What A Difference A Few Decades Make

“The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sometimes I wonder what has happened to us as a nation. How have we allowed greed and selfishness to thrive and flourish so rampantly in our society? How can anyone take these so-called leaders seriously when on the one hand they continue to provide the corporate class and the wealthy with tax-cuts and on the other they tell the other classes that they are costing the country too much money? Can someone explain to me how the last time we faced similar economic conditions and the country was suffering so much pain that we created safety nets and today we are demolishing safety nets? How could we in the midst of a catastrophe find the resources and courage to provide for our countrymen but today we can provide for oil companies, wars, and corporate subsidies yet nothing for education, the unemployed or medical care?

I wonder what has fundamentally changed in our national psyche that we can now look at our fellow citizens suffering and have the ability to not only walk right by them but also curse them as we do so. The problem is not that we don’t have enough resources. It comes down to our priorities and what things do we value. Shortly there will be debates concerning our national priorities and what resources we are willing to allocate to them. There will be a lot of posturing and demagoguery concerning entitlements. Entitlements have become the new scapegoat for all that is wrong in America. Programs that have allowed seniors to live longer and more fulfilling lives will now be cut to shorten those lives. Obviously, it has been working too well and we have to cull the herd according to the wing-nuts. Death panels? Pulling the plug on grandma? How is this possible that even programs that have been successful are now being cast as failures? Sound familiar?

It is simple they have to cast these programs as failures so they can cut and eventually demolish them. The wing-nuts are realizing that the socialism tact is losing steam and so they have to develop a new strategy and with the help of the Democrats they will. If you continue to reduce revenues or shift revenues to corporate subsidies and war then of course the deficits are going to go up and spending cuts are going to seem like a necessary evil. The problem with this theory is that it flies in the face of reality and in the face of the majority of Americans who do not support these draconian cuts being proposed by the wing-nuts and the teabaggers. The majority of Americans do not support reducing the deficit on the backs of the poor and the elderly. The majority of Americans want to see the taxes of the wealthy increased not reduced and yet here we are. In America it is never about lack of, it is always about priorities.

We have gone from the poor and the elderly having problems to saying they are the problem. You see this is one of the things governments do, they support the weak and the old. So by saying that the government is the problem you are by extension saying these folks are the problem and to me that is a problem. The continued and strategic assault on unions, the middle-class, the elderly, and the poor is beginning to pay dividends, but for whom? If the majority of Americans support these items and yet the politicians are continuing to press their eradication then somewhere there is a disconnect. The will of the people is being circumvented by the interests of the moneyed few.

If our politicians aren’t willing to listen to us then we must “take our government back”, but not in the false sense of the teabaggers and their desire to return to 1776 when only white male property owners had rights. No, we must return to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Decades ago in the midst of a worse economic crisis our leaders used that opportunity to tell the American people the truth that many of our economic woes were due to the greed of unchecked capitalism and laid the foundation of many of the programs that ushered in the middle-class and dignity for our seniors. Wow, what a difference a few decades can make. Now our political leaders are telling us that the problem is no longer unchecked greed and capitalism it is the victims of unchecked greed and capitalism. Yeah, that’s it. This is akin to saying that prior to Nader’s crusade against unsafe cars that what caused the needless traffic fatalities wasn’t that automakers were designing and building unsafe cars, it was that drivers were buying and driving the unsafe cars.

When the “great debate” begins about cutting this and cutting that I hope we remember what made us a great nation. It wasn’t our huge military, it wasn’t our giveaways to corporate America, and it certainly wasn’t the unchecked greed of capitalism. What made us a great nation was our willingness to provide for the least of these and to provide an opportunity for all to succeed. These policies allowed a child from a family of 12 children living in a 2 bedroom house to attend college and grow up to be the Speaker of the House. It’s funny how these same folks who have benefited from these policies once they gain power want to pull up the ladder behind them. I will never understand the arrogance of these people.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Disputed Truth

Citizens Against Taxing Big Oil

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. – (attributed to) Abraham Lincoln

One evening I was watching the news minding my own business when I was astonished by what I saw. It was an ad paid for and produced by the American Petroleum Institute or API the main trade association for the oil and natural gas industry. According to the commercial which depicted what appeared to be ordinary Americans upset because the Congress is considering raising the taxes on the industry by 80 billion dollars in the 2011 budget. According to these ordinary Americans raising taxes during a recession on anyone is bad policy. This rationale sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric being used to justify keeping the Bush tax cuts. It is this type of blatant propaganda that must be exposed for what it is.

