DEPENDENCY: Our Two Edged Sword

The Republican gambit for recapturing the White House by turning a sorely divided electorate into a narrow victory must be read for what it wants: a shaky democracy ruled by privilege and trickle down. The Good Book has been telling us for ages, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

But the Republicans want us to believe a favored majority as small as 53 percent can keep it standing. (We’ve addressed this folly previously.) Our aim here is a clearer look at the pathetic and destructive simplicity of reducing us to two camps: Makers and Takers.

They tell us the Takers all have the same mark: they pay don’t federal income taxes. They live on the dark side, in the State of Dependency, the 21st century Mark of Cain. But in fact they do pay federal income tax, because every Taker with a job has a fat slice of every paycheck taken for Social Security.

An irony of this “no income tax” fiction shows even in the lesser relative contributions the high earners make to Social Security. Once you are upper middle class, your SS deduction is capped. If you are less advantaged, that deduction is likely to take a larger slice of your income than the slice that the top Five Percent pay in all their federal taxes combined. Yet the wealthy nearly always draw the maximum Social Security payout, and bank it gladly when they have no real need for it.

The Republican play on Maker-Taker is meant not only to confuse the voters about who’s buttering their bread but to keep them from seeing that the Makers typically are the biggest Takers. Both the economy and the tax code have always worked that way, most wickedly since President Reagan and the neocons infused them with trickle down. Thanks to them, and to Bush II, we now live in the Vulture Culture. It has made dependency a two-edged sword, with the sharper edge slicing and dicing in favor of corporate power and wealth.

To put it another way, dependency is a two-edged sword because it cuts up and down, positively and negatively both ways. It gives us the 53/47 split. Wealth creates its own dependency. The rich depend on the same advantages that made them rich to keep them rich. The higher you go, the more you should plow back. It’s the engine of capitalism. The system got you there, often as much by privilege as ability,  so you repay it by plowing your wealth into investments you know will create the jobs that will keep the American Dream working.

The richer you are the more destructive your dependency if it feeds corporate power and trickle down. This century has given us no surer indictment of trickle down than the sputtering middle class. As the population and GDP have grown consistently, the middle class has withered comparatively. The homeland security of a democracy lies in a strong and prospering middle class, not an overblown military.

The irony has peaked in the 2012 Republican ticket. Governor Romney is the prime example of the Taker masquerading as Maker. His fortune was largely amassed as an aggressive Taker playing equity games at the expense of the troubled companies he cashed out, taking thousands of jobs to the grave with them.

He stonewalls the push from the media and voters to see more than one of his tax returns. He refuses to prove that there are no returns in the last decade that might show he paid no federal income tax. He won’t allow himself to become a case study of how massively the loopholes in the federal code favor the One Percent. No less damning, he demurs on how much of his wealth is parked in the Cayman Islands and other foreign investments. They’re a strange vote of confidence in his country, though he claims his leadership would make it work better. Has he promised to move all those investments home, if elected? Maybe he can explain how foreign investments help grow jobs at home, or how they blunt our crippling trade deficit or national debt. Maybe the tooth fairy is scripting his campaign. Surely it’s the author of the Ryan Budget.

Because its math doesn’t work, the Ryan Budget floats on a sea of fear-loaded words – entitlements, slackers, moochers, freeloaders, untrainable, and other slurs largely directed at the 47 percent. Conspicuous in this population are seniors on Social Security, the noncommissioned military, retired and jobless veterans, and single mothers. The blindest of the blind are politicians who can’t see. Unless we put them in office, making ourselves equally blind.

The more Republicans talk about dependency, the more voters are likely to see how well it plays for the One Percent, and how much big government now favors corporate power. When the Supreme Court sides with corporations, even to calling them people, which they aren’t by definition, then you know that the Bill of Rights has been watered down by money. It’s as if the Court’s conservative majority dreams more about sleeping with the One Percent than about delivering justice. They can’t seem to remember how plainly the Constitution defines their duty: “establish Justice.”

Now that we reign as the only Superpower,  can we really afford the Bill of Rights? Is there a bigger question for WethePeople in the 21st century? The cornerstone right of privacy is already gone, sacrificed at the alter of homeland and national security. Funny how the Superpower thing works. We proudly hail our military as unrivaled among nations. Yet it makes most of us feel less secure at home or abroad.

