What's a Populist?

I've noted with some interest recent letters trying to define populist. Let me return to the roots as I understand them. It is the party of the little guy trying to get ahead despite obstacles erected by big business and their goons, I mean government. It is clearly different from either Democratic liberalism or Republican laissez faire. The first want to buy you out, the latter to sell you out. As you know, the parties agree on most major issues, often to the point where opposing views are completely off the radar screen.

For the last 25 years both parties have pursued a high-dollar policy. This is sometimes called a strong-dollar policy, the value judgement added to make it axiomatic. Who wants a weak dollar? I do. So should you if you work for a living. High dollars are great if you have dollars, but if you are on the edge, if you have debts, if you must struggle to augment your earnings, they are bad for you.

How does the high-dollar camp implement their agenda? There are two methods I'm aware of. The first is the Federal Reserve. Just as inflation devalues money, conversely, the tight money policies of the Fed have brought about a virtual deflation. We see this in stagnant wages and the low price of imported goods. Of course stocks have inflated nicely. I was told by an accountant that you can't have simultaneous inflation and deflation in an economy, so perhaps we could just call it income redistribution. The second is the currency exchange value imbalance. You can see this in action anytime take a trip to the hardware store. Look at the proportion of goods made in Taiwan or China. We can afford to make damn little in this country and the Taiwanese & Chinese can afford to buy damn little at the wages they are paid. The profits are sucked off. Those interested in economics might try to reconcile this with Say's Law, but I guess it's just another case of income redistribution. When is the last time you heard a politician from either party get up to rail against the trade deficit, which has quadrupled in the last few years.

Well I can see I might be getting wordy, and unprintable, but let me ask anyone who has some economic insight into the above to get in touch, and to all, remember the populist slogan from the last century, "Cheap Money."

Nedrow, N.Y.
Email liuzzis@ix.netcom.com

Bankruptcy Deform Trumps Homesteads

Another horror story out of the Republican party and the Bush administration: Recently I received a phone call from a good friend in Illinois. This person's small business had failed and now the bank was planing to repossess her home to cover the bank loan. She had heard of the Homestead Act and wondered if her home might be protected under this act.

I went down to the law library to see what I could find out about filing for bankruptcy and the Homestead Act. I had watched the bankruptcy (reform!?) hearings on C-Span and knew what to look for. From these hearings I knew that Florida and Texas had very high or unlimited ceilings with regards to one's home. In other words a person could buy a $3 million home in Florida, then declare bankruptcy, and keep their home under Florida's Homestead Act.

Under pressure from the banking lobby Congress decided to close this loophole. So Section 308 of Senate Bill 420 lowered the amount a person or family could protect in their home to $125,000. This seemed reasonable to me. But my trip to the law library showed the flip-side of all this.

I found that many states had set homestead values in during late 1880s, and these values have never been raised. Illinois' value is set at $7,500 (possibly enough to cover the shed in your backyard). Believing that this was an outrageous violation of the spirit of both bankruptcy and homestead laws, I called Sen. Jeff Sessions' (R-Ala.) office in Washington, D.C. I called Sen. Sessions' office because Sen. Sessions was the person I had heard speak on C-Span about "reforming" the federal bankruptcy laws.

After leaving a voicemail message, a very pleasant fellow by the name of Brad Harris called me back. After explaining to Mr. Harris what I had found out about Illinois, Brad commenced to paint the big picture for me. He said these homestead limitations went back over 130 years, and that his home state of Alabama had a limit of only $5,000. (My state of Nevada has a limit of $125,000, the same as the new Senate limit.) Brad also told me that five states, not two, had been targeted in the new federal legislation.

The question I had for Brad and Sen. Sessions was: "Did a single senator ask that the states with low, unrealistic, homestead limits raise these limits to at least 80 or 85 thousand dollars?" Brad told me that regrettably no senator had spoken in favor of this change. He said that Sen. Sessions did not raise the issue because of the "states rights" question. I countered that telling five states to lower their homestead limits was no less a states rights issue than telling other states to raise their numbers. Brad agreed with my logic.

