began, a number of progressive organizations delivered a petition in support of the amendment signed by more than two million people from throughout the country. It pledged the support of sixty progressive organizations including Public Citizen, USAction, Common Cause, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the Communication Workers of America. Speaking for them, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman proclaimed that "this is an historic moment.This amendment will help restore the most basic meaning of democracy--rule by the people."

 In a prepared statement, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev), the Senate Majority Leader, testified that "American families cannot compete with billionaires, Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances." On June 18, the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee approved a revised version that simplified and shortened  the amendment's language. This version contains slightly more than 100 words stipulating that "to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections." In addition, it empowers Congress and the states to "distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections." On July 10, the full committee voted to send the revised version to the Senate floor, where it is scheduled for a vote this fall. So far, 47 Senators have signed on in support.

In urging support for the amendment, Weissman proclaims that "the American people know that the current system is failing them. They desperately want action. They believe passionately in ensuring that their speech--not that of any one select group, but the speech of We the People--matters. They are clamoring for the 28th Amendment."

In his brilliant treatise Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change The Constitution, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens makes a compelling case for a "Campaign Finance" amendment. (the others are the "Anti-Commandeering Rule, Sovereign Immunity, Political Gerrymandering, the Death Penalty, and Gun Control.)  In this succinct 177 page treatise, Justice Stevens argues that the first four "would nullify judge-made rules, the fifth would expedite the demise of the death penalty, and the sixth would confine the coverage of the Second Amendment to the area intended by its authors." Over time, he contends that the "soundness of each of my proposals will become more and more evident, and that ultimately each will be adopted." The purpose of this book, he states flatly is "to expedite that process and to avoid future crises before they occur." In support of the amendment regarding campaign finance, Justice Stevens quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt 1905 annual message to Congress:
                 All contributions by corporations to any political committee for any
                political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be
               permitted to use stockholders' money for such purposes; and, moreover,
              a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method
              of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts.   

Two years later, Justice Stevens argues, " Congress passed a statute banning all corporate contributions to political candidates. For decades thereafter, Congress, most state legislators, and members of the Supreme Court apparently agreed that it was both wise and constitutional to impose greater restrictions on corporate participation in elections than on individuals." That consensus maintained until 1990, when Justices Anton Scalia and Anthony Kennedy wrote a dissenting opinion in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. The majority upheld the constitutionality of a Michigan statute prohibiting corporations from making any expenditure in connection with an election campaign for state office. The dissenting opinion written by Scalia, who argued that "corporate speech, like other expressive activities by groups of persons, was entitled to the same First Amendment protection as speech by an individual." Fast forward to 2011 and Citizens United v. FEC, in which the Scalia-Kennedy interpretation became the majority opinion (5-4), and "the rest is history," at least until the present.

Stevens does not "fast forward," but traces the devolution of campaign finance regulation from Austin  to Citizens United, step-by-step. He also points out that campaign contributions by labor unions have been seriously restricted since the Court upheld that limitation as part of the infamous Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Stevens also pointedly argues that most members of the TV viewing public "share my opinion that at least 75 percent--perhaps even 90 percent--of the campaign commercials could be omitted without depriving viewers of any useful data." He goes on to say that the decision in Citizens United took a giant step in the wrong direction by "giving corporations an unlimited right to spend their shareholders money in election campaigns." < Isn't it odd that corporations that always insist that their primary (only?) responsibility is to their shareholders, as opposed to labor, consumers or the general public, feel empowered to spend their shareholders money on political action without having to get their permission?>  A constitutional amendment allowing Congress and the states to place "reasonable" limits on campaign expenditures "would allow corporations to make public announcements of their views but would prohibit them from engaging in "the kind of repetitive and excessive advocacy that the candidates typically employ." 

In conclusion, Justice Stevens even provides the exact language that such an amendment should take: Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this constitution shall be construed to prohibit Congress or any state from opposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters may spend in election campaigns. Of course. there will be intense disagreements over the definition of "reasonable." That is what is normally called POLITICS!!!     


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The "Do-Even-Less-Than-Nothing" Congress

Way back in 1948 President Harry Truman immortalized the 80th Congress as the "Do-Nothing Congress." By hammering away at that theme, HST was able to pull victory from what almost all Pols and Pundits predicted would certainly be the "jaws of defeat." The Chicago Tribune was so certain that it made "Dewey Wins" the gigantic front-page headline of an edition that they were quickly forced to retract. Whether or not Truman's assessment was categorically true, he pulled off what is still almost universally regarded as the greatest upset in the history of presidential elections, and used it as a goad to press the 81st Congress to enact several parts of his Fair Deal platform.  (I actually held a copy of the Trib in my hot little hand when one of the parish priests at St. Pats interrupted our touch football game to teach us a couple of lessons about hubris in real world politics.)

Memories of that "do-nothing 80th Congress came flooding back to me when I read two articles in the opinion section of the New York Times. One was headed "The Do-Even-Less Congress" and written by Charles W. Blow. the other was "What the Republicans Failed to Accomplish" by David Firestone. As of the end of July, Blow asserted, "the current Congress had enacted 142 laws, the fewest of any Congress in the past two decades over the equivalent time span," and only 108 of those were substantial pieces of legislation. Most of the rest involved the renaming of post offices, anniversary commemorations, and other purely ceremonial acts. President Obama has found it necessary to veto only two bills, fewer than and president since James Garfield in 1881--and his term lasted only 200 days before he was assassinated. (Now that paucity of vetoes might signify a high level of agreement between the executive and the legislature, but anybody with a breath in her or his body knows how ridiculous that conclusion would be.) Perhaps we should be grateful that the House is scheduled to be in session 135 days, which works out to 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours per week. Even the most low-paid member of the House scores $174,00 a year, plus a benefit package to die for. That is about the only thing that Democrats and Republicans agree upon, besides the conviction that it should be more. (Don't even attempt to calculate pay per hour. It would only drive you crazy, suicidal, or better yet, homicidal). The average full-time worker logs in more than 1,700 hours per year, for a comparative pittance.

Mr. Blow cites a June report by the Pew Foundation that found "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines.....and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive than at any point in the last two decades." In my view, this is more about "partisan antipathy" than ideology.
Neither party wants to tackle the real "hot button" issues, such as immigration, inversion, inequality, and "too big to fail." The more liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans are obviously poles apart on these issues, but the leadership and majority in both parties does not want to touch any of these because of their potential for real ideological disputation. Better to ignore them and rest comfortably in the status quo. Better to sling vitriol back and forth than engage in serious negotiations on any of these "elephants in the room." Republicans blame Obama and Democrats blame Republican intransigence. As Mr. Blow concludes: "Legislation is only a hobby for members of this Congress. their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar on acceptable behavior."

Mr. Firestone elaborates upon the same theme: "The failure of this Congress (principally the House) to perform the most basic tasks of governing is breathtakingly broad." To prove his point, he appends "a catalog of the vital tasks the House was unable to accomplish before taking an unnecessary recess."
1. Failure to pass a full set of appropriations bills for the 2015 fiscal year of a continuing resolution to keep the government open past Sept. 30. Haven't we seen this movie before? It should be a real bloodbath!
2. Failure to enact a long-term transportation bill. The current one expires in ten months and is full of gimmicks necessitated by the failure to raise the gasoline tax
3. Failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform
4. Failure to renew the Import/Export Bank and terrorism risk insurance
5. Failure to raise the minimum wage
6. Failure to extend unemployment compensation
7. Failure to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
8. Failure to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act
9. Failure to fix the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by the Supreme Court
10. Failure to pass any measure imposing background checks on gun buyers
11. Failure to enact any long-term legislation to stimulate the economy and create jobs

"But there is one thing House Republicans did enthusiastically before pack their bags. They voted to sue the president for taking executive actions they disliked ---actions that were necessary because Republicans failed to do their jobs.

