If all you did was scan headlines or look at memes, you could be excused for thinking that Republicans were completely absent this weekend from Selma.
You’d also be wrong.CNN originally reported…
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will not be on hand for the celebration, according to spokesmen for McConnell and Boehner.
They also reported….
It’s worth noting that not all top Democrats are planning to be in Selma either.House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is going, according to her spokesman, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Caucus Chair Xavier Becerra will also be there, said Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who was a leader of the Bloody Sunday march and is heading up the congressional delegation. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, is also going.
But Sen Minority Leader Harry Reid is not going as he recovers from eye surgery, his office said. The second and third ranking Senate Democrats — Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York — also won’t attend, according to their spokesmen.
On Wednesday, Lewis told CNN 96 members were expected on the chartered flight to Selma and some 15 to 20 more were planning to meet up in Birmingham and Selma, calling it “the largest group ever.”
At least two dozen Republicans were expected to be part of that group, according to a congressional staffer.
You can judge for yourself what all of this means.
The question of who attended and who skipped Selma struck me as a very good example of why it’s so important to get past headlines and to essentially ignore memes altogether as primary sources of information.
As the national debt and budget issues monopolize the airwaves, it strikes me how little I remember from my undergraduate government courses. I can rattle off the names of several key representatives and senators, but the inner workings of their roles conjuring a bill into a law are a bit fuzzy. If you have found yourself in a similar predicament (or you are a political science buff who thrives on clever ways to explain governmental processes) this infographic is for you.
The meme below is fresh from this morning’s Facebook feed.
It inspired me to do some research. The result is more evidence that the two major political parties are simply NOT the same.
So here’s my suggestion:
Add the question about supporting our veterans – and the partisan obstructionism on this bill – to whatever party comparison checklists you have now and that you’ll use when you go to the polls in November.
As an anti-war, anti-empire, and extremely proud, peace-loving, and patriotic liberal who has been registered as Non-Partisan since 1979, this was (and still is) my feeling on the issue of veterans affairs:
It is inconceivable that the men and women who volunteer to put their lives at risk in service to this country
are not taken care of regardless of what it takes.
How can this even be an issue?
The answer is simple: Politics. Petty, partisan politics.
(Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation on Thursday that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans, saying the $24 billion bill would bust the budget.
Even though the legislation cleared a procedural vote on Tuesday by a 99-0 vote, the measure quickly got bogged down in partisan fighting.
Supporters said the measure would have brought the most significant changes in decades to U.S. veterans’ programs. For example, it called for 27 new medical facilities to help a healthcare system that is strained by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
With Democrats pressing for passage this week, Senate Republicans, backed by their leader, Mitch McConnell, attempted to attach controversial legislation calling for possible new sanctions on Iran that President Barack Obama opposes.
“The issue of Iran sanctions … has nothing to do with the needs of veterans,” complained Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the main sponsor of the bill.
As of today, April 6, 2014, it has 29 co-sponsors.
They are all Democrats.
These are the facts.
Now ask yourself why Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, want to attach unrelated legislation to this bill that they know the president opposes?
Is there any other answer to that question other than they are willing to use the well-being and the very lives of veterans as pawns in partisan politicking, just as they have done on so many other issues like marriage equality, benefits for the long-term unemployed, and the poor? (See S.1635 and H.R. 3353 versus H.R. 4006 as examples of how the two parties approach SNAP.)
The question I’m really asking is this:
Is the issue of caring for our veterans finally enough to get us to start having an open and honest dialog about the fact that the two parties are not the same?
If not, what will it take?
Yes, it’s well-understood by everyone that neither party is perfect. No political party, politician, person, or movement is perfect. Nothing is perfect, and we will never all be in complete agreement on anything, let alone on everything. In my view, that is not a justifiable reason to continue engaging in the all-too-convenient and extremely false narrative that the two major parties are the same and equally bad.
They clearly have different ideologies, policy ideas, visions for America, and objectives. Senate Bill 1982 strikes me as simply the latest example of those differences, and here’s why I say that.
First, the entire Senate voted 99-0 to proceed on the bill.
Second, only Democratic Senators have so far co-sponsored it.
Third, it is only Republican Senators who want to attach unrelated language to it that they know cannot possibly get approved by their colleagues and the president.
In my opinion, the Republicans are playing politics with a bill that benefits the brave men and women who volunteered to serve our country in the military. I think we do ourselves, our veterans, and our country a terrible disservice by not calling them out for that and as just the latest example of what distinguishes them from Democrats.
That is why I believe that by continuing to lump the Republican and Democratic parties together as if they are somehow the same needs to stop. It is getting us where S.1982 sadly seems to be headed; nowhere.
