Real Populism Needed

Scott Brown’s victory in the Senate seat once occupied by Ted Kennedy was a serious blow to Obama’s agenda, not only because it makes it harder for the Democrats to avoid a filibuster but mainly because of his anti-populist stance. Brown believes in very limited government: collecting taxes and defense. Given this additional hard nosed opposition to his policies Obama will need to fight very hard to empower an essential populist agenda.

Taking on a truly populist role of a democratic government means to put people first. We must undo the insidious idea heard daily that we should mistrust government as a group of well meaning bureaucrats but inadequate, inefficient and helpless to deal better than the private entrepreneur relying on market forces and the need for profit. President Obama will have to constantly emphasize how his policies are designed to benefit the people; not reward special interests of the insurance and Wall Street complex that, because of deregulation, devastated countless lives and our country. He needs to empower the iconic populist idea that in a democracy one can trust government to be there reliably as a protector with safety nets and to be there with a steady hand to prevent obstacles in the way of opportunities for the people to lead minimally stressful and meaningful lives.

Sid Moss
Elkins Park, Pa.

Corporate Personhood

I’m writing the day after the US Supreme Court’s latest outrage upon the American People — namely, the decision that opens the doors for “persons” such as corporations and labor unions to spend as many dollar/words attacking opponents to their ideas as they can muster during political campaigns. Or any other time, I guess.

This didn’t fall freshly coined from the sky. It began in 1886 in the Supremes’ decision in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific RR. How those justices’ minds do wander: this was a case concerning ruinous freight rates charged by the SPRR on agricultural goods. And it then morphed into declaring corporations “persons” under the 14th Amendment, with attendant free speech rights under the First Amendment. Yet further cogitations of that sort declared eventually that money equaled speech! The 14th Amendment, my history books seem to agree, was designed to give rights to freed slaves after the Civil War; freeing them was one good thing, but Southern politicians denied them voting and most other personal rights through various political dodges such as the poll tax. The very personhood of the African American had to be enshrined in the Constitution for us all to observe.

I apologize to those readers ... to whom this is very old news. But some younger readers might need some background for this brand new assault on we common people and our battered but still enshrined democratic ideals.

Yesterday’s decision effectively reduces the voice of the individual (voter OR candidate!) from political campaign noise. The bulls of Wall Street with names up on the Dow and the unions or other pressure groups can out shout us all with their gold-plated “words” aimed at any measure, group or person suspected of interfering with their power.

There are several histories of our Supreme Court which detail its many highly prejudiced and unjust decisions, but I think this latest one is the darkest of them all.

Jay Cooke
Lakeview, Ore.

Act, Don’t Lament

The Supreme Court, in subversive activism, has ruled that corporations can spend without limit to influence elections. Now is not the time for childish lamentation. Now is the time for action.

What about a law requiring all political ads to open with a declaration of who funded them, including a listing for finding more information on file with the FEC or similar bodies in the states? “The following commercial was funded by Aetna/Cigna/Citibank/FuzzyWuzzy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cutthroat Enterprises ... Full financial information is available at ...” would take some of the wind out of their sails.

Better yet, why not a constitutional amendment declaring that the rights of personhood shall be restricted to biological persons, not applying to corporations or other artificial legal entities? The Supreme Court has no right to contravene the express will of the people.

Let us see some good legal minds and committed citizens in action!

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam
Baltimore, Md.

Imbalance in the Economy

Regardless of your political point of view, you should be worried about a major imbalance in the economy. The distribution of income is usually thought of as a political or moral issue. But when there is a serious imbalance in distribution, it becomes also an issue of economic stability. According to Congressional Budget Office data, personal income has shifted dramatically toward the rich since 1979. In 1979, the top 5% of households (in terms of income) received 18% of total after-tax personal income. In 2006, the top 5% received 28.5% of total income. Total income above the 18% level for the top 5% was close to $15 trillion in 2009 dollars in 1980-2009, and 85% of that “excessive” income went to the top 1%, or 3 million people.