What is a voter to do? One good suggestion comes from Ann McFeatters of the McClatchy-Tribune News  Service:
Voters, return to your senses. Do not elect or reelect anyone who wants to refuse to pay debts America has already incurred. Do not pull any lever for someone who proudly promises never to compromise (without it politics is meaningless). Do not send to Washington anyone who tells you how much he/she hates government. Do not give your precious vote to anyone who labels the other side evil, treasonous, demonic, or stupid. (Well, stupid is OK.)   

Keep on keeping on.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Republican's Own Data Proves "Voter Fraud" is a Myth

Well, the smell (stench) of Republican campaign propaganda is once again in the air. Can specious claims of "Voter Fraud" be far behind? As if any further proof that "Voter Fraud" is a cynically constructed "Myth" is needed, the re-release by Cornell University Press of THE MYTH OF VOTER FRAUD by Lorraine C. Minnite should do the job. The author is political scientist at Barnard College of Columbia University and a senior fellow at DEMOS. Most of her data comes from the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), a Republican sponsored "think tank" founded in 2005, specifically to dig up evidence of voter fraud. It disbanded in frustration in 2007. That should be a real clue, in and of itself.

According to the author, the book "began as a response to a simple question from Miles Rappaport, the director of Demos, a democracy reform research and advocacy organization in NYC. When he was Connecticut Secretary of State, Rappaport found that his efforts to lower barriers to voting were routinely opposed with arguments that such reforms would only open the door to more "voter fraud." He wanted to find out how big the problem actually was, so that Demos could develop an agenda for electoral reform. So motivated, Minnite "spent a number of years engaged in painstaking research, aggregating and sifting all of the evidence that I could find." The results of her quest are spelled out in the book's chapters, but she "can short-circuit the suspense"--voter fraud is rare. It cannot compare in magnitude to the multiple problems in election administration, which present a far greater threat to the integrity of elections.

This exercise led her "to explore why these allegations are made when the facts do not support them, and why they succeed in influencing electoral rules." To answer that question, she contends, we first need to get "the best estimate" of the incidence of voter fraud, and "to know WHY the myth of voter fraud can be so successfully rejuvenated in the political culture to the point that all it takes to recall it is a wink and a nod--and maybe a little bullying." She declares unequivocally that VOTER FRAUD IS A POLITICALLY CONSTRUCTED MYTH! She begins by discussing a couple of high-profile fraud allegations as examples that have influenced the national election debate, and demonstrating "how they fall apart when we interrogate them." Voter fraud politics are so enduring "because they capitalize on general and widely held folk beliefs <urban myths> that are rooted in in facts and real historical experience, notions such as corruption in party politics and government but also stereotypes and class-and racially biased preconceptions of corruptions among groups by their marginal or minority status in U.S. history. (As a student of American political history, I am well aware that the charges being levied about African Americans, Latinos, and recent immigrants are almost verbatim those made against almost every minority ethnic group throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I also know that many of those holding such biases today are the descendants of those who were once the victims of those very same injustices. I am also aware that
such prejudices against African Americans are more deep-seated and persistent than those levied against any other ethnic group.)

An almost equal source of the author's passion was the "Alice-in-Wonderland" election of 2000, in which "the candidate with the most votes lost and the Supreme Court declared the winner." For those of you too young to have experienced that "sleight-of-hand" in person, this was the "election?" that sentenced us to eight years of George W. Bush. Interest in the "deadening minutiae of election administration, never before a subject of so much spilled ink, captured the attention of the public, the press, and academia." Interest in election law, "a subject about as sexy as patent law, has exploded and the field has suddenly earned some respectability, with academic centers, institutes, and journals all its own."  The issue of election fraud, "an obsession of reformers and muckrakers in a bygone era <read Gilded Age and Progressive Era>, returned to the fore." Concerns ranged from felons' illegally voting, to Democratic ballot count observers' eating chads, and Al Gore operatives among Florida canvassing boards double-punching Palm Beach ballots to invalidate votes for George W. Bush or Pat Buchanan." In arguing for counting overseas military absentee ballots that lacked postmarks or failed to comply with the template. the Bush team waxed patriotic: "To not do so would disenfranchise patriotic soldiers and sailors."

"Epidemics" of voter fraud  broke out all over. Especially suspect, at least to right-wing Republicans, were  nationwide Democratic registration drives, bounty programs, and transportation schemes to get the maximum number of voters to the polls. Republicans had countered with "task forces" of lawyers and volunteer poll watchers "to root out what they were convinced was fraud endemic to the Democrats' efforts and the electoral process itself." What she found in several cases is that "the Republican antifraud campaigns appeared to be directed at suppressing the minority vote and tipping the election to the Republican candidate. In Jefferson County, Arkansas, where African Americans are 40 percent of the eligible voters, a group of predominantly black voters trying cast their ballots during the state's "early voting" period were confronted by Republican poll watchers who photographed them and demanded to see ID. One even stood behind the desk in the county clerk's office and photographed voter information on the clerk's computer screen.

 In South Dakota, the minorities in question were Native Americans on federal reservations who were mobilized by the SDDP, United Sioux, and other tribal councils. About a month before the election, local election auditors in counties on or near reservations reported irregularities in voter registration and absentee balloting. The charges were directed at a single contractor hired by the SDDP, who was immediately fired.  The federal and state's attorneys, with the cooperation of the SDDP, uncovered several hundred registration and absentee voter irregularities. The Republican state's attorney found only two cases where criminal law may have been violated. He concluded that "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that." No matter! Right-wing pundits, including Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal  jumped all over the case to arouse their readers and listeners. What happened next, Minnite declares, "reveals the power of the perception of voter fraud to justify electoral and law enforcement policies that strategically advantage one party over the other." They succeeded in "embedding a campaign strategy in the voting rights enforcement routines of the U.S. DOJ." It consisted of aggressively investigating Democrats and their allies, on the barest of evidence, to use the media to create the impression of widespread violation, and to keep those investigations open long enough to influence the 2002 elections. To give the charges even greater currency, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed a Voting Access and Integrity Initiative that involved the creation of several "task forces," consisting of 94 assistant U.S attorneys and numerous FBI officials "to deter and detect discrimination, prevent electoral corruption, and bring violators to justice." The statewide South Dakota phone number for reporting such alleged election fraud received only one call!!  The DOJ opened only sixteen investigations in the month before the election, none of which were carried to conclusion. The entire fiasco, in the author's judgment, was reflective of "an evolving pattern of conservative thinking and political strategy: conservatives are victimized by the liberal agenda, whites suffer discrimination than blacks, and the rich unfairly get less from government than the poor." They obviously live in an alternate universe!