Then again, who is paying for this legislation -- the millions of Americans who might lose their homes through bankruptcy -- or the banking industry? President Bush loves this bill and I am sure he will sign it. I am also sure my friend will lose the home she has lived in for a long time, and loves, in Illinois.


Las Vegas, Nev.

Fight the Tax Cut

The biggest problem with Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut is that the projected surpluses over this decade and into the next are temporary. Over the next decade and a half we have a demographic phenomenon at work involving the following:

* The baby boom generation is now fully absorbed into the economy and is getting into its high earnings years. Thus a large demographic bulge of working tax payers.

* The Medicare and Medicaid using age groups will increasingly consist of people born during the Depression and WW II when birth rates were low.

* So tax collections will remain relatively high and huge portions of Federal spending relatively low.

* Toward the end of the next decade, the baby boomers will start to comprise an increasing portion of Medicare/Medicaid users. Having retired or being close to retiring, they will increasingly be paying much lower taxes.

* The "easy years" of 2001-2016 or so will be followed by years when Federal revenues versus expenditures converge again, with projected surpluses tailing off.

* I am sure that Medicare/Medicaid users past 70 typically cost more on the average than say those 65-69 years old. The 1946, 1947, 1948, etc babies will be reaching that point in 2016, 2017 etc. Year after year more of them.

* If Bush drastically lowers the tax rates now, we will be in a real mess by the 2020s if not sooner. And it will be very difficult to change course as we learned when Clinton narrowly succeeded in raising upper bracket taxes in 1993.

No one seems to be speaking about this. They touch on it slightly by talking about paying down the national debt, thereby lowering interest costs on the national debt. That is a very good thing but they don't really say why.

Another thing is Defense. Our current level of spending is adequate and I think it will be so for at least 15 to 20 years. But, we might have a need by the 2020s to have a sizable increase in defense spending.

Destroying the tax base now makes no sense at all and this case needs to be made on these terms.

Oakland CA
Email sstatler@slip.net

Reform or Revolution

We can take heart these days from that audacious document -- our Declaration of Independence -- and its farseeing provision for the. American people.

"Whenever any government becomes obstructive of these Mims ("Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happinesss") it shall be the right and the duty of the People to alter or abolish it."

I believe that time has come.

I believe that the Federal Government fits the description. By rights it ought to be drastically reformed or done away with.

The Congress -- no longer representative of the America people -- is composed almost totally of incumbent lawyers, bankers and big businessmen enlarging their estates. It has engineered the rise of a corporate plutocracy upon us which has sequestered most if not all of national wealth. Meanwhile most Americans -- in economic manacles -- struggle to maintain themselves on the scraps of our undisciplined profit system.

Our presidency has degenerated into a party-line award procured by corporate support and a corrupted elective process. Henchmen of the system, rather than heroes of the republic, presidents have been distinguished for decades only by the degree of their criminal behavior and the details of their encounter with -- or escape from -- lawful prosecution.

The Supreme Court, the embodiment of the "status quo", now interprets the Constitution not as a manifest of our democratic principles but as a carry-all for corporate or party-line interpretation and authoritarian rule.

Meanwhile, agents of our evermore insidious, secretive government -- CIA, NSC, FBI and a cross-country network of their spawn, roam among us in the guise of a grand "security" service employing all the tactics of tyranny in their surveillances, their secret files, their searches and seizures, their dossiers on dissidents, their infiltration of "activist" citizen groups, their chilling inquisitions and harassments, their mass arrests and their specious prosecutions.

What does our spirit of Independence tell us about all this?

I see some stirring of patriotic defiance in the Green Party and its clear-sighted chieftain, Ralph Nader, who properly denounce these forms of despotism and all corporate predominance upon our difficult lives.

Let them become the Citizens' Party! Let them militate now and let their motto be: Reform or Revolution!

Burdett, N.Y.