Each of us is, of course, free to draw our own conclusions about Republicans and Democrats and Independents and Libertarians and Greens and every other party. We are free to decide for ourselves what we value, what we want our nation’s priorities to be, whom we want to represent us, and what we envision as the America we want to live in.
Each of us should, however, also remember the saying attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
The facts tell me that it’s time we stopped talking about Democrats and Republicans as if they are one and the same.
Yes, they are both beholden to Big Money; however, it must be acknowledged that the sources are, for the most part, very different. (And, yes, I still want to #GetMoneyOut of politics. All big money from all sources. If you don’t believe me, click here.)
Yes, elected officials from both parties are working longer and harder at raising lots of money from wealthy donors than they are serving the needs of ordinary citizens. Now ask yourself why that is the case. Can’t most of that be traced in large part to the abominations of the Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court rulings. The facts are that both of those were approved solely and exclusively by Republican-appointed Justices.
These are facts. It’s why I’m asking why we shouldn’t now add Senate Bill 1982 and the question of who really is in support of our veterans – and who is responsible for the partisan obstructionism that has stalled this legislation – to our list of what distinguishes the two major parties?
I’ve added it to my list. It’s just one more thing I’ll remember when I go to the polls in November.
I can’t imagine anyone arguing that America does not need a healthier, more economically viable, active, and growing middle class. Sadly, I also can’t imagine much argument that the exact opposite is dramatically evident.
The question now is what are we in the middle class prepared and willing to do about it?
I ask that question because I am completely convinced that the decline of the American middle class is reversible. I’m also completely convinced that the responsibility rests almost entirely and exclusively with all of us in the middle class. We can and we must do more to stop and then to reverse our decline.
Facebook posts and yelling at the TV might feel cathartic, but they don’t accomplish much. Let’s resolve in 2014 to do more and to take real action to take our democracy back from the corrupting influence of money.
What Can Be Done
It’s my opinion that we in America’s middle class need to do two things:
1. Stop waiting around for someone else to do something about it for us
2. Stop digging the hole deeper by no longer voting against our own economic self-interests
Let’s Stop Digging
I’ve written a lot over the years about point number 2, most recently here, here, and here.
There’s no other way to say it. All of the responsibility for point number 2 rests with Americans outside the wealthiest 2% who insist on voting against the economic interests of the middle class by voting FOR Republicans and tea party candidates who want to turn over control of our government and our economy to the very people and industries who got us into this mess.
The mess we’re in started with Reagan and his Rand/Friedman/Greenspan-inspired lies of trickle-down economics and the canard that government is somehow the only source of our problems. So long as some of us keep voting for the people representing those lies, we’ll keep digging the American middle class into a deeper and deeper hole.
I’m not saying we should never vote for another Republican. I have voted for Republicans in the past. I’m just asking – pleading, really – that we please just stop voting for the extremists in the Republican party.
We know – or we should know – who’s on that list. We know – or we should know – that it includes people selling us the fairy tales of unfettered free markets coupled with the failed economic and governmental philosophies of Milton Friedman, a.k.a. Reaganomics, a.k.a voodoo economics (thanks, btw, to G.H.W. Bush for that one), a.k.a. trickle-down economics.
Today, this describes one party and only one party. Anyone wishing to offer evidence to the contrary is invited to do so.
The Dangers of Being Kept In The Dark
To some extent and in a world where people still watch, listen to, and believe the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and a whole plethora of ideologues masquerading as news media and opinion “journalism” (a very liberal use of that term, btw), it’s kind of understandable how so many middle class Americans can be duped into believing the lie of trickle-down economics.
Traditional corporate news media is almost as guilty. (In case you’re wondering, the answer is, “No, outside of a weather report, I do not count anything broadcast by Fox to be unbiased news.”) Corporate media spends almost no time or energy informing us about how and why the middle class is in decline. What time is spent on the subject is spent mostly with people meant more to drive ratings than to inform us about what the decline of the middle class actually means to America and to our geopolitical power and influence in the world on a long-term basis.
The reason for their silence seems clear. It’s not in their corporate economic self-interest for us to understand it, nor is it in the interest of the wealthy and powerful who run those corporations. They are beholden to their investors. Collectively, they exercise control over our government more than ever by funding campaigns with little-to-no oversight thanks to Citizens United.
Even worse for the vast majority of Americans, these are people who already seem to demonstrate little-to-no appreciation for the ramifications of their actions and that of a declining middle class. They are either willfully ignoring or inexplicably discounting in a dangerous and short-sighted way what a declining American middle class means for our economy, our country, and for the world.
If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of its geopolitical power.