Some people will question this data but there is corroborating evidence. From the Labor Department — the measure of labor’s share of income has fallen significantly and productivity has increased considerably faster than wages in this period. The fact that both households and the federal government have added over $10 trillion to their debt in this period suggests a serious imbalance. Borrowing is used to maintain spending because income has not kept pace. Excessive borrowing was definitely part of the problem with the recent housing boom and bust. Huge household and government debts are now serious problems which may make future economic growth difficult.

What may have caused the imbalance in income distribution? Compound interest on wealth, increasing market power of corporations? Markets are supposed to work in terms of maintaining equilibrium. However, unemployment, immigration, job export, decline of unions, globalization, decline of manufacturing, people seeking second jobs etc. all have the effect of decreasing the bargaining power of labor. One measure which would make some difference would be for the government to provide employment opportunities and aid to people starting businesses or even homesteading. This would decrease the excess supply of workers and give employed people more bargaining power. The government should also raise taxes on the top 5%, rather than run further deficits. These people have enjoyed large tax cuts over the last 30 years. We need to solve this major imbalance in our economy and our society.

Douglas Korty
Lebanon, Ind.

He’s One of Them

In the classic scene from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” the last two humans are holed up in a cave. Our hero leaves his fiancé briefly to reconnoiter. When he returns, the horrifying discovery dawns on him. She has turned! She is one of them!

Progressivism is playing Kevin McCarthy to President Obama’s demurely evil Dana Wynter. Our various moments of recognition came with the Afghanistan escalation, or the trickle-down stimulus bill, or healthcare reform systematically stripped of the least taint of reform.

Obama has turned! He emerged from the shapeless pod of Slick Bill Clinton, the hickster-huckster who “felt our pain,” but kept the aspirin to himself. Clinton’s DLC movement was patterned after the grift of self-help gurus whose real message is helping themselves.

But Obama is something more than a tanned and toned Bubba.

Clinton was a godawful, droning bore. Obama delivers plutocratic policy counter to his message — thereby rendered empty — but listen to this man. (Note that Fox observes a blackout of Obama speaking, lest viewers be exposed to intelligent reason.) Obama is constantly reconciling his actions with liberal doctrine, and apologizing for the lapses. Obama honors ideas as the atomic components of Truth, not as sloganized weapons of mass deception. ...

We can work with/against Obama to slip some progressive chocolate chips into the DLC swill. The alternative is that a wounded Obama will seek re-election from an American electorate — at once angry but also fat, lazy and delusional — ripe for fascism.

M. Warner
Minneapolis, Minn.

Preaching to Choir

Democracy is a messy, inefficient business. Everyone having their say can take a long time, and it takes even longer to sort it all out. This open discussion is also what provides more protection against abuses than any other system. If the people are not well informed, and well involved, though, Democracy is at the mercy of any glib-tongued demagogue ...

Americans need to make themselves heard again. FDR did not stop the First Depression by himself. He knew from the start that he couldn’t. Our government and society were riddled with vast, self-serving interests then, as they are today. He told the American people to MAKE him fix our country. And they did. We need to do that again ...

Addressing this to TPP’s readers is, I know, preaching to the choir. I ask that you, in addition to contacting your own representatives and senators, seize every opportunity to remind others about what it takes to truly have a Democracy in America, and to urge them to become the well-informed, active citizens our country so desperately needs in this crisis.