Our economic and military superiority puts a bullseye on our backs. It draws the aim and deadly acts of terrorists night and day. President Obama has challenged Islam and the Arab powers to renounce violence. But the men ruling those cultures fight us out of fear that they are losing control. They feel safe as long as their women are denied any rights.  Their extremists behave as if their faith will be safe only in a world of one faith – theirs. They’ll settle only for a world of dependency that they rule. They are Takers who too easily resort to violence, when they can’t get their way.

Freedom spins dependency its own way, badly misrepresented by those who cast it as Makers and Takers. For the less advantaged, the 47-percent-labelled Takers, freedom is easily and most often found in one thing – a steady paycheck. It keeps the whole system afloat. Makers who can’t see this are living in a house of cards. For most of the 20th century, our middle class was the most envied in the world. It was most easily defined by its plump paychecks.

But the corporate masters thought they had a better idea: export those middle-class jobs to help level up the global workforce, and American consumers would be awash in cheaper goods. How could they not see that such a scheme would sooner than later shrink our consumer buying power? Or maybe not, as higher corporate profits fatten the wallets of the Makers, who are supposed to sweeten the pot for all by accelerated trickle down. Their real aim has come to pass, a globalized economy ruled by the multi-nationals that answer more to their own rules than to the rule of law of any nation.

The proof that it’s working is the 47 percent who now pay no federal income tax – except of course the SS deduction. It tells us they’ve dropped off the corporate radar screen. Fortunately for the 53 percent, the 47 percent aren’t giving up on America yet working for them, despite the attitude of Governor Romney and his followers. In the famous video clip of his real views, Mitt said of the 47 percent, “They need to take responsibility for themselves.”  If they are not doing that, then the American Experiment, as many historians see it, is doomed.

Mitt went on to say, “My job is not to worry about those people.”  The job description says the president is president of WethePeople, all the people. But he apparently wants only the easier half of the job. It seems he’s also forgotten the Good Book lesson of his own Latter-day Saints faith: the house divided against itself cannot stand. The true LDS won’t allow dependency to define either themselves or their country. Neither do the Catholics and their Catholic Charities, among other charities stoically fighting poverty.

Let’s think of it another way, and we must, if the American Experiment is to keep on working: the house that won’t be divided against itself  builds equality on one promise – opportunity. It’s the heart of the house. Any American who can’t see it still burning in the hearts of the 47 percent, the essence of their hope, is less than American. He or she seems more comfortable with a State of Dependency that they rule, in part through their end-runs on a living wage for their workers. The paycheck defines equality and independence for most people – as our women are determined to prove. It works on, as the most popular answer to dependency.

Why not learn from the example of the Aussies, who have shown us a minimum wage of almost twenty U.S. dollars enlarges the economy for the benefit of all?  If the Aussies have any fear of competing with the rest of the world, they don’t show it. Their wines, among other exports, are making friends around the world, competing easily in the European and American markets alongside domestic growers. If there’s serious poverty in Australia, the global media aren’t seeing it.

The Scandinavians willingly pay high taxes to keep their elderly comfortably free of poverty. If they are at pain over the future of their social security, or over their choice of less personal luxury to pay for it, they don’t show it. On our visit to Norway, my dear mate and I were equally impressed by the absence of both dependency and extravagant living. They show no dependency because their unemployment is under two percent. Everyone who wants a job has one in Norway. These countries all seem to profit by the same lesson: you beat poverty when you beat dependency. Why are we going the other way, swinging the sword that splits us 53/47?

Isn’t it the same sabre we rattle every time there’s any hint of a threat at home or abroad? Dependency and the arms race come from the same sword. Our obsession with military supremacy has weakened our ability to meet people needs. It confuses national security and homeland security. They are not the same thing. Since the Reagan presidency, the budget commitment to defense has fattened corporate welfare. As much as Eisenhower feared the rise of a military-industrial conglomerate, his GOP didn’t waste much time making that very prospect the bedrock of its federal agenda. Never more so than in the Romney-Ryan budget. Plainly missing in that budget is the American Dream. It keeps it alive only for the favored few who already have banked that dream, who sadly spread investments globally to insure it, rather than keeping their wealth at home where it could grow the Dream for more Americans.