Every society throughout history has its ‘winners’ and its ‘losers’ in whatever terms each society chooses to define those words. Of late, it’s perfectly clear who the winners and losers are in America.
When it comes to the American middle class, the facts are in. The data are undeniable. The American middle class is in decline while the wealthiest accumulate even greater wealth and prosperity. This imbalance spells only trouble for us as a people and as a country.
Badly Tipped Scales
The balance that once existed between the income gains and the relative prosperity of the middle class and the wealthy – and which ought to exist again between free market capitalism and representative government – have tipped in dangerous and disturbing ways.
The scale seems to have tipped not between middle class and rich or between “corporatists” and “statists”, but instead in a third direction; Big Money.
Big Money, Bums, and Parties
Take a close look at the following chart. Appreciate and understand that it represents the average wealth of ALL of our representatives in Congress.
As of 2011, that’s an estimated average wealth of $11.7million for a Senator and $6.5million for a Representative.
What, exactly, are we supposed to have in common with these people?
What, exactly, do we think motivates them and what, exactly, should we expect from them when it comes to the resultant policy and law they make?
Isn’t it clear that all of the opportunity, privilege, and entitlements – yes, entitlements – now flow almost exclusively to the wealthy and, by extension, to their Big Money interests in both the private and public sectors?
We need to stop deluding ourselves about whom they serve. Our elected representatives represent the interests of Big Money. That means they do not represent the vast majority of Americans.
And, yes, both parties are guilty but it must be stated emphatically that they are NOT both guilty in equal measure. I’ve also grown weary of false equivalencies like that, too. Again, anyone wishing to offer credible citations to the contrary are invited to do so.
That said, the evidence is clear.
If the average Senator’s wealth is nearly $12million and the average House Rep is worth a cool $6.5million, then it stands to reason that these elected representatives don’t come from and don’t represent the middle class or the lower middle class or the working poor or the impoverished.
They represent Big Money, and without Big Money they can’t fund their campaigns.
The average winner in a Senate race <in 2012> spent $10.2 million, compared to $8.3 million in 2010 and just $7.5 million in 2008. That’s an increase of 19 percent since 2010. Senate Democrats seemed to have to work particular hard to win their seats, spending an average of $11.9 million, compared to the average Republican winner who spent $7.1 million.
On the House side, there was a smaller but still quantifiable increase in the cost of winning. On average, a winner in the House spent $1.5 million, compared $1.4 million in 2010 and $1.3 million in 2008. In the House, it was Republicans who had to work a bit harder: The average winning House Republican had to spend $1.59 million to win a seat, a bit more than the $1.53 million spent by the average Democratic victor. (Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/06/2012-overview.html)
Once in office, they are well on their way to amassing serious wealth. It begins on Capitol Hill with legislation and regulation (or more accurately, deregulation) in favor of the very industries they are supposed to be watching over for our benefit and protection. That’s just the start. Much bigger paydays await.
Being elected to office or appointed to one of the myriad departments or agencies is merely the step necessary before twirling through the revolving door that opens onto K Street and the private sector where their real rewards await them.
That is the heart of it. Money that concerns itself only with more money and not with the concerns and well-being of ordinary citizens.
This closed circle of money between government and private enterprise is precisely why a “throw the bums out” or even the dream of more viable third, fourth, and fifth political parties will not work to change anything.
Let me repeat that.
Simply replacing the current crop of politicians with a new group of elected officials – either from the current 2-party system or from a whole host of additional political parties – will serve to change very little if the underlying and fundamental campaign finance process and electoral systems by which these people are elected and reelected does not change.
Where We Come In
If we’re going to make our voices and our concerns heard, if we’re going to have a democracy that works for us, then we’re going to have to take the actions that serve to get Big Money out of politics.
The wealthy, both in and out of government, are continuing to prove that, outside of people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, we have very, very few people in Congress actually representing us.
It’s not just national politics, either. We need to be examining and pressuring our local and state governments about whom they actually represent. Is it us or their Big Money backers?
What we can’t expect politicians to do on their own is to work very hard at tearing down and rebuilding the very systems that got them elected and which make them rich (or richer) in the process.
There are lots of groups and lots ways for you to get involved and to add your voice to growing chorus. The ones that I endorse and that I strongly encourage you to learn more about and to get behind are listed below. Together, we can make our voices heard and we can make a difference.
“This report examines the issues related to the proposed TPP, the state and substance of the negotiations (to the degree that the information is publically available), the specific areas under negotiation, the policy and economic contexts in which the TPP would fit, and the issues for Congress that the TPP presents. The report will be revised and updated as events warrant.” (excerpt from Introduction; page 2)
This blog post pulls out some of what I thought were some of the more interesting and revealing passages, along with some thoughts and questions I have about them.