What is amazing to me is that we have all read how energy company profits have been at all-time highs for the last decade. Each quarter they set new record highs not just for energy companies but for all corporations. So with all of these record profits you would think that these concerned energy titans would be using that money to research and develop new cleaner energy technologies right? Wrong. Many of these companies are using less than 1% of their income to research new clean energy technologies. Most of them are using these enormous profits to buy back their stock and thus insuring even larger profits in the future. So at the end of this decade of record profits we are to assume that taxing these companies is going to wreck the economy and kill 400,000 jobs?

We as Americans through the work of our political leaders have been subsidizing an industry that continues to make money hand over fist. We do this not only in paying higher energy bills but also through subsidies to this industry.

All of this political gamesmanship aside, consumers have good reason to be angry. Not only are the oil companies racking up extraordinary profits, they’re doing it while continuing to enjoy generous tax breaks and economic subsidies paid for by the same people who are also paying exceptionally high prices at the pump. Essentially, consumers end up paying oil companies twice for the same product, first subsidizing their production and then buying the finished product at inflated prices.Larry West

So let me get this straight, the people who are being gouged are upset because the people who are gouging them are going to have pay taxes on these record profits and lose some of the subsidies they don’t need in the first place. How stupid do they take us for? I thought the ad about an energy company being in the people business was bad, but this one sets a new low. The thing that troubles me the most about this ad is that the people being interviewed obviously have no clue who the tax would impact. One woman states that some people are barely hanging on so raising taxes would be a burden. I agree if the tax was for ordinary working people but this tax is on an industry where the top 5 companies made over 550 billion dollars under the Bush administration and has not slowed down since. Are we to assume that the oil industry is just barely hanging on? If it weren’t so dishonest it would be almost comical.

We as a nation I believe will not get serious about clean energy until we make it too painful to continue down the path we are on. Unfortunately humans respond best to two stimuli; pain and fear. Most of the countries that are pioneering clean energy and sustainability are doing so because they had to. Until gas prices reach about $5 a gallon we will continue our urban sprawl with bigger and more congested highways, we will continue to refuse to develop and implement clean energy sources for providing energy to our homes and businesses, and we will ignore rail and other transportation alternatives. The truth is that gas prices will reach $5 the question then becomes do we allow the profits to go to an industry that has repeatedly shown it has no desire to provide clean sustainable energy or do we create a self-imposed tax that will be used to fund the switch to clean energy? How can we expect an industry with little or no incentive to develop the clean energy technologies we need?

Following the oil embargo of 1973 the nation of Iceland embarked on a radical and massive shift in its energy policy. Because the cost of fuel had skyrocketed they made the calculated determination that they would begin to seek alternative fuel sources and conservation. The people of Iceland created a self-imposed tax on oil to fund their transformation to renewable energy and today are reaping the benefits. So while we went left (change suppliers), they went right (reducing dependency and alternative sources). So while they now enjoy the freedom of renewable energy we are still being held hostage by foreign governments (many of whom are hostile to us) through our big oil companies. History has shown us that we will not develop sustainable energy policy until the last drop of oil is gone. The problem with that strategy is by that time it will be too late.

The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. - Ralph Nader

The Disputed Truth

Citizens Against Taxing Big Oil

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. – (attributed to) Abraham Lincoln

One evening I was watching the news minding my own business when I was astonished by what I saw. It was an ad paid for and produced by the American Petroleum Institute or API the main trade association for the oil and natural gas industry. According to the commercial which depicted what appeared to be ordinary Americans upset because the Congress is considering raising the taxes on the industry by 80 billion dollars in the 2011 budget. According to these ordinary Americans raising taxes during a recession on anyone is bad policy. This rationale sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric being used to justify keeping the Bush tax cuts. It is this type of blatant propaganda that must be exposed for what it is.

What is amazing to me is that we have all read how energy company profits have been at all-time highs for the last decade. Each quarter they set new record highs not just for energy companies but for all corporations. So with all of these record profits you would think that these concerned energy titans would be using that money to research and develop new cleaner energy technologies right? Wrong. Many of these companies are using less than 1% of their income to research new clean energy technologies. Most of them are using these enormous profits to buy back their stock and thus insuring even larger profits in the future. So at the end of this decade of record profits we are to assume that taxing these companies is going to wreck the economy and kill 400,000 jobs?

We as Americans through the work of our political leaders have been subsidizing an industry that continues to make money hand over fist. We do this not only in paying higher energy bills but also through subsidies to this industry.