Ignoring obvious reality, escalating allegations of voter fraud after 2002 had a profoundly negative effect on the mechanics of voting, one that threatens to undo the progress toward real democracy that it has taken more than 200 years of dedication, courage, and struggle to achieve. It has been "the justification for the erection of much of the convoluted electoral apparatus that plagues the electoral process today." More than a century ago, during the Progressive Era, "the threat of voter fraud was the rhetorical rationale for the very invention of voter registration rules, and each of the major national efforts at election reform since then....has been seriously compromised by an organized party-based opposition warning of the dangers of voter fraud." <Always remember that it is the individual states that set voting requirements and procedures. For details see my post of November 26, 2012: "Why We Need A National Election Law.">    

Easily her two most informative and fascinating examples of fabricated voter fraud are: 1) the myth that several of the 9/11 bombers were able to become eligible voters, and 2) the saga of the abortive and surreal American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) . The former dates from the publication, in 2004, of Stealing Elections by John Fund, a regular columnist for the Wall Street Journal, in which he charged that several of the 9/11 hijackers were registered to vote. <Considering that they planned to crash their planes well before the next election would seem to make registering to vote unnecessary in the extreme, as well as a waste of valuable prep time, since they also had to learn to fly a jumbo jet airplane, but what the heck?>  Fund's book asserts that "at least eight of the nineteen hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were actually able to register to vote in either Virginia or Florida <both states noted for their "squeaky clean" elections> while they made their deadly preparations for 9/11." Fund bases his claim solely on a December 22, 2002 interview that he conducted with Michael Chertoff, then attorney general in charge of the Justice Department Criminal Division, and we all know how well he did on that job prior to 9/11. Note that Fund writes that they "were actually able to vote," not that they did register or that they were registered. Of course, we all know that every state--even Virginia and Florida--requires that every voter be a "citizen of the U.S." Several other right-wing pundits uttered lots of variations> on the same theme, but Republican Senator "Kit" Bond of Missouri took it to the point of absurdity by claiming---on the Senate floor, no less--that a Pakistani citizen in Greensboro, North Carolina, "with links to two of the September 11 hijackers was indicted by a federal grand jury for having illegally registered to vote." When asked during  a CNN interview with Lou Dobbs on October 24, 2004, if he meant that eight of the hijackers could have registered, Fund corrected Dobbs by insisting that they did register. Fund and others extrapolated from the well-known fact that several of the hijackers had obtained driver's licenses and were therefore able to apply for voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. Obviously, being able to apply to register to vote because you obtained a driver's license is not the same thing as being able to register, let alone able to vote. As Minnite carefully points out, Fund, Bond, and their cronies were really trying to discredit the NVRA by "talking in code." The 9/11 Commission did find that several of the hijackers ""manipulated in a fraudulent manner," made detectable false statements on their visa applications, and gave false statements to border officials in order to gain entry," and obtained driver's licenses or state ID cards in California, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia, making them, hypothetically, eligible to register at the same time. But there is no evidence that any of them actually did. To do so would, of course, subject them to closer scrutiny--the last thing in the world they wanted.Therefore, Minnite asserts that "in the absence of any affirmative evidence from state or federal law enforcement officials, it is highly unlikely that any of the hijackers was registered to vote.

Nevertheless, Fund's allegations have received wide and persistent currency among those opposed to any effort to make voting more accessible, especially to poor and minority voters. Charges based upon false or non-existent documentation have been entered into the Congressional Record, swayed lawmakers, and even persuaded Supreme Court Justices. On the evening of the 2006 Congressional elections, Fund told Fox News propagandist Glenn Beck that he still stood by his original accusation, and added that "Our registration rules have a lot of people on there who are dead, don't exist  or registered many times over." This ridiculous "folk myth," the author asserts, is an example of voter fraud politics: "the use of spurious or exaggerated voter fraud allegations to persuade the public about the need for more administrative burdens on the vote." In conducting case studies, she asks 1) who are the actors?; 2) who are the targets?; 3) what are the tactics deployed?; and 4) what are the tactics employed, and what are the factors that account for their success in maintaining barriers that "disproportionately affect certain Americans"? Voter fraud politics "is all about the behavior of partisans and their allies." While committing voter fraud is a crime, "falsely accusing someone of it is not." And therein, to quote Hamlet, lies the rub.

Even more categorical is the case of the report of the ACVR (see above) created on March 15, 2005 at the behest of Robert Ney (R-Ohio), then chairman of the U.S. House Administration Committee. During the course of its hearings, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne, founder and general counsel of ACVR testified that the Ohio NAACP had supplied cocaine to African Americans in return for their registering to vote.According to Murray Waas of the right-wing National Journal, Hearne was a quintessential Republican, who had served in the Department of Education during the Reagan administration, an attorney for the GOP during the 2000 Florida election fiasco, and a national counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign. He reportedly founded ACVR "with encouragement from Rove and the White House." He has a long history of involvement in schemes to prevent potentially Democratic voters from exercising the franchise. Just days after the Administrative Committee hearings, an enterprising journalist reported that ACVR's address was a U.S. Post Office Box in Dallas, which it shared with a fund raising operation chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, the leader of the Bush-Cheney recount team. The same journalist also discovered that ACVR's internet domain was <>, and that its street address was supposedly 8409 Pickwick Lane 229, Dallas, 75225. That turned out to be the location of a UPS store!! Moreover, its Legislative Fund was a specious 501 (c) (4 ) organization, one of those eerie tax-exempt "social welfare" institutions. Obscured by several layers of phony shell organizations, the Fund had numerous ties to the GOP, the Bush-Cheney campaign, the National Rifle Association, and the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The ACVR Legislative Fund released a self-commissioned report titled "Voter Fraud, Intimidation, and Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election," which it claimed to be "the most comprehensive and authoritative review" of voter fraud during the 2004 election. Closer examination of its myriad claims, according to Minnite, "shows it to be little more than a pile of poorly scrutinized newspaper articles sensationalizing election shenanigans instigated in all but two instances by Democrats, who were accused of far more voter intimidation and suppression than Republicans. In other words, it is a piece of political propaganda produced by Republican Part operatives who veiled their work as civil rights advocacy." She includes a table summarizing the findings of the report and shows that "among the more than one hundred cited of alleged voter fraud implicating nearly 300,000 potentially fraudulent votes in the 2004 election cycle, only about 185 votes could be confirmed as possibly tainted by fraud. <For those of you without a handy, dandy calculator, that comes to .0006166 of one prevent.>

 Significantly, nearly all of these allegations involved cities with substantial black populations or in projected "swing states" for the upcoming 2006 elections. Incredibly, the report "achieved remarkable influence, promoting the idea that U.S. elections are riddled with voter fraud." in 2005 and 2006, ACVR advocated for photo IDs, earliest possible voter registration book closings, a one-week turnaround for the return of voter registration forms by volunteer groups, and more stringent list-maintaining procedures during the last months before an election. Significantly, ACVR "appeared and disappeared swiftly enough to evade the federal reporting requirements that might have revealed the true sources of its revenue."  But the "Report" itself is still out there, circulating, just like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Donation of Constantine.     

Of course, Minnite's impeccable credentials and exhaustive documentation still might not be enough to convince those get their political news and opinion from "Talk Radio" and Fox TV. They are so beyond the reach of rational thought that even contradictory evidence generated by the Republicans themselves intended to provide evidence of widespread voter fraud probably will not even penetrate their defenses. Nor would most of them even dare to tackle a scholarly work with more than 100 pages of charts and graphs and 43 pages of documenting "Notes."  Besides, it is a logical impossibility to prove the "non-existence" of anything.

That's all for now. Much of the book consists of the author's very insightful discussion of how and why. That is a subject for a later Post, but why not read Minnite's book yourself.


Monday, June 16, 2014

What Makes Me Think I Am "A Progressive"?

If there is a single word that has subsumed my professional and personal life, it has definitely been "progressive." As you have doubtless noticed, my blog is titled "Progressive History Professor." I belong and contribute to a plethora of "progressive" organizations, and I once factiously told an audience that one of my goals was to write a book that did not have the word "progressive" in its title. It seems, however, that there are almost  as many definitions of "progressive" as there are people who consider themselves "progressives." In fact, progress itself is a "loaded word," a paradox whose meaning is largely "in the eye of the beholder."  Even if we could all agree on a single definition, we would still have to admit that "progress" has both positive and negative consequences. Without getting into that philosophical quagmire, I think that it is high time for me to inform you--as unequivocally as possible--what I mean by "progress" and "progressive,"---at least as of the end of  June, 2014. 