From the Summary
Twenty-nine chapters in the agreement are under discussion. The United States is negotiating market access for goods, services, and agriculture with countries with which it does not currently have FTAs: Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.
Outside of Japan, I’m struggling to see the attraction these other markets represent. Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam have a combined population of 124.7 million people and a combined GDP of $629 billion. We import a whopping $49.7 billion from and export an even more abysmal $20.9 billion to these 4 countries.
The present negotiations are not being conducted under the auspices of formal trade promotion authority (TPA)—the latest TPA expired on July 1, 2007—although the Administration informally is following the procedures of the former TPA. If TPP implementing legislation is brought to Congress, TPA may need to be considered if the legislation is not to be subject to potentially debilitating amendments or rejection.
Setting the tone right from the start: without TPA – aka Fast Tracking – the TPP could be, “subject to potentially debilitating amendments or rejection.” It’s only going to be considered to be that to its proponents, isn’t it?
From the Introduction
The TPP draws congressional interest on a number of fronts. Congress would have to approve implementing legislation for U.S. commitments under the agreement to enter into force. In addition, under long-established executive-legislative practice, the Administration notifies and consults with congressional leaders, before, during, and after trade agreements have been negotiated.
The “before” and “during” consultations are apparently missing if we’re to believe representatives like Alan Grayson, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Warren and all the co-signors of letters from both the House and the Senate to the president expressing their concerns about this treaty.
This report examines the issues related to the proposed TPP, the state and substance of the negotiations (to the degree that the information is publically available), the specific areas under negotiation, the policy and economic contexts in which the TPP would fit, and the issues for Congress that the TPP presents. The report will be revised and updated as events warrant. (page 2)
“This report examines the issues…” This isn’t the same and shouldn’t be confused with the USTR keeping the Congress informed about what is being negotiated. If the USTR was doing that, Wikileaks wouldn’t need to leak documents, would they?
U.S. participation in TPP negotiations serves several strategic goals in U.S. trade policy. First, it continues and expands a U.S. trade policy strategy that began with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into force in 1994, of using FTAs to promote trade liberalization and potentially to spark multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The George W. Bush Administration expanded the use of this strategy under the rubric of “competitive liberalization,” negotiating 11 FTAs with 16 countries. The last three of these FTAs—with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea—were approved by Congress in 2011. However, the future direction of this policy was uncertain, given the low commercial value of some of these agreements and lack of new obvious partner countries. Meanwhile, an increasing web of bilateral and regional FTAs, were being concluded among other parties in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide. The Bush Administration’s and then the Obama Administration’s adoption of the TPP signaled that the United States remains engaged in regional free trade negotiations. (page 4)
So, how is the TPP not NAFTA on steroids?
Japan’s membership in the TPP with the United States would constitute a de facto U.S.-Japan FTA. A large segment of the U.S. business community has expressed support for Japanese participation in the TPP, if Japan can resolve long-standing issues on access to its markets for U.S. goods, services, and agriculture. However, the Detroit-based U.S. auto industry, the United Autoworkers union, and Members of Congress with a large auto-industry presence in their districts have expressed strong opposition. Other segments of the U.S. business community have expressed support for Japan’s entry into the TPP negotiations, although some have conditioned their support on Japan’s willingness to address long-standing issues. (page 16)
Not all industries and unions are expressing support for the TPP.
The draft TPP outline indicates that financial services, including insurance and insurance-related services, banking and related services, as well as auxiliary services of a financial nature, will be addressed in a separate chapter as in previous FTAs. (page 23)
Financial services getting its own chapter. Can anyone believe that that’s one that, without question, has global implications. Wouldn’t we love to know the details about what’s being negotiated on it? I’d settle for knowing that elected representatives like Senator Warren had the details.
According to the November 2011 outline, as in previous U.S. FTAs, the TPP will have a separate chapter on telecommunications trade. The TPP is to promote access to telecommunications networks for foreign services suppliers and transparency of regulations pertaining to telecommunications services. Along with these objectives, the United States sought and obtained in the KORUS FTA commitments to allow U.S. investment in foreign telecommunications companies.
