It’s On #MiddleClass America to Save America

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.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10

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 herehere, 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.

(Read more: The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor)

Winners… and Even Bigger Winners

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.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10

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

Source: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/a_graph_im_trying_to_understan.html
Source: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/a_graph_im_trying_to_understan.html

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.

Wealth of Congress
Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/averages.php

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?

How’s that possible? How does one come to such conclusions? Simple. Take another look at the chart above. We are governed today almost exclusively by the rich.

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.

We can save America. We’re the only ones who can.

http://anticorruptionact.org/
http://anticorruptionact.org/

The American Anti-Corruption Act (http://unitedrepublic.actionkit.com/event/cosponsor/9815/)

https://represent.us/
https://represent.us/

Represent.us (https://represent.us/)

https://movetoamend.org/
https://movetoamend.org/

Move To Amend (https://movetoamend.org/)

http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/

Coffee Party USA no longer has my support or endorsement. Click here if you’re curious as to why that is, and please drop me a Comment if you see any links to them on this site I may have missed.

 

Sources:

The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power,
http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/crisis-middle-class-and-american-power

Average Wealth of Members of Congress,
http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/averages.php

The Decline Of The US Middle Class Is Getting Even Worse [CHARTS],
http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10

Some thoughts — and graphs — on inequality and income,
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/a_graph_im_trying_to_understan.html

Election 2012: The Big Picture Shows Record Cost of Winning a Seat in Congress,
http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/06/2012-overview.html

 

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Poison Alphabet Soup: #TPP, #TTIP, #ISDS

TPP Why So SecretImagine a dystopian future in which foreign corporations sue for and win millions and even billions of our tax dollars in damages while exercising incredible and corrupting influence over our elected leaders to change, overturn, or create laws that benefit companies at the expense of our safety and our liberties.

Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Not to those paying attention to the alphabet soup of the TPP, TTIP, and ISDS.

A Recipe for Poison

The people paying attention to international trade agreements being negotiated are warning us that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are going to do more damage to our economy than any trade agreements before them. That includes NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which most people now credit (blame) for having put the final nails into the coffin of good-paying, middle class jobs in heavy industry and manufacturing in America.

The people paying attention to the TPP and TTIP are warning us about the decision-making vehicle in these agreements called investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS.

ISDS, they tell us, puts all of the power about what is and isn’t legal into the hands of “investors” – the private, big money interests and the people running multinational corporations. The TPP and the TTIP with their respective ISDS provisions will mean that we citizens and the government officials we elect to represent us will be all but powerless to stop corporations from all but the most overtly heinous acts. That’s how ISDS is currently designed to work.

Corporations vs Democracy

Noted author and Guardian contributor, George Monbiot, calls the TTIP a “full frontal assault on democracy.” He warns us about, “…the remarkable ability it <TTIP  and ISDS> would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens.”

These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.

You don’t believe it? Here’s what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

Jim Hightower offers a thorough and plain language assessment of what is known about the risks of the TPP in his August Lowdown, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It’s a corporate coup d’etat–against us!” In this blog, Jim explains….

TPP is a “trade deal” that mostly does not deal with trade. In fact, of the 29 chapters in this document, only five cover traditional trade matters!

The other two dozen chapters amount to a devilish “partnership” for corporate protectionism. They create sweeping new “rights” and escape hatches to protect multinational corporations from accountability to our governments… and to us.

The issues left to corporations to govern over include food safety and GMOs, fracking, jobs, drug prices, and internet freedoms.

EU Says…

The EU, to its credit, spelled out in their November 26th fact sheet, “Investment Protection and Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement in EU agreements”, what they see as the case for reforming investor protections as part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The entire document is very much worth the read. There are some encouraging signs in it which I’ll get to in a minute. It must be noted, however, that they reveal the fallacy of their basic underlying premise immediately in the opening paragraph of the executive summary:

Investment protection provisions, including investor-state dispute settlement are 
important for investment flows. They have generally worked well. However, the 
system needs improvements. These relate to finding a better balance between 
the right of states to regulate and the need to protect investors, as well as 
to making sure the arbitration system itself is above reproach e.g. transparency, 
arbitrator appointments and costs of the proceedings. (Emphasis added)

Since when do investors need “protection” from “the rights of states?”

I’m thinking that the answer to that question must be something like, “When the country in which the investor has a financial interest decides that corporate operations are no longer desirable and might even be detrimental to that country’s people and their well-being, and when said country decides to terminate or suspend such operations which then puts investor returns and corporate profits at some risk.”

In other words, when profits are more important than people.

That said, and if the EU is to be believed, the document goes into some detail about how they want to protect the sovereignty of nations, allow citizens and NGOs to have a voice, and how they plan to incorporate financial disincentives to keep frivolous cases from being brought before tribunals comprised of people both parties must approve.

This last point is of particular interest and concern to those watching the Obama administration and the US Trade Representatives: who will sit on the TPP tribunal that decides what corporations can and cannot do in a participating nation?

Which brings us to this question. Where’s the Obama administration’s fact sheet on the TPP, and WHY ALL THE SECRECY???

Could it be that the president and the 600 or so corporations working on the TPP really are concerned about a backlash if Americans were to fully understand the TPP?

What Can We As Citizens Do About It?

Plenty!

Here’s a short list of resources and ACTIONS you can take right now!

1. Template email you can send to lead TPP negotiator, Stan McCoy (smccoy@ustr.eop.gov), and his team at The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (correspondence@ustr.eop.gov), as well as a list of Organizations and Resources About #TPP to inform and educate yourself and others

2. Public Citizen’s petitions to release the TPP draft text, have Congress reject fast tracking, as well as a sample script for calling your representative to voice your concerns directly

3. Citizens Trade Campaign’s long list of actions you can support in opposition to TPP and fast tracking

4. Public Knowledge’s letter to the president you can send demanding openness in the TPP’s IP (intellectual property) chapter

5. Followers of CoffeePartyUSA can encourage that organization to take a stand on the TPP at http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/tpp_petition

6. Help to #GetMoneyOut of politics by becoming a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the American Anti-Corruption Act

As always, please feel free to add to this list in the Comments, and please share this and everything else you can find about the TPP, TTIP, and ISDS on social media.

We can still influence DC if enough of us speak up, speak out, and take action!

 

UPDATE 12/9/2013

I still vehemently oppose him and will never vote for him, but today I will thank my Congressman, Republican Tim Murphy, for opposing fast tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). His reasoning is wrong – we have far more to be concerned about from the big money and corporate takeover of this treaty and our government in general than we do from foreign countries breaking trade rules – but at least he’s on the correct side of the fast track issue for now.

Murphy on TPP Fast Track

Ted Cruz’s 12-Step Program for Citizenship

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Ted Cruz loves to tout how his dad, Rafael, got here the “right way.”

Here’s the 12-step program Rafael followed. It’s so simple why doesn’t every immigrant simply follow it?

1. Fight alongside Communists in a revolution to overthrow a U.S.-backed leader

2. Get captured by the government forces

3. Have father’s lawyer friend bribe officials to get released

4. Get 4-year student visa to attend college in the United States

5. Wash dishes 7 days a week for 50 cents an hour to pay your way through the University of Texas (That is some cheap tuition!)

6. Obtain political asylum in the U.S. when your student visa runs out

7. Get a green card.

8. Marry an American woman

9. Move to Canada and have a baby who eventually grows up to be elected as a tea partying Senator from – you guessed it – Texas

10. Work in the Canadian oil industry

11. Become a Canadian citizen

12. Change your mind, come back to America, and become a US citizen 48 years after leaving your homeland, citing your own “laziness” for why it took so long

Ted Cruz is a hateful fraud and a liar.

Anyone who sides with him on immigration needs to understand what a tortured lie his so-called “right way” story is about his father and how hypocritical he is on immigration.

Read or listen to Rafael tell his own story – and catch Ted’s lies about it – here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/06/20/193585553/how-ted-cruzs-father-shaped-his-views-on-immigration