Romney-Ryan want more trickle down, which by definition is anti-American. Dependency is the promise of trickle down. It’s the meaning of the words themselves. It didn’t work for Reagan, and  it was disastrous for Bush-Cheney, the most destructive presidency of American history, a sandwich of  military adventurism and crippling debt.

The sword that gives us military superiority gives us dependency, in which hand-picked arms makers  thrive on artificial demand for unproven and unneeded weapons, cost overruns, waste, and habitual obsolescence. Ike would be appalled at our growing dependence on the military-industrial conglomerate. The sword’s sharper edge steadily favors wealth and power more and more. In Romney-Ryan hands, it’s bound to threaten less fortunate Americans more than our enemies.

In summary, make no mistake, dependency works more for the rich than the poor. We ignore at our peril the fact that the poor are still poorer, and growing. The homeless are growing too, and an embarrassment to almost every city. Disadvantagement is in large measure the absence of dependency: dependency that doesn’t work. Nowhere does dependency work more poorly than among the poor. The poorer neighborhoods invariably have the poorest public transportation, without which the carless jobless can’t keep a job, and the poorest schools. The only health care they can afford is free Medicaid.

In stark contrast, the affluent swim in privilege, and they milk it unabashedly. The legal and medical professions, the big banks, Wall Street, and the Ivy League all float on it. As much as the wealthy abhor the income tax, it has long been loaded in their favor, promoting investment over earnings. Why else would the Warren Buffetts and the Mitt Romneys pay it at lower rates than Joe Sixpack. The Joes better wake up, the ground that grows their paychecks is slipping out to sea, along with Mitt’s investment portfolio.

Frank Mensel – October 2012

“Home Rule” — Fixing WASHINGTON

One simple but audacious stroke would go a long way toward giving Washington back to WethePeople. Call it the “going home rule,” or “rule from home.”

The mind-numbing concentration of government in and around DC has made it an easy target for the Special Interests, the most potent being the legmen and bagmen who speak for globalized corporate power.

Without belaboring the obvious, the easiest DC target of all is the Congress, clustered so handily on Capitol Hill. The hordes of lobbyists, who number a dozen or more for every Member of Congress, need no more than a good pair of legs and bottomless wallets to bulldoze their case, winning more than losing. Their huge price tag should tell us that if they weren’t scoring heavily, they’d disappear.

This feast of access could be broken by simply reprogramming the House so the Members did their work mainly in their district offices. The technology to run the House this way is abundantly available.  All it would take to make it work would be the will to make it work.

How delicious the deep pain that would hence sweep the Special Interests and the multitude of lushly heeled DC law firms that do much of their lobbying! How many could afford reliable, high-dollar spielers to work all 435 Congressional districts? Those that could would stick out like sore thumbs, very unwelcome at nosing themselves into incumbent-constituent rapport at the grassroots.

Most important, it would give the House, going forward, the eminence that the Founding Fathers intended, as the truest voice of the people. Its work would be better informed, as Members spent most of their daily lives among their people. Their more constant conversation with the constituency could help reverse the public’s current alienation from government in general and Congress in particular. The voters could come to feel that they had as much or more influence with their Congressman as the lobbyists. With the help of local media, the voters would get a surer reading on who’s paying for the Member’s reelection campaign.

Most Members could then live more simply with their time spent better spent both in and off duty.   They’d be spared the relentlessly taxing chase in and out airports and airlines. In all, this change would make the House more attractive to exceptionally qualified candidates.

The House itself could run more smoothly, probably at lower cost. The long-standing Tuesday-Thursday club would disappear, along with the transportation costs it entails. Television could bring viewers closer to both committee work and floor action.

The standing committees and their subcommittees could convene and conduct hearings by video conferences, enriched at times by grassroots expertise. Rather than so much testimony from nationally known panelists, Members could occasionally share their screen and microphone with a local expert on  the matter under consideration.   The more at-home flavor the Members bring to their committee work, the warmer the constituents will feel toward representative government.