Negotiations over the services provisions likely will lead to controversy between the developed countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore, and developing countries. Developed countries have pushed for greater market access for services. Developing countries have been more cautious on liberalization in services trade as they fear competition in sectors they view as a source of domestic employment and worry about the political implications forcing open sectors that are often controlled by politically powerful interests. Also, the United States may also be challenged to open its market to providers of maritime services. The United States has also been pressed to liberalize access to its market through the so-called mode-4 delivery temporary entry of personnel to provide services. No U.S. FTA negotiated after the agreements with Chile and Singapore agreements includes provisions on the temporary movement of personnel. (page 24)
Another separate chapter, this one seemingly prime for the likes of Verizon, AT&T, and the globe’s largest equipment makers to build and run networks in developing nations and with great economies of scale that give them huge advantage over any domestic companies which actually would innovate instead of stifle innovation the way the above oligarchs have in the U.S.
This would also seem to open up the US market for the importation of extremely cheap overseas labor: liberalized “access to its (U.S.) market through the so-called mode-4 delivery temporary entry of personnel to provide services.”
In the 112th Congress, 68 Members of Congress wrote to President Obama to urge the Administration not to negotiate government procurement provisions that would limit the application of Buy American provisions through extension of government procurement opportunities and obligations to TPP partner countries. However, Canada reportedly tabled a proposal during the Singapore round that would obligate sub-federal entities to open procurement projects funded by a central government to competition from firms in TPP countries. (page 25)
No big deal, I guess, if we’re ok with our tax dollars going to pay foreign corporations who underbid and win government contracts. What’s to keep them from importing cheaper labor instead of hiring American workers?
And what do we get in return? Domestic companies who can now bid for and win foreign government contracts for which they can be pretty much counted on to hire local and cheaper labor in those overseas markets.
Reactions to USTR’s reported new proposal have been critical of the change in approach and say it raises additional questions. Five anti-smoking groups expressed disappointment that USTR retreated from its earlier proposal that would have made it more difficult for tobacco companies to challenge domestic tobacco control measures under trade agreements. These groups note that USTR’s latest approach is “far weaker” than originally envisioned because it does not recognize tobacco as a “uniquely harmful product” or provide a way for countries to regulate tobacco in order to reduce its use. They also point out the new language would not cover lawsuits filed by tobacco firms and would not provide countries that have strong tobacco control measures with the protection needed to fend off challenges by the tobacco industry. (page 32-33)
Technical barriers to trade (TBT) are standards and regulations that are intended ostensibly to protect the health and safety of consumers and for other legitimate purposes, but through design or implementation, discriminate against imports. In order to minimize trade distortion, WTO members must adhere to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The TBT Agreement covers voluntary standards that industries apply, technical regulations that governments impose for health and safety purposes, and assessment procedures that governments employ to determine that a product meets required standards. The TBT Agreement establishes rules and procedures for member countries to follow, including making sure that standards, technical regulations, and conforming assessment procedures are applied non-discriminately and in a manner not more trade restrictive than necessary. It addition, it requires that members practice transparency as regulations are developed and applied, that international standards are used where appropriate, and that the domestic technical regulations of trading partners are recognized as equivalent to domestic regulations when possible. (page 40)
The TBT Agreement seems designed to essentially put decisions about standards and regulations into the hands of corporations.
Foreign Investment (pages 41-42)
This entire section, which includes discussion on the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, is evidence that this document actually is only a primer. There’s nothing about what is being negotiated or even how any issue will be negotiated under ISDS.
The issue of the treatment of worker rights in the TPP has provoked debate among TPP partners and among U.S. stakeholders. In late December 2011, the United States reportedly submitted a proposal on labor issues to the other TPP partners. According to one report, the proposal largely reflects the requirements contained in the May 10th Agreement that countries should uphold core ILO principles. The proposal reportedly would go further by indicting how these principles would be implemented by requiring countries to have labor laws related to minimum wage requirements, work time, and occupational health and safety. The U.S. proposal reportedly would also require TPP countries to take measures to reduce trade in products made through forced or child labor and to apply labor laws to export processing zones and free trade zones. To date, none of this information has been corroborated publically by U.S. officials. (page 44)
“To date, none of this information has been corroborated publically by U.S. officials.”
Though some business groups, government officials, and labor groups have all expressed an interest in strong SOE provisions in the TPP, it remains unclear what form such provisions may take. (page 47)
More proof this document is only a primer and offers little to nothing about what is currently being negotiated. If there’s one thing I would think there would be transparency about, the concern and worry about State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) would be it.
In the case of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand had concerns about Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry. The United States was also interested in leveraging action on Canada’s long languishing legislation to modernize its copyright laws. In return for entry in the talks, Canada and Mexico reportedly agreed not to seek to reopen chapters already agreed in the TPP, or possibly, sub-chapters that contained areas of agreement. In the end, because of the sensitivity of the issues under discussion to the countries involved, outside of the negotiators themselves, it may never be known what commitments were made to gain participation in the talks, if any. (page 53)