During the 1970s and '80s, I was privileged to be a participant in what Daniel T. Rodgers called "the search for progressivism"--an ongoing dialogue that "helped attract more historical talent to the first two decades of the twentieth century than to any other period of modern America." The summary that best  expressed the results of our labors was provided by Rodgers himself, in a 1982 American Quarterly article titled "The Search for Progressivism": "those who called themselves progressives did not share a common creed or a string of common values, however ingeniously or vaguely defined." At most, they "drew upon three distinct clusters of ideas--three distinct social languages--to articulate their discontents and their social visions: the rhetoric of anti-monopolism, an emphasis upon social bonds and the social nature of human beings, and a language of social efficiency." After more than a decade of critiquing each other's interpretations, most of us "agreed to disagree," and moved on to investigate other historical problems.

In truth, we had come full-circle to the interpretation proffered by contemporary reformer Benjamin Parke De Witt in his 1915 The Progressive Movement: A Non-Partisan Comprehensive Discussion of Current Tendencies in American Politics. In his summation, those "tendencies" were three: 1. All special, minority, and corrupt influences in government---national, state, and city--must be removed. 2. The structure or machinery of government, which has been heretofore been admirably adapted to control by the few, be so changed and modified that it will be more difficult for the few, and easier for the many, to control. 3. The rapidly growing conviction that the functions of government are too restricted and that they must be increased and extended to relieve social and economic distress." 

Combining De Witt's contemporary definition with Rodgers' modern day analysis has provided me with a set of principles that I believe best capture the essence of today's "progressivism." First and foremost, to quote  "Fighting Bob" La Follette, "the supreme issue involving all others is the encroachment of the powerful few upon the rights of the many." He elaborated upon that conviction in 1912: If it can be shown that Wisconsin <or anywhere else> is a happier state , that its institutions are more democratic, that the opportunities of its people are more nearly equal, that social justice more nearly prevails, that human life is safer and sweeter, then I shall rest content in the feeling that the Progressive movement has been successful. Applying those goals to the entire United States in the early 21st century should be the primary task of today's " progressives."

Of almost equal importance is the conviction that government at all levels should be a positive force  "to promote the general welfare." It is clearly the "sine qua non" of all "reform" proposals, the best litmus test for distinguishing progressives from "reactionaries"--- those who want to "shrink government to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub." Convincing so many people that "government is the problem" has been the reactionaries' most significant achievement. <Tell the government to keep its hands off our Social Security and Medicare.>The indisputable reality, as DeWitt argued in 1915, is that government does too little, not too much. Our "social security net" is the weakest among all "civilized countries"; most of our regulatory agencies have been "captured"  by the very interests they were designed to regulate. And today's reactionaries want even more of the same!

To be a progressive is to understand that it is impossible to separate taxation from  the provision of public services. If you want to cut taxes, you also have to decide which government functions should be eliminated or severely curtailed. Of course, reactionaries want to cut their taxes and do away with government programs upon which other people rely for their livelihood and well-being. As economist and philosopher J.K.Galbraith brilliantly predicted more than a half-century ago, their goal is to create  "private affluence and public poverty."

The progressive position on taxes was clearly outlined in the Sixteenth Amendment and the Revenue Act of 1913. Both were based upon two bedrock principles: the tax should be apportioned according to "the ability to pay" and "from whatever source derived." <See my The Income Tax and the Progressive Era, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985> Believe it or not, more advanced progressives, such "Fighting Bob" La Follette and the Republican Insurgents, actually advocated higher tax brackets on the wealthiest "three percent," as well as taxing income from stocks and bonds more heavily than that from wages and salaries.

It hardly needs mention that a "progressive" believes that all of the rights, responsibilities, and privileges enumerated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should apply to every single American, regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, social class, location, or age. We are well aware that much of our nation's history can be summed up in the conflict between those who have had an inclusive view of America and Americans, and those who have wanted to exclude "them" or "the other," because "they" were "unfit" to evolve into "us." My favorite summation of the meaning of American history is that of historian Darrett Rutman in The Morning of America:

In the years beyond 1789, governments drawn from but one of America's peoples --the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and propertied--would claim that being of the people, and elected by the people they ruled for the people. One after another of America's peoples --the propertyless, laboring man, the immigrant, the Catholic, the Jew, the non-white, the impoverished--would rise to claim it was not so. < For whatever reason, Rutman failed to include "women" in his panoply of
fighters against the status quo, but I, most emphatically, put them at the top of the list.>

Like most progressives of my generation, I regarded the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1864 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as the end product of all those struggles; of the United States of America--at long last--living up to those ideals first proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. In the euphoria of those times, these achievements were quickly followed by Medicare, Medicaid, Affirmative Action, the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act, the proposal of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the Environmental Protection Act. History seemed to me to be moving in an inevitably "progressive trajectory." In his provocative Land Of Promise, Michael Lind characterizes the period from 1946 to 1975 as "The Glorious Thirty Years" and of the emergence of "The Third American Republic": an amalgam of the ideas and institutions of the New Nationalism and the New Freedom. Along with the western European democracies, the United States "experienced similar combinations of high growth and rapid expansion of mass middle classes, underpinned by high labor-union membership, middle -class welfare states, and highly regulated economies." The developing  "mixed economy" sought to "blend private enterprise with public regulation, redistribution, and in some cases public ownership." A widely shared prosperity gave the white majority " the confidence and security to examine, and begin to eliminate, the racial-caste system that had long made a mockery of their purported ideals."

But even at its zenith, the Third American Republic was being surreptiously undermined in what Lind calls "The Great Dismantling" and Paul Krugman "The Great Unraveling." Under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, Congress systematically dismantled industrial and financial systems that had operated from the New Deal through most of the 1960s. Managerial capitalism gave way to financial-market capitalism. Under lobbying by Wall Street, vertically integrated corporations were dismantled and dispersed. Former brand-name businesses became "brands," whose products were increasingly made in Asia and Latin America. Corporations sought to raise their profit margins by ending the postwar truce with organized labor and smashing unions.( By 2000, private-sector union membership declined to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.) Ironically, the influx of immigrants---skilled and unskilled, legal and undocumented--- accelerated the downward pressure on wages. A new army of "working poor" sprang up--full-time workers who could not subsist on a minimum wage that inflation turned into near starvation income. The dismantling of large corporations led to the demise of the always-inadequate employee-based benefit systems that had been devised to supplement earned benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and other government insurance programs. Corporate pension programs were either eliminated or replaced by 401 Ks and similar employee-contribution systems. Utility deregulation spawned the return of the very problems that had prompted their enactment in the first place. The drastic cutbacks in infrastructure spending resulted in the crumbling of highways, bridges, and canal systems, while traffic congestion escalated almost exponentially. Stock market "bubbles,' like the savings and loan meltdown of the 1980s and the subprime mortgage disaster of the 2000s, decimated millions. Bankruptcies, hostile takeovers, and the proliferation of conglomerates constricted the depth and breadth of our industrial and financial systems.

I have elaborated on various aspects of this onslaught in previous posts. Most of you are all-too-familiar with them, from personal experience. Sad to say, much of being "progressive" in the past four decades has involved defending the achievements that we once assumed were permanent fixtures of our way of life. "Playing defense" so much of our time has hindered our ability to build upon the accomplishments of 1945-1975. In one sense, we have become the "real conservatives":those who are seeking to "conserve" the gains of "the Glorious Thirty Years." In any case, it is hard to see what is  "conservative" about Tea Partiers, Neo-Cons, Neo-Libs, and Climate Catastrophe Deniers.
What is it that they are pretending to "conserve?  