All of this political gamesmanship aside, consumers have good reason to be angry. Not only are the oil companies racking up extraordinary profits, they’re doing it while continuing to enjoy generous tax breaks and economic subsidies paid for by the same people who are also paying exceptionally high prices at the pump. Essentially, consumers end up paying oil companies twice for the same product, first subsidizing their production and then buying the finished product at inflated prices.Larry West

So let me get this straight, the people who are being gouged are upset because the people who are gouging them are going to have pay taxes on these record profits and lose some of the subsidies they don’t need in the first place. How stupid do they take us for? I thought the ad about an energy company being in the people business was bad, but this one sets a new low. The thing that troubles me the most about this ad is that the people being interviewed obviously have no clue who the tax would impact. One woman states that some people are barely hanging on so raising taxes would be a burden. I agree if the tax was for ordinary working people but this tax is on an industry where the top 5 companies made over 550 billion dollars under the Bush administration and has not slowed down since. Are we to assume that the oil industry is just barely hanging on? If it weren’t so dishonest it would be almost comical.

We as a nation I believe will not get serious about clean energy until we make it too painful to continue down the path we are on. Unfortunately humans respond best to two stimuli; pain and fear. Most of the countries that are pioneering clean energy and sustainability are doing so because they had to. Until gas prices reach about $5 a gallon we will continue our urban sprawl with bigger and more congested highways, we will continue to refuse to develop and implement clean energy sources for providing energy to our homes and businesses, and we will ignore rail and other transportation alternatives. The truth is that gas prices will reach $5 the question then becomes do we allow the profits to go to an industry that has repeatedly shown it has no desire to provide clean sustainable energy or do we create a self-imposed tax that will be used to fund the switch to clean energy? How can we expect an industry with little or no incentive to develop the clean energy technologies we need?

Following the oil embargo of 1973 the nation of Iceland embarked on a radical and massive shift in its energy policy. Because the cost of fuel had skyrocketed they made the calculated determination that they would begin to seek alternative fuel sources and conservation. The people of Iceland created a self-imposed tax on oil to fund their transformation to renewable energy and today are reaping the benefits. So while we went left (change suppliers), they went right (reducing dependency and alternative sources). So while they now enjoy the freedom of renewable energy we are still being held hostage by foreign governments (many of whom are hostile to us) through our big oil companies. History has shown us that we will not develop sustainable energy policy until the last drop of oil is gone. The problem with that strategy is by that time it will be too late.

The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. - Ralph Nader

The Disputed Truth

Nader Mulling Senate Bid in Connecticut

The Associated Press reports that consumer advocate and former Presidential candidate Ralph Nader continues to mull a Senate run in Connecticut against Democratic incumbent Chris Dodd. Nader would run as a Green party candidate.

Ralph Nader says he wants to gauge the level of grass-roots support before deciding whether to make a bid to represent Connecticut in the Senate.

The 75-year-old consumer advocate and Connecticut native said Friday that he is "absorbing" feedback about a possible bid. He was appearing at a book signing at the Noah Webster Library in West Hartford.

The Connecticut Green Party is trying to persuade Nader to challenge Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd in the hotly contested 2010 Senate race. Nader was previously a Green Party presidential nominee.

State Green Party spokesman Tim McKee says he's getting positive responses to the idea of Nader for Senate. He says social networking Web pages are springing up that are urging him to run.

Nader remains non-committal when asked about the possibility but he's not ruling it out either.

"It's premature," he said. "I've been getting an increasing number of requests to do so. This is my home state and I'm just absorbing a lot of the feedback before I make a decision."

Nader said the issue is not so much Senator Dodd as it is the Senate as a whole. Nader characterized the Senate as an institution beset by gridlock and unable to pass most of the legislation sent to it by the House.

It's hard to argue with that assessment.

There's more...

Weekly Audit: Protect Consumers, Not Wall Street

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

The economy is still getting worse. Foreclosures are surging above last year's epic highs and the unemployment rate marches upwards every month. As the misery grinds on, Wall Street lobbyists and their allies in Congress are pushing hard to distract the public from the real causes of the current global economic crisis. Corporate America is trying to pin the blame for our empty pocketbooks on President Barack Obama and the phantom socialist menace, and cable news pundits are taking the bait.

As David Korten explains in a blog post for Yes!, this surge of distractions is a conscious political strategy designed to sabotage reform. "Wall Street's greatest fear is that the public might demand Congress and the president shut down the casino," Korten writes. "Any issue that shifts attention away from Wall Street and pins the blame for job loss and mortgage foreclosures on President Obama works in its favor."