Action by the full House could be made more efficient too by bringing Members together just one week of every month, with the schedule of debate and votes posted well in advance. It would then be much easier for viewers at home to follow the action.

Viewers have become well aware of how much sham there is in the current television of the House floor. When they see their Member making a prepared address to the House, they know it’s almost always to an empty chamber. Its purpose is not to enlighten the Congress but hopefully to catch a spot on a station at home.

Even the closing floor debate on a major bill is essentially for partisan show, less to sway any undecided votes. Almost every Member has been following the debate with half an ear at their office desk TV, because they’ve known for days how they will vote on the bill in question.

The once-cherished attitude and tradition of bipartisanship could be revived by this change. In their week-a-month in the capital, Members would be inclined to congregate in hotels favored by Democrats or Republicans, perhaps with a good deal of overlap by which their fellowship could grow over breakfast or cocktails. The ideologues who currently hold the House in thrall would fade in influence.

By working primarily in their district offices, House Members might soon become as well or better known to the people than the senators. It could prove a subtle boost to the potency of the House,  as it dampened the corporate power that feeds so many lobbyists. Ordinarily senators draw far more media attention than House Members, but that would soon change with the representatives more readily available for local newscasts. They would also be more available to local service clubs, and their invitations to speak would happily multiply.

The Founding Fathers surely wanted the House to have at least equal rank with the Senate. It hence gave the House first call on the greatest of governmental powers – taxes. It has responsibility to chose the President, if the Electoral College fails. The Speaker is next in line to take the White House, if the President and Vice President are lost.

A move that takes the House back to WethePeople could well save our democracy and the American Dream. Government on almost every level is increasingly ruled by globalized corporate power, which has been fortified by the Supreme Court in its abhorrent ruling that says corporations are people with the same freedom of speech that was meant for individuals. Corporations are not about people; they are by state law strictly about money. Money is not people. Unless we act boldly to break this drift, we will soon find ourselves ruled by corporate fascism.

Whether a move by the House to go “home rule” would require a confirming vote from the Senate is unlikely. Under the Constitution, each chamber makes its own rules. The House can prove it’s still the voice of the people by choosing to rule from the grassroots, free of the estrangement that envelopes Washington. So distanced from WethePeople, Washington no longer speaks for America. With a House working from home, WethePeople would be in charge again – and, the big law firms, the lobbyists and the Supreme Court left picking their noses.

Frank Mensel  – October 2012

Father’s UNREST

My father, Harry Mensel, whose grandfather was a journeyman coach-maker drawn from Germany before the Civil War to work for Studebaker in Indiana, was never happy about American intervention in the two World Wars. He took very personally the loss of American blood in both. “There’s nothing across the two oceans worth the life of a single American boy,” he said more than once.

No less often he said that if the Europeans couldn’t settle their differences short of war, they should swim alone in their bloodshed.  “We owe them nothing,” he said.  Dad’s career, like his father’s, was served entirely in railroading.

If he were alive today, I know he’d agree with our gray-haired guide in Vienna who, when I asked her if there was a common view in Europe of the US intervention in Iraq, said, “Those tribes have been killing each other for 1,400 years, let them finish on their own.”

Dad felt that democracies were proving that they were largely wasted on the people who followed the founders. “They don’t care enough to make it work the way it should. They take too much for granted,” he said. After World War II, he came to the view that the only government that might work for the greater good would be one led by a truly just and benevolent dictator – if one should ever appear.

He felt most strongly that the worst mistake the United States could make in statecraft would be making war in Asia. “Its size and population are too big for any invader to hold for long. The costs would be too high,” he said. If he were still with us, he’d show bitter despair over American losses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without saying outloud, “I told you so.”  He’d be the first to applaud the abrupt reversal of the most senior Republican in Congress, Florida’s Bill Young, the most hawkish of hawks, who now wants us out of Afghanistan immediately.

Wars never in any way justified the cost in his view. They invariably led to heavy public debt, with never enough time between them to close it. He would have viewed the Bush-Cheney impetuosity toward war and flippancy toward debt as the gravest nightmare since Pearl Harbor, if not since the Civil War.

He wanted government that was never bigger than its revenue. He considered the national debt a public disgrace.

Frank Mensel –  September 2012