Perhaps the best recent description of what I understand by "progressive" (or liberal as they prefer) is that of Eric Alterman and Kevin Mattson in The Cause: It means standing firm on the belief of the foundational freedoms of thought, expression, and the necessity of individuals to take hold of their collective fates and shape them according to the values of liberty and equality, while being fully aware that the two must always coexist in tension with each other. Like the "guiding spirit" of those who founded the United States of America, progressives "must have courage to use your own understanding--that is the motto of  ENLIGHTENMENT    


Monday, June 9, 2014

How the Rich Stole Our Money and Made Us Think They were Doing Us a Favor

Back in the dim, distant past when the L.A Dodgers were still the pride of Brooklyn, the cry "we wuz robbed" was a frequently heard, heartfelt lament. As a fervid Yankee fan during the 1950s, I generally dismissed that complaint as "sour grapes." Now though, as David Atkins, founder of Pollux Group, makes starkly clear, the vast majority of Americans "wuz robbed" again and again during the past four decades. What is more, we continue to be "robbed" and, like the helpless urchins of Oliver Twist,  we obsequiously respond "Thank you Sir, and may I have another.?"

For the past four decades, Atkins proclaims, the Super Rich and their political lackeys have been "pushing people toward stocks, real estate, and credit cards." They have largely succeeded in convincing the majority of Americans that the real key to their prosperity lies not in improving salaries and wages, but in dabbling in the Big Casino where the House always wins--at the gambler's expense--: stocks, credit cards, and using the highly inflated value of their homes as collateral for more borrowing. These "passive assets" grew almost exponentially over the past forty years, while "earned income" (wages and salaries) stagnated, even though worker productivity continued to increase at a record pace. Unfortunately for most Americans, almost fifty percent of these passive assets are owned by the top one percent of income receivers, while more than 85% are possessed by the top ten percent.

So why isn't the majority in open revolt?  Part of the answer, Atkins proclaims, is because "the top 1% have done an excellent job disguising the upward transfer of wealth by making the rest of us feel better off than we actually are while enriching themselves in the process." He is quick to point out that "the trend toward greater hoarding of wealth by economic elites and shrinking middle-class is not limited to the U.S."; that it is "present to one degree or another throughout the industrialized world." The current inequality crisis, he asserts, is one part "the self-interested preferences and self-serving ideology of the super-rich," and one part "a series of decisions made in response to the inflation shocks of the 1970s and to the growing threat of globalization and workforce mechanization."

Atkins lists at least four diabolical plots to actuate this ultra-right-wing a agenda:

1. Push people away from defined-benefit pensions and into stocks and 401(k)s.  The switch from     pensions to market-based retirement accounts not only reduced "the obligated burden on
corporate 'bottom lines'," but also helped "to goose the financial sector <which has obviously become 'the tail that wags the economic dog"> upon which the ultra-rich depend for their passive  incomes." Its share of GDP has grown exponentially and its profits now account for nearly one-third  of corporate income. Reading about the ups and downs of Wall Street has become "hot popular culture," while a growing number of people "watched breathlessly as the health of the Dow Jones  was commonly equated with the health of the overall economy." Many more ordinary Americans  "watched their meager stock portfolios rise," and so became less concerned with "the slow growth of  their regular wages."  <misdirection was no longer just the favorite device of magicians and  NFL quarterbacks>

2. Push more people into using the equity in their homes as a "cash cow." Rates of home ownership  surged in the postwar years, due largely to the GI Bill and the FHLA, leveled off during the 1970s,  and exploded from the 1980s to the mid-"Aughts." The government used all the levers of public  policy to encourage home ownership <the New American Dream>  and reduce mortgage interest  rates. The deregulation of Wall Street during the Reagan-Clinton-Bush administrations "not only  boosted the stock market but also enabled large banks to make unprecedented money off of home  loans." Wealthy landlords and asset owners became even richer while rents soared and real wages  declined. Most Americans didn't feel the pinch because rising home values made them feel "paper  rich" <good old misdirection again> Besides, home equity loans allowed them to continue to  consume goods and services at the same or higher rates. The government did its  bit through "quantitative easing" by the Federal Reserve, zero percent interest rates, and numerous homeowner incentive schemes.   

3. "Democratize" consumer debt through the use of credit cards. Their widespread use from the mid-1870s on, about the same times as Wall Street deregulation, 401(k) transitions, and "the birth pangs of the real estate boom." They served a perverse dual purpose: further enrich the same financial services companies whose success disproportionately benefits the ultra-rich; and "to disguise and soften the effects of stagnant wages.' <Ain't misdirection grand?>

4. Reduce the cost of goods through "free trade" policies. It has become increasingly obvious that agreements like NAFTA benefit wealthy stockholders, while reducing jobs in developed nations. Moreover, they reduce the price of goods made overseas, which, in turn, help again to disguise wage stagnation. <Ditto and Double Ditto>

Not only do these policies obviously directly benefit the super-rich, Atkins cogently summarizes,
"they have served to create a more purely capitalist society, hide the decline of the middle class and mitigate public discontent over stagnant wages." The vast preponderance of wealth will continue to accrue to the very top incomes, guaranteeing that assets inflate while wages stagnate. Moreover, an asset-based economy is "bubble-prone, unstable, and given to boom-bust cycles."  The economic disasters of the past half-decade have, at least, partly removed "the blindfold that has been hiding wage losses over the past half-century. Housing prices have skyrocketed, even as household debt nears record highs. Nearly one-half of Americans have absolutely no retirement savings at all, while much of the rest of the developed world "faces a pension obligation crisis. The tools policymakers have used "to distract the public from the raw deal of low wages are no longer working." The only hope, Atkins adamantly and correctly asserts, is that the current crisis will at last "usher in a new era of populist progressivism in the U.S." Perhaps the most startling revelation that Atkins demonstrates is that political party of the New Deal, Fair Deal, and the Great Society has been almost as complicit in this fiasco as have the Republicans. Himself the chairman of the Ventura, California Democratic Party, he boldly proclaims that this "new era of populist-progressivism" can only happen "if the Democratic Party can shift from reinforcing the asset-based economy toward rebuilding a sustainable model that encourages wage growth and a strong labor market."

This is the most cogent and coherent explanation for our horrible situation that I have ever read.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Not that NRA, But the Other One

That other NRA, of course, is the National Restaurant Association,whose lobbying juggernaut is surpassed only by--you guessed it?--The National Rifle Association. Almost sixty percent of its employees are classified as "low wage," the highest percentage of any American industry. That, according to an April report of the Institute for Public Policy, entitled "Restaurant Industry Pay: Taxpayers' Double Burden. " Big corporate restaurant chains pay their employees so meagerly that more than half of the nation's front-line, fast-food workers rely on at least one public-assistance program, such as Medicaid or food stamps through Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP>). Irony does even begin to capture that abomination Not to mention, of course, that customers are expected to pony up anywhere from ten to twenty percent of the bill in "TIPS." Many "cheapskates" fail to even meet that percentage and, even when patrons do, the amount is usually divvied up among the waiter, the bus boy, the hostess, and, in many cases, "the house."