The banking lobby is kicking and screaming over President Obama's plan to overhaul consumer protection in finance. As a result, the battle over the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) has become the most heated economic controversy in the nation's capital, even though the issue isn't controversial where ordinary citizens are concerned.

The existing hodgepodge of bank regulators completely failed to stand up for consumers as the housing bubble grew and burst. Our current bank regulators are charged not only with consumer protection, but safety and soundness regulation, which basically means making sure that banks don't fail. Preventing bank failures often means protecting bank profits, even when those profits come at the expense of communities. Instead of relying on the same inept and conflicted agencies, consumer regulation of credit cards, mortgages, student loans, payday loans should be funneled into a single, new agency with no other priorities: The CFPA.

As Greg Kaufmann details for The Nation, recent economic history isn't stopping Wall Street's favorite lawmakers from pushing against the CFPA. Kaufmann highlights some of the most outrageous comments from a hearing on the CFPA last week. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) claimed that if the CFPA had existed a few years ago, there would be no ATMs or frequent flyer miles. David John, a researcher from the Heritage Foundation, said that employees of the new agency would spend too much time trying to find their new desks to actually do any regulating. Bank lobbyist Ed Yingling tried to erase the last ten years with his claim that "no real case has been made" for better enforcement of consumer protection in banking.

These are not serious arguments. They are intentional distractions designed to kill an obviously productive policy. Kaufmann's headline says it all: "Do They Take us for Schmucks?"

But loudmouth Republicans like Hensarling aren't the only politicians we need to keep tabs on. Plenty of lawmakers on the Financial Services Committee won't stand up and make crazy speeches about ATMs, but will still go to bat for Wall Street behind the scenes. As I emphasize in a piece for AlterNet, with outsized Democratic majorities in both chambers of commerce, conservative, pro-Wall Street Democrats pose just as great a threat to our economic security as loony Republicans.

If you think that sounds pessimistic, consider Ralph Nader, who Matthew Rothschild profiles in The Progressive. Nader knows corporate America has its hands on nearly every lever in the U.S. political system. Lobbyists don't just hurl money at lawmakers, they spend tremendous sums on misleading advertisements to sway public opinion. Rothschild quotes from a recent speech Nader gave on his current book tour. He argues that progressives don't just need concerned citizens on our side. They need concerned citizens with money to counter the flood of corporate cash in the political system.

"There is a poignance in listening to Ralph Nader these days," Rothschild writes. "Here is a man who, for the last 45 years, has hurled his body at the engine of corporate power. He's dented it more than anyone else in America. But he knows it's still chugging, even more strongly than ever."

Even when lawmakers talk tough about Wall Street, it's not obvious what's really going on. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) recently rolled out an extremely ambitious plan to overhaul the bank regulatory system. It has very little common ground with Obama's plan, and in some respects would be an improvement. Obama's plan is very strong on consumer protection and not much else. But Dodd's plan is so ambitious, it seems like a politically impossible waste of time, one that could easily delay reforms into next year. Dodd wants to consolidate all four bank regulators into a single agency to prevent a race to the bottom and strip the Federal Reserve of all of its regulatory responsibilities. They aren't bad ideas, but they have absolutely no political momentum. Dodd has been holding hearings on the financial crisis since 2007-- he could have started pushing for this plan a long time ago. By introducing it so late in the process, major legislative delays seem inevitable. The longer it takes to pass a regulatory bill, the more time the bank lobby has to water it down. Writing for Mother Jones, Nick Baumann suggests this may be exactly what Dodd intends.

"Maybe getting it done by 2010 isn't the point. Dodd is up for reelection that November. If he manages to win by talking populist while raising money from Wall Street, he'll have plenty of time afterward to figure out what to do next."

For now, the economy is still absolutely horrible. Writing for In These Times, David Moberg translates the statistics from the government's most recent unemployment report and deciphers some recent polling on the economy. Things are bad, and people know it. Many economists believe the recession may have technically already ended. The Gross Domestic Product, a statistical measure of the country's economic output, may no longer be declining. But the unemployment rate keeps going up. It was 9.8% at the end of September.

Moberg notes that if the rate counted the long-term unemployed who have given up looking and people who want full-time jobs but settled for part-time work, the unemployment rate is a staggering 17%. Over one-third of the 15.1 million would-be workers encompassed by the 9.8% unemployment rate have been out of a job for at least six months. Voters overwhelmingly believe that government policies have helped Wall Street, while just 13% think the government has given a lot of help to the average working person.

Economics and politics are inextricably linked. To strengthen our economic foundation, we need policymakers who are willing to stand up to corporate America and corporate media and serve the citizens who elect them.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads