Damaged Democracy

Given the stark desperation stalking so many communities around an America oozing from miseries embedded in the stagnant economy, it’s almost an inane exercise to contemplate the state-of-democracy in this nation on July 4th -? Independence Day.

All of the flag waving, fireworks and fun of this national holiday can’t mask the disturbing fact that democracy in America is under unprecedented onslaught from forces intent on engaging in economic exploitation comparable to the colonial crown domination that compelled Americans to rebel against England over two hundred years ago.

Examples of this onslaught abound with one of the most pronounced being federal and state level elected officials ? overwhelming Republican ? bludgeoning and eliminating benefits that have aided the middle class and the poor, in the name of budget balancing austerity, while simultaneously battling to protect the profits and assets of the wealthy.

A “long train of abuses” by the King of England is what triggered America’s then leaders to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia.

Today those usurping what the Declaration defined as “unalienable rights” are not a despotic king and his royal court but corporate titans and the conservative elected officials dutifully serving the interests of wealth.

In 2011 public sector employees have faced unprecedented assaults against rights like their right to collective bargaining by Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states (and by Democrats in Massachusetts). These assaults cripple the capacity of public employees to attain what the Declaration called the desired “pursuit of happiness.”

A few days before July 4th 2011 New Jersey’s bombastic Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed a proposal to generate $600-million for the revenue-starved Garden State through imposing a measly 1.78 percent increase in the tax paid by millionaires?a tax that would expire in two-years.

Christie, who is often touted as a GOP presidential prospect, defended his tax break-bestowing veto as a case of stopping what he feared might be an exodus of 16,000 millionaires, all chaffing at that 1.78 percent (temporary) tax increase.

Days before his veto helping millionaires, Christie rammed through legislation raising pension and health care contributions by all public employees in New Jersey.

That increase in contributions by public employees amounts to a pay cut of nearly $4,000 per year per employee ? a burden more onerous than the proposed tax increase on millionaires.

Christie’s salary cut for public employees is “going to withdraw purchasing power from the New Jersey economy ? an economy already dead last in creating jobs,” observed Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations Professor Jeffery Keefe.

While shielding millionaires from his duplicitous demands for “shared-sacrifice,” Gov. Christie exhibited his brand of imposing the “absolute Despotism” referenced in the Declaration of Independence.

Christie attacked the budget passed by theDemocrats legislature, cutting funds for programs helping sexually abused children, smashing after-school programs designed to keep children safe, slashing college scholarships for low-income students, snatching millions earmarked for nursing homes, reducing health care for the working poor and all but eliminating block grant assistance to that state’s poorest cities ? actions guaranteeing accelerated pain on those already burdened by economic malaise and misery.

Paralleling Christie’s budget bullying actions, in the next-door state of Pennsylvania the Republican- controlled legislature approved a state budget a few days before July 4th which showers big breaks on those with big money while increasing the misery of most of the state’s residents through deep cuts in funding for critical services like public education and health care.

“The budget provides tax breaks to business, but cuts funding to homeless shelters and Meals on Wheels,” the Director of the non-partisan Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Sharon Ward said in a prepared statement.

This newly enacted budget, Ward noted, “gives natural gas drillers a free pass once again” in the form of no taxation on the mega-millions that industry to making from Pennsylvania’s natural gas rich Marcellus Shale formations.

A tax on Marcellus Shale gas extraction, a type of tax that is used by every other gas-producing state in the country, even energy-company-friendly Texas, could pump hundreds of millions into the Pennsylvania state treasury to off-set budget balancing cuts in desperately needed social services.

A calculator on revenue lost because of Pennsylvania’s failure to enact a drilling tax, maintained by the Budget and Policy Center, eclipsed $195.5 million recently.

Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett, who opposes taxing the Marcellus Shale industry that contributed heavily to his election campaign, cut day care funding for low-income working parents.

Corbett’s cruel cut creates yet another crisis for the working poor by decreasing the ability of those parents to continue working because they cannot afford to retain quality care for their children.

A definition of democracy is: the principle of equality of rights, opportunity and treatment.

The no new taxes/cut taxes stance pushed as holy writ by conservative Republican politicians on behalf of their wealthy benefactors is a larger contributor to the horrific government budget deficits at state and national levels than social programs or pensions for government workers ? wo items conservatives are attacking, allegedly to reduce budget deficits.

Yet, as imminent economist and University of Pennsylvania Professor Bernard Anderson noted in analysis, jobs creation actually increased following a tax increase by President Clinton, while jobs creation decreased following the tax cuts enacted by President Bush.

“The point is that there is no statistical evidence to support the argument that increasing taxes on high income groups will stifle job creation,” Anderson stated.

“The Bush tax cuts spurred investment in financial instruments and capital outflows to overseas facilities. The tax cuts contributed little to domestic job creation,” Anderson continued. “They key issue now is not deficit reduction or new revenue; economic growth requires both.”

Compassion is a quality of true democracy and certainly children are those that any just democratic society should protect. But cabals of conservatives shamelessy hammer this defenseless group of the needy to help the endlessly greedy.

The Capitol Hill conservatives shrilly castigating President Obama for proposing mild changes in the tax breaks given to oil companies, hedge-fund managers and corporate jet owners are silent on the fact that during the past two years over two million more American children slipped into poverty, bringing the total of desperately needy children to 16 million, which is the population of two New York Cities.

These newly impoverished are children whose parents lost jobs and homes during this crushing recession.

But many Americans are cold to this plight because of decades of conservative ideological indoctrination which falsely teaches that poverty is a consequence of laziness, and not economic of circumstances beyond the control of persons willing to work ? like those parents of those newly impoverished children.

A CBS “60 Minutes” television program recently aired a segment