In addition, when Congress--which still functioned reasonably well in 1993--capped the tax-deductible "salaries" of corporate executives at $1,000,000, most corporations simply increased "performance- based" pay, which can be deducted from corporate income-tax filings. Over the past two years, CEOs at the NRA's twenty largest corporate affiliates were lavished with $662 million in fully deductible performance pay. If that compensation had been taxed as salary, those conglomerates would have paid the IRS an additional $232 million dollars. That increased revenue would, for instance,cover food stamp benefits--at $133 per month--for 145,000 households of fast-food workers employed by the big restaurant chains.


Which restaurant chains? I am sad to say that the list includes several of our families' favorites. For instance, Starbucks CEO received $236 million in deductible performance pay over 2012-2013. That is a tax break of $82 million for a chain that pays baristas an average of $8.79 an hour. <And Starbucks pays its employees more than do most of its competitors. 

The CEO  of Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) received $67 million in performance pay during that same period. That's on top of the $232,622,472 in tax-deferred retirement benefits that he has been provided over the last 14 years. By way of contrast, the Tax Code only allows workers to defer up to $23,000 a year on 401k contributions. Yum! pays its workers an average of $8 a an hour, while its patrons--US--provide them with $650 million in various public assistance programs. 

The dual CEOs of Chipotles received a combined total of $82 million in non-taxable options respectively and $20 million each in vested performance stock. One of the "twins" also exercised another $42 million in options. Their combined taxpayer subsidy for 2012-2013 was $69 billion. 

The head of Dunkin' Brands (Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, and Togo's) cashed in more than $20 million in tax-exempt stocks in both 2012 and 2013, thus saving the company $15 million in corporate income taxes. 

"Tax-payers are losing billions of dollars, shareholders are being taken for a ride," asserts former Secretary of Labor and U. of California-Berkeley economist Robert Reich. At the same time, millions of food chain workers who put in 40 hours a week qualify for means-tested anti-poverty programs.         


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Organize or Perish

I have probably read hundreds of thousands of book chapter headings over the past 60 or so years, but there is one that was indelibly impressed on my mind during my first year in graduate school at Georgetown (1959-1960). The book was Response to Industrialism, 1885-1920 by Samuel P. Hays, and the chapter heading was "Organize or Perish." In it, the author argues that the only effective and rational response to the rise of "Big Business" was for everyone else to organize as well.

That chapter followed the author's analysis of the "Great Merger Wave" of 1895-1904, which produced such industrial behemoths (Trusts in the parlance of the times) as Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, and International Harvester. During that decade, 1800 firms were combined into 157 companies, most of them in manufacturing. Of the 93 consolidations studied by historian Naomi Lamoreaux in The Great Merger Movement in American Business, 72 of the new combinations controlled at least 40% of their industries while 42 dominated at least 70 %. The American Tobacco Company, formed by a consolidation of 162 firms, controlled 90 % of the market. The "Morganization" of finance, according to Michael Lind in Land Of Promise, also produced enormous investment institutions that "acted as intermediaries between the shareholding public and individual companies." By 1912, five American banks had "representatives on the "boards of 68 corporations whose combined assets added up to more than half of US gross natural product." Investigative journalists, called "muckrakers" by Teddy Roosevelt, also made millions of people aware of what historian Richard McCormick has called "the discovery that business corrupts politics."

Unlike many of today's people who seem to celebrate each new merger, our ancestors became increasingly horrified at this proliferation of oligopolies, fearing them as serious threats to economic and political democracy. The crucial election of 1912 revolved largely around the "Trust Question," with Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom" urging "trust busting," and Theodore Roosevelt's "New Nationalism." advocating their effective regulation by the federal government. Although Wilson won the election, his administration actually behaved more like TR, laying the groundwork for today's "administrative state"---for better and worse.

As stunning as McCormick's "discovery" was to people of that time, the situation we face today makes it pale by comparison. Part of what underlies this perversion is the reality that Big Business has surreptitiously "captured" most of those very same regulatory agencies. But just as before, the only realistic strategy for reclaiming economic democracy has to be ORGANIZATION, which is
the absolutely indispensable first step in what historian John W. Chambers has proclaimed THE NEW INTERVENTIONISM. This involved a three-staged process: 1) " associationalism"or "voluntarism," which Chambers defined as "organization by nonstatutory institutions," a strategy that Tocqueville had long ago identified as the peculiar genius of Americans;" 2) collaborating in "coalitions" with  other private sector organizations for motives that are varied but compatible; and 3) political action, such as lobbying or endorsement of candidates or parties that advocate measures desired by different segments of the coalition. For example, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) originally abided by the "pure and simple trade unionism" dictum of Samuel Gompers and tried to achieve their goals of higher wages, shorter hours, and better and safer working conditions by collective bargaining, strikes and boycotts, without involving government. The National Consumers Union granted its "seal of approval" to businesses that agreed to meet its standards, and "blacklisting" those who refused. The Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) engaged in organizing drives, joined picket lines, and gave aid and comfort to strikers. Small business associations embraced volume buying in order to compete with the economies of scale enjoyed larger competitors, while the Immigrant's Protective League (IPL) established waiting rooms, provided interpreters, procured transportation, jobs, and lodging, helped locate relatives, and screened employment agencies, banks, and schools. The Country Life Movement tried to make the agrarian environment more attractive, to bring some of the amenities of urban living to farmers, and to stem the "rural drain" to cities, especially for young people. Perhaps the most ambitious and effective voluntary efforts of all were the "social settlements," in which young women and men, imbued with a mixture of the "new social science' and the Social Gospel, and funded  mainly by churches and philanthropic organization, actually resided and worked among the urban underclasses to help them better living and working conditions. Thousands joined groups dedicated to ameliorating or prohibiting the abuses of child labor.

No matter how successful they were operating in the private sector, most organizations also eventually turned to political action--lobbying government at all levels for favorable legislation, backing the most amenable candidates and parties, and electioneering at the "grass-roots." Many turned to political action because their perceived adversaries were doing the same thing, and because their leaders came to realize that only government possessed the necessary leverage to accomplish their goals. Organized labor found its "pure and simple trade unionism" ineffectual as long as unions were considered "conspiracies," "yellow dog contracts" and labor spies were legal, and strikes and boycotts could be easily halted by injunctions and law suits. Trade associations and consumer leagues found that "fair trade" laws and regulatory legislation could rein in "big business." The Country Life Movement evolved into the Country Life Commission in 1908, while agrarian organizations lobbied for the county agent system, agricultural "extension" programs, and government subsidies to institutions engaged in agricultural education. The WTUL found that "political action, then, was required along with trade union activities to secure better conditions, a decent wage, a limit on hours, and the right to bargain and organize without harassment."  The IPL "urged that local and national government take over tasks begun by private begun by private organizations. Settlement residents found that political action was necessary because "to stay aloof from it might be to lose one opportunity of sharing the life of the neighborhood," and because "private beneficence is inadequate to deal with the vast numbers of the city's disinherited. The largely unorganized urban masses, caught in the web of impersonal economic forces and under increasing pressure from "nativists" and immigration restrictionists, had little recourse but to rely upon their elected representatives to do right by them. Operating in the public sector required forming "coalitions" with compatible groups on specific issues, often for significantly different reasons. The New Interventionism paid off and sometimes it didn't, but without it there was no progress at all--Then or Now!!!!        