Let's Have Real Reform

McCain-Feingold passed the Senate. Now we need "campaign-finance reform reform".

Some amendments were improvements -- "issue ad" controls, more disclosure, clearer definitions of electioneering -- but two could drown improvements in a flood of re-directed cash.

Only one in a thousand can afford today's limit of $1,000 per election per candidate. (Never have so many politicians owed so much to so few ...) The amendments would double that limit or more, further narrowing the field of discourse -- and even give politicians future "cost-of-lobbying allowances"!

Thus compromised, McCain-Feingold is only "re-form". Big money would just take new shape. Seeing who's buying our government may not let us stop it.

The Supreme Court says money isn't speech. If it were, speech wouldn't be free for all. True campaign-finance reform must limit the volume of money, and give "we the people" and our votes the loudest voice.

Tell your US Representative you want YOUR government back.

Marshall, Mich.
Email jalp@internet1.net

Talk to 'Em

On the day I read Marty Jezer's column about campaign finance reform ["McCain-Feingold good, but not good enough," 3/1/01 PP], I received in the mail a membership form from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Before sending it back, I wrote: "As the ACLU is opposed to campaign finance reform, declaring that money is speech, I am mailing in my membership dues. Instead of money, it is this speech."

Others might want to write the ACLU, at 1217 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10275-0397.

Bellevue, Ky.

License Lobbyists

Mother country England has a queen to attend affairs of state and a prime minister to run the country. Have often wondered what that would be like. Looks like we're fixing to find out since our own Fluffy Shrub has designated Cheney as CEO or in effect our prime minister.

Since we have no king or queen a lot of people think that America has a democratic form of government. One of the definitions of democracy is a form of society characterized by social equality and tolerance. Certainly no Republican would be caught dead embracing a philosophy like this. So we can say that most Democrats and all Progressives believe in a democratic form of government. The Republicans are plutocrats who believe that money should run the country. One of the founding fathers said that the people who own America should run it, so the Republicans are just following him.

We have 435 members of the House and 100 senators for 535 members of Congress. They say that Washington has in excess of 18,000 lobbyists, or each member of Congress could have his own coterie of 35 lobbyists. Noticeable by their absence are any lobbyists for the poor. So what we need to do is require all lobbyists to obtain a license which we could sell to them for $10,000 a copy which would produce 180 million bucks. We could designate half of this money to reduction of the national debt and the other half to pay for lobbyists for the poor. Now if a poor person is charged with a crime the government will furnish him an attorney. That has become a joke because the attorneys are paid half or less of their regular fee so they do not care if their client gets hanged. We could afford to hire good lobbyists for the poor. They could let the Congress know of the needs of the poor.

Yours truly,
Waco, Texas

Strange Fruit in Perspective

Here's a big kiss to you, Craig McGrath, and to The Progressive Populist for your timely article ["Far Right Seed Money Bears Fruit," 4/1/01 PP]. For David Horowitz to rear his ugly head with an ad entitled "Ten Reasons Why Blacks Should Not Receive Reparations and Why It's Racist" at college campuses around the country, I was thrilled to be able to read what you wrote, Mr. McGrath.

Armed with info, I have written our newspapers and college campus papers imploring them to consider the source. That, to me, is where the debate lies in running Horowitz's ad.

Knowing where Horowitz's funding comes from and even the title of his latest book, Hating Whitey, puts this ad in perspective.

Indianapolis, Ind.

Don't Blame Me

Scanning the media, our economy appears to be in free fall. President Bush's scheme to permit social security investments in the stock market landed on its head. His tax rebates are a windfall for the right. And his foreign policy message is -- we are number one, we can fly and spy wherever we wish!

Hail to the Chief!

P.S.: Don't blame me! I voted for Ralph Nader.

Tallahassee, Fla.

Poetry Corner

Dim King George, rants for a big tax cut.
The case out in Iowa is not quite shut.
The rich get the most,
Pittance for the poor is the boast.
Of the millionaires joke, we're the butt!

Lakeside, Iowa

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