David J. Brady
Lebanon, Ohio

Bring Back Postal Savings

Regarding Isaiah Poole’s “A Bank for Our Public Needs” article (6/15/09 TPP), the Japanese Post Office was once the largest bank in the world. It took only eight cents to open an account and it spent the money on infrastructure such as roads, bridges and bullet trains. Prior to 1965, the US Post Office had a similar Postal Saving Plan. People without bank accounts pay by postal money orders. With the Postal Saving Plan they get in the habit of paying themselves first. The nation’s first bank was government-owned and lasted until President Andrew Jackson withdrew federal funds from it. Public universities and the intercontinental railroads were funded by land grants. There are Roth Bonds available to fund high-speed rail. My concern with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)’s National Infrastructure Development Bank Act of 2009 (HR 252) is, is it any improvement on the Postal Savings Plan that worked so well until 1965? Our children’s March of Dimes funded a cure for polio and is now tackling birth defects. Winston Churchill said: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

Joseph J. Kuciejczyk
St. Louis, Mo.

Quit Bank of America

My other sign says “USE A CREDIT UNION.” After reading “Michael Moore’s Action Plan: 15 Things Every American Can Do Right Now,” [11/15/09 TPP], I’ve been picketing a Bank of America in Seattle, by myself. Since this branch is between the office where I work and my bus stop, I decided to be brave and do it.

I invite people to join me on Fridays and am hoping the picket population will grow. I also pass out literature.

On another sign I have “FILTHY BofA in Capitalism: A Love Story.”

I’d like to challenge other TPP readers/activists to picket BofA, or another bailout recipient.

Power to the People!

Kim Loftness
Shoreline, Wash.

Get a Calculator

In his article of 1/1-15/10 (“Shocking News: The World is Stable”), Mr. Lind suggests in the preamble that I and others [who insist that the second decade of the 21st century will begin on Jan. 1, 2011] “get a life.” I would suggest that Mr. Lind learn to count. In base ten, at least.

Back when I was aspiring towards a life, I was in a bowling league, and we would roll three games, ten frames each. I know of nobody who would say that after nine frames of the first game, the last frame had two digits and hence was part of the second game.

(By the way, when Mr. Lind celebrates his 50th birthday in 2012, I hope he does so responsibly so that the next day he does not claim to be in his fifth decade.)

Craig Watkins
Cambridge, Mass.

Talking About Revolution

In the wake of the repeated failure of health care reform, the opponents of reform have proved that elections, no matter how overwhelmingly won by advocates and beneficiaries of reform, cannot yield anything except a weak gesture. Only revolution can restructure our health care system, as in Canada and Western Europe, or, indeed, produce any basic reform. A fruitful revolution need not necessarily be a classical mass revolution like the French and Russian revolutions, which resulted in chaos and excessive bloodshed. It can be a political revolution like the shift of American leadership in 1789 to a strong national constitution from the feckless Articles of Confederation. Under present American circumstances that would mean shifting the balance of power from sparsely populated rural areas to the cities, reducing the inordinate political weight of small states, and terminating the intrusion of money in both elections and Congressional decisions.

Louvan Nolting
Lewes, Del.

Obama Injustice

In recent weeks, I have heard some unbelievable things on the radio about the Obama Justice Department:

1) It opposes former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s case before the appeals court.

2) It filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of John Yoo!

3) A UBS whistleblower is going to jail instead of the criminal tax evaders he exposed. (Heard on Amy Goodman’s program last week.)

4) Re: Don Siegelman’s case, “There is nothing in the Constitution that says you can’t be framed.” (Heard on Thom Hartmann’s program 1/12/10).

These things are so preposterous that I wonder if the circuits from my ears to my mind are working correctly ...

I consider our judicial system to be the backbone of our democratic form of government, and if the head is taking stabs at it, then I fear we are on the verge of waving good-bye to democracy as we know it.

Caroline Gardner
Freeland, Wash.

Obama’s Appointments

Thank you for Jim Goodman’s excellent articles on agriculture. His detailed account of the administration’s deplorable appointments to USDA and FDA (“Obama’s Broken Promises to Farmers Disappointing and Dangerous,” 1/1-15/10 *TPP*) will explain many future policies. Appointment details that he reveals have not been covered by the mainstream media. I’ll keep his January column on my desk for future comments to Obama and the agencies.

Jeanne Riha
Corvallis, Ore

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 15, 2010


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