The New Interventionism is hardly New anymore, but it certainly is in dire need of revival. What are the two things that Right-Wingers hate and fear the most?: labor unions and activist government. Why? Because they both empower the rest of society. Understanding that, and organizing to combat it, is our only real chance at reversing the "great unraveling" that has devastated our lives for the last four decades.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lets "Decommodify" People

There is one point on which Adam Smith, the godfather of classical economics, and Karl Marx, its severest critic, are in basic agreement: that our "market society" is founded on the "commodification of labor." To quote Benjamin Radcliff, author of The Political Economy of Human Happiness:" The phrase is designed to illustrate the fact that people's ability to work---which is to say, their human capacity for intelligence, creativity, imagination, and judgment that separates them from the machines they manipulate--is something that is bought and sold in the market like any other commodity." Individuals must, of necessity, "sell their capacity to work--in order to survive." Given the difficulty of separating "who we are" from "what we do," it is well-nigh impossible not to "take the further step and simply think of people themselves being "commodified," i.e. being themselves turned into commodities." As counterintuitive as it may be, the first published exposition of the concept came in 1776, on page 67 of Smith's Wealth of Nations, the "bible" of classical economics,
as well as of today's neo-classical version. As you history and econ majors undoubtedly know, Marx was not even born until 1818. Two of America's most revered political philosophers--Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln--both asserted that labor was necessarily antecedent, and therefore superior, to capital.

Although Smith and Marx are in substantial agreement concerning the logic, advantages, and costs of capitalism, they diverge over the structural differences between the market for labor and that for everything else. Smith regards labor as a unique genus of commodity, and therefore governed by a different set of rules in the marketplace. He concurs with Marx that employers take advantage of their privileged positions to extract a disproportionate share of the "surplus" from their subordinates, that employees are forced to submit to this inequitable bargain because of their absolute need to provide for themselves and their families when the "means of production" are beyond their control, and that "profit" comes from the owner's disproportionate appropriation of the "surplus" or "value" created by the efforts of the workforce. That being the case, increased productivity ought to result in higher wages as well as greater profits, but we all know that the reality is more of a nightmare than a fairy tale. While Smith agrees with Marx that employers will maximize their self-interest by reserving a disproportionately large share of the surplus for themselves and their organizations, he concludes that this disparity can--and should be--remedied by removing what he considers "artificial restraints" on the labor market. Doing so, Smith posits, would establish a genuinely free labor market in which the worker's share of the surplus would be set by the same "invisible hand" that determines the price of every other, non-human kind of commodity. Marx, to the contrary, insists that the guiding hand needs to be "visible," in the form of what John Kenneth Galbraith brilliantly termed "countervailing forces," chiefly the organization of workers and the power of the democratically controlled state. It is precisely that divergence in remedies that still continues to place today's progressives/liberals and conservative/reactionaries at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

The operant question, then, is how to "decommodify" labor in order to bring about "the greatest good for the greatest number." I firmly believe that the most effective and reasonable solution is that laid out by Professor Radcliff in his The Political Economy of Human Happiness. At the risk of oversimplifying his carefully constructed and meticulously researched argument, the task requires three basic elements: Labor Unions, Big Government, and the Welfare State. Transactions in the market economy, Radcliff explains, "depends on an inherent asymmetry in power between two classes of persons, one of which depends for its livelihood on the sale of its labor power as a commodity, and another who purchases that commodity in order to so profit by." Capital is always in a superior position because "its very ownership over the capital resources that allow production ensure that it need not engage in wage or salary labor in order to survive or flourish." (He makes it abundantly clear that this same asymmetry obtains regardless of whether the laborers are unskilled workers toiling for a miniscule wage or a well-educated, highly-skilled, relatively well compensated professional. Although Radcliff avoids using the trite "golden rule" cliché that "he who has the gold makes the rules," the same logic obviously applies.)

The economic advantages of collective versus individual bargaining on wages, hours, working conditions, and "fringe benefits" are too well documented to rehearse here. What is less appreciated is the fact that non-union employees of the same enterprise also share in those benefits, and that union -negotiated contracts enhance pay scales throughout entire industries or professions. (My Dad was  a dues-paying member of the brewery workers union who was often involved in contract negotiations. I remember his anger when his fellow employees who refused to pay union dues were always among the first to press him and his fellow negotiators about what benefits they had secured for everyone.) Unionized workers also wield much more political clout in lobbying for labor-friendly legislation and campaigning in elections. Unionization, Radcliff. argues, "provides the basis for mobilization in the electoral and policy-making processes, wherein unions make financial and human (i.e. activist and volunteer) contributions to progressive parties and movements so as to become, potentially, an organized interest that sees itself as representing all workers. As historian Samuel Hays famously observed about life in the Progressive Era, it is a case of "organize or perish."  Or as various commentators over the years have put it, we live in an economy that provides socialism for the rich, and free enterprise for everyone else. The most affluent Americans passionately extol the benefits of "rugged individualism," while working even more passionately to protect their own advantages by creating ever more convoluted and powerful organizations. Moreover, unions bestow upon their members a sense of "agency"---of belonging to something greater than the individual, of making a difference, of "mattering" in the larger scheme of things, of being more of a valued human being, instead of  just a commodity.

Big Government and the Welfare State are almost inextricably intertwined. It is well-nigh impossible to conceive of a big government that does not include a variety of welfare functions within its scope. It is equally ridiculous to imagine a welfare state that is not a vital component of a vast and complex administrative apparatus. As Radcliff cogently explains, the welfare state "directly transfers income from its a priori market distribution to a politically determined distribution." Specifically, it "distributes unemployment and sickness benefits, family allowances, pensions, and other kinds of income maintenance to those in need." In short, it "decommodifies" persons in a manner that fundamentally changes the basic relationship between workers and employers, and that has profound consequences for both individuals and society. The welfare state reduces poverty and increases standards of living, ameliorates the insecurity endemic in the market system, as well as the pathologies resulting from it. In myriad ways, it also conveys a sense of "agency": the ability to control one's own life and to make free choices. It enables families to maintain an acceptable standard of living "independent of market participation," and "emancipates" them from "the deleterious consequences of the market." 

Besides administering the Welfare State, Big Government attempts to bring some measure of equity and rational order to the economy and the environment. The U.S. has never had an a completely unregulated, laissez-faire economy (not with Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay setting the boundaries), but the marketplace and the desire for untrammeled growth and profit ran amok during most of the 19th century. Government regulation of the economy haltingly began with the Granger Laws of the 1870s, the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. It picked up steam during the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The defining issue of the landmark election campaign of 1912 between TR and WW was whether the "Trusts" (code word for Big Business domination of the economy) should be "busted" or "regulated." Funny thing, small business people, farmers, workers, and just about everyone else regarded mergers producing monopolies or oligopolies to be a threat to their economic well-being. Nowadays we celebrate them as if they benefit everyone. <Who was more savvy--them or us?> The reforms of the Wilson administration--aided by World War I--produced the beginnings of a reasonably effective regulatory state, and those of the New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier, and Great Society built upon that foundation. The attempt to roll back the accomplishments of the Progressive Era during the 1920s resulted in the Great Depression, which, in turn, gave impetus to demands for greater federal regulation.

Even Eisenhower, Nixon, and mainstream Republicans generally understood that the Regulatory State and the Welfare State were not only here to stay, but were also the necessary components of a prosperous and equitable economy.So did most of the leaders in business and finance, even though they had to contend with high taxes, reasonably strict regulations, and empowered labor unions. The result was more than three decades of continuous growth and prosperity, the longest and most productive in our history. But it all began to unravel in the 1980s, and has been on a precipitous downward slide ever since. Much of that decline has been due to globalization, cybernation, technological revolution, downsizing, outsourcing and other supposedly "apolitical" developments, but the impact could have been far less devastating if most of the Big Government apparatus had not been systematically and maliciously trashed by reactionary Republicans and  "centrist, third way" Democrats, at the behest of Big Business and even Bigger Finance. For more detailed discussion see my posts of May 20, 2013 ("The Right Wing Juggernaut"), October 23, 2013 (Back to the 19th Century," and Rule and Ruin: the Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party by Geoffrey Kabaservice.

