Saturday, October 16, 2010

Want the country back? Vote Democratic. It's our only hope.

The conservative right is always saying that they want their country back. I don't know for sure, but I think they are alluding to the country the United State was in the fifties. That was when (for white people especially) there were lots of good jobs and schools and people had high hopes for an even better future. It certainly wasn't perfect, but they are right, it was better in many ways.

I want that country back too. But we won't get it back if we do what the conservatives want to do.

Why were our public schools were so good--even mine, although my mother was a single mom raising two kids herself on a secretary's salary? Why was the country able to provide health clinics where working parents like my mom, could get free school immunizations and basic health care for their children. Why were the wages and benefits better?

In the fifties the unions were strong so wages and benefits for 'blue-collar' jobs were better. Those in 'white collar' jobs were loyal to the businesses they worked for because the businesses provided good wages and benefits and a stable income. People felt that if they did a good job and stayed with the company, they would benefit and so would the company. 

More income meant more income tax money was collected.

The tax money collected was used by federal, state and local government to provide a good life to the people who paid the taxes. Tax money help provide good jobs to millions of people who worked in the public schools educating the work force, to police and fire departments that kept neighborhoods safe, for state and government jobs that kept programs and services running--programs created to maintain a structure within which people could live their lives better. Tax money provided funds for good jobs in public works projects that built and maintained public buildings, roads and bridges, all of which names just a few of the social services for which people and the government spent and still spend tax money. 

Higher wages and benefits and better working conditions also meant people could afford to buy all the necessities of their good middle-class life: second homes, multiple cars and boats, along with food, clothing and the other necessities. They could send their children to colleges and had time and money to take vacations, spending their hard-earned money all over this country and in the world. In turn this spending made businesses that were providing those goods and services successful. 

Another difference was that the tax rates were not the same in the fifties. Then the top tax rate was 91% (and, surprise, there were still many rich people who lived incredibly well). Now the top tax rate is 35%.

And back then, people saving money through mandatory tax deductions for the social security system felt they would get their money back in their old age. The way Roosevelt set it up in the forties, money collected through social security taxes was held in a fund and invested so that the fund grew as it earned compounded interest. That fund would then give back their tax money--their non-voluntary savings--when they were old. (Note: Earnings over $100,000 are not taxed and put in the social security fund. Why, I ask? Why should only the lowest wages be forced to pay into the fund and not the highest?)

However, the social security program was changed in the sixties when, to help fund the war in Vietnam, President Johnson put the social security fund into the general fund and spent it. And he doubled the amount that baby boomers were forced to save in social security. Every year since then the fund has been spent as part of the general fund.

So, essentially the forced-tax retirement savings have been stolen from the social security fund and spent with the general tax fund. These days people are no longer assured that the money that was taken from them for all of their fifty year work lives will be returned to them in the form of social security checks in their retirement.

These days they call social security an entitlement program and I guess they are right. We are entitled to get our hard-earned money back.

So the whole foundation of the country was different in the fifties. It was firmer, richer and more stable and secure.

Over the last forty years, that foundation has been eroded. Tax rates for the rich have been lowered steadily. Unions have been broken and disgraced in several ways, some of their own making. But a good example of how it was usually done was when Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union. Reagan made sure that striking air traffic controllers lost their jobs. After that and other examples, people became more and more afraid to join unions and participate in strikes.

Subsidized housing was cut drastically during the Reagan years, throwing more people into chaotic life situations so it was harder to work and get their children educated.  Less taxes were paid because more people were either out of work or were paid less. More taxes were needed to pay for things that working people used to be able to pay for themselves. Desperation and anger grew and so did the number of people who turned to criminal ways to make money. Communities were devastated by crime. Not just minorities were affected, whites were also affected.

Desperate people were told that everyone was to blame except those who really were: the rich and powerful who ran the businesses. Just as they hoped, white working people began scapegoating minority working people and not seeing that the problem was the rich and powerful. As they became more desperate, they were willing to work for less and settle for less of everything. Working people were told that those who wanted a society that distributed income more justly or fought for a fair living wage were evil and they were to blame for deficits. And they believed it and elected conservatives.