Of course, it goes without saying that Labor Unions, Big Government ,and the Welfare State are the major targets of "commodifiers,",Tea Partiers, and all those who don't understand where their own self-interest really lies. As I stated in my post about The Political Economy of Human Happiness (January 1, 2014), I wholeheartedly agree with Radcliff's argument that everyone---even the super rich and their minions--fare better under a progressive, "decommodified" regime. The historical record on that point is beyond serious dispute. But I am under no illusion that they will experience an epiphany and begin to work with progressives to build a just and humane society. It will have to be forced upon them.They will resist with every weapon at their disposal. It will be a long and bitter conflict, but "the good guys" have triumphed before.  <See my The Income Tax and the Progressive Era for a detailed account of the decades-long  struggle to enact the federal income tax over the ferocious resistance of the super-rich during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era.> What can we, as mere mortals, do to bring about "the greatest good for the greatest number"? We can strive to be "active citizens," instead of "passive consumers" or "commodities in the marketplace.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


On an almost purely partisan vote, the Wisconsin State Legislature just passed three bills designed to prevent countless numbers of citizens from exercising our most cherished political right--VOTING!! The first drastically limits extended voting hours into the night and weekends. The second allows "election observers," to stand as close as three feet from people registering to vote or picking up their ballots. (Current law stipulates that the chief inspector of elections or the municipal clerk designate those areas.) The third would permit those "observers" to come from any place within the county limits of the polling place, whereas they now must reside in the same municipality or ward. The lone Republican dissenter was Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center, who is not planning to run for reelection. "I am not willing to defend them.[i.e., his party's blatantly anti-democratic
measures designed to disenfranchise tens of thousands of legitimate voters, especially those residing in Dane, Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha counties>. I'm just not , and I'm embarrassed by this.." It's "just sad when a political party has lost so much faith in its ideas that it's pouring all of its energy into election mechanics," he continued ." We should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote."

The sponsor of these particular abominations--Republican Senator Glen Grothman of West Bend--disingenuously asserts that "it is important that we do something toward establishing uniformity for early voting around the state." He and the rest of the Republican caucus self-righteously protest--with their usual  disdain for reality and truth--that their only goal is to promote "fairness," because rural and small-town areas don't have the money or the ability to hold extended in-person absentee voting hours. ("Fairness" seems to have superseded--or at least supplemented-- "honesty" as the operant Republican virtue>) The rest of us understand that "fairness" and "honesty" are both euphemisms for disenfranchising large numbers of potential Democratic voters--minorities, college students, the elderly, the homeless, the poor, and inner-city residents in the state's largest municipalities. As the Democratic opposition rightly insists, the proper role of the legislature ought to be to expand voting opportunities, not restrict them. Even if their rationales for these measures are sincere, why should urban voters have to conform to the unfamiliar rhythms of life and work in other parts of the state? Democratic Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee hit the nail right on the head when she charged that "it screams of backward-thinking mentality, all the way back to Jim Crow and you ought to be ashamed." It is an attempt to destroy the work of 225 years of American political history, whose central theme has been to expand the electorate from a handful of propertied white males to all adult citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religious belief, socioeconomic class, or political persuasion. That history has essentially been a refutation of the arrogant utterance of John Jay, our first Attorney-General and later Supreme Court Justice: "The people who own the country ought to run it." The people who "own the country" today are too devious and savvy to openly espouse Jay's rhetoric, but their actions graphically betray their ideology.

For those who have difficulty recalling the sordid details of the  nefarious Great Purge of 2012, I suggest consulting my post of September 27, 2012 entitled "Voter Repression II," as well as the definitive The Truth About Voter Fraud," published by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. For a more up-to-date information, please check out "" It provides information, statistics, and analysis on the various types of voter fraud, and on the "Voter ID Laws" of more than 20 states. It demonstrates how these statutes are crafted to prevent low-income families, students, seniors, and ethnic minorities from exercising their franchise. They have found just 13 cases of in-person voter impersonation out of 649 million votes cast in general elections between 2000 and 2010. Moreover, 12 percent of voting-age citizens do not have a valid form of state ID. To obtain a "free ID," they need a certified birth certificate, which costs from $10 to $45 depending on the state, a passport which costs $85, and certified naturalization papers which cost $19.95. This highly informative website also reveals that electoral "fraud" includes intimidation, vote buying, misinformation, misrecording of votes, misuses of proxy votes, destruction/invalidation of ballots, and tampering with electronic voting machines.

Fortunately for the integrity of our democratic political system, the coldly-calculated purge of 2012 was only sporadically successful. That it was not more devastating was primarily due to two interrelated efforts. The first was a massive "get out the vote" campaign spearheaded by the ACLU, NAACP, LWV, and a host of other progressive organizations. The other was the success of these organizations and the Department of Justice in convincing some courts to issue "stays" against " laws already enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures. It is an absolute certainty, however, that they are gearing up for an even more ferocious assault  during the current election season, especially since the Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, has "greased the wheels" by eliminating most of the enforcement machinery mandated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

All of the nefarious laws enacted prior to the 2012 elections are still on the books, and the "stays" granted in Wisconsin, South Carolina, and other states could conceivably be vacated by other courts.  Voting restrictions like those just instituted in the Badger State are of a different--and more insidious-order because they directly attack democracy itself. They are cynically intended to obfuscate the details concerning when and where and how voting can take place. Rather than "levelling the playing field"---which is the root meaning of "democracy"--they are designed to damage or destroy the "playing field" itself. It is horrendous enough to discriminate against individual voters, but it is an offense of even greater magnitude to deliberately subvert or destroy the very institutions that make it viable The real purpose of challenging individuals by invoking baseless objections is to foment arguments and delays that will frustrate those in line, thereby reducing turnout. They " eat up" already foreshortened time, call into question the legitimacy of the registration and voting processes, and discourage people who have already constricted voting time, due to work or class schedules, childcare limitations, or physical disabilities. In one Ohio precinct in 2012, the actual casting of ballots was not completed until 4:00 am, even though no one was admitted to the premises after the appointed closing time of 7:00 pm. < And why do we continue to designate Tuesday--in the middle of the work and school week--as election day? That may or may not have made sense in the late 18th century, in an agrarian society with primitive communications, and a miniscule electorate composed almost entirely of people with generous leisure time. Today, it is either the dead hand of tradition or a deliberate desire to prevent a lot of people from having sufficient opportunity to cast their ballots. You decide! >

And what is the point of allowing poll watchers to "get in the face" of minorities, the elderly, young people, the handicapped, pregnant women or women trying to keep their pre-school children from running wild, while Mommy tries to concentrate on making decisions that will directly affect their day-to-day lives? "In your face" challenges can easily lead to confrontations--verbal or even physical-that may require intervention by police and security personnel. All that brouhaha will almost certainly disproportionately affect the physically and emotionally vulnerable. It may render them too fearful of experiencing a similar trauma or just disgusted and discouraged. The 1965 VRA explicitly forbid intimidation and interference in the act of voting, but even before Shelby penalties were relatively innocuous and enforcement sporadic Members of "True the Vote," a spinoff of the Tea Party, have  bragged that their actions were calculated to make the voting experience itself like "driving and seeing the police following you."

The ultimate goal  of all these tactics, according to Charles Pierce on, is to make voting "inconvenient," and to make targeted voters "nervous about  moving through the various steps needed to comply." The solution to "the problem of the braver voters who navigate the new landscape" is to "knock them off the rolls".....or simply to get in their faces at the polls and intimidate them directly."