But it wasn't other working people who were profiting. It was the rich and powerful military and industrial complex that even Eisenhower warned us against. Defense contractors were among the largest winners. But businesses who were given tax breaks and moved offshore to avoid any taxes won big as well. Wall Street was given a free hand to loot pension funds and savings accounts with sales that were unregulated and fraudulent--and they paid themselves handsomely as they did it. Then in the Bush administration, the economy collapsed under the weight of all the greed at the top.

Those who lost the most were not the rich, who pay only pay 15% tax on money that isn't earned through working (which is essentially invested money). It was the middle-class and the poor who lost the most: jobs, homes and savings accounts. Their money disappeared into extravagant salaries and perqs paid to executives in all manner of big business, health insurance and prescription drug companies, investment brokers and bankers and as well as defense contractors.

The truth is that it's been conservative policies that have run up the USA deficit. Reagan and the conservatives quadrupled the deficit during Reagan's eight years. It shot into the stratosphere during the Bush years.

Clinton and the Democrats cleaned up Reagan's mess, despite fierce opposition from the very people who had created it. And now Obama and the Democrats are cleaning up the mess that Bush and the conservatives made, despite fierce opposition from conservatives.

This administration and liberals in Congress have passed policies to protect the citizens of the United States, which is the job they were elected to do. Conservatives have opposed them every step of the way.

This administration and liberals in Congress have created more jobs in the past year and a half than Bush and his cronies created in eight years.

Through TARP loans provided over the objections of the conservatives, the car industry has been kept alive and millions of jobs are still in place. Those loans have been paid back to the government.

Fiercely opposed TARP money also provided unemployment funds to give people at least a little something to fall back on. Because it's spent on necessary goods and services, that money comes back into the economy at a greater rate than what was paid out.

Over conservative objections, the government stabilized the financial system through TARP loans to banks and wall street investment firms. Most of that money has been paid back.

Conservatives complain that small businesses have been ignored when actually there have been eight tax cuts given to small businesses and money earmarked for small business loans has been lent to banks.

The 40% of the TARP money that the conservatives insisted be given in tax breaks, well, the jury is out on how much it has helped. That lost tax revenue will never be paid back. Conservatives want to give up 700 million more dollars in tax revenue, creating more deficits, by continuing tax cuts to the richest people.

Thanks to the liberals, now there are regulations in place to protect people from thieves who take their money and give them nothing in return.

Everything this administration has accomplished has been fought tooth and nail by the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. Their interests don't lie with improving the lives of the people who elected them and pay taxes. They want to please lobbyists for huge industries such as defense, prescription drugs, health insurance, and businesses that pollute the world. Their interests lie with the rich and powerful. That's why they want tax cuts for the rich. They want the rich to be richer and the poor to be poorer.

So yes, I want my country and my world back. I want the fifties world where executives earned 10 times their highest paid salary, not 100 or 200 times. I want tax rates for the rich to go up. I want United States businesses who take jobs and their companies offshore so they can avoid paying union wages and U.S. taxes--I want them to pay taxes. I want money to be provided for jobs that will improve the infrastructure of our country so that people will go back to work and buy food, clothing and shelter so the businesses will have someone to sell goods to. I want the social security fund to be kept separate from the general fund so it can grow and pay for itself. I want regulations on health insurance and prescription drug companies so they are not allowed to cheat people and charge exorbitant rates, which will lower healthcare costs.

I want the world of the fifties back so we can start from where we were and then we can improve on that.

The only way to get it back it is to be able to outvote the conservatives, which means electing more liberals (there's that scary "l" word again) to Congress. These days it takes 60 votes to win a vote in the Senate (And I ask you, how democratic is that? What happened to 51% majority wins?). So we need to elect 60 good Senators and a majority of Representatives to the House. We already have a great President.

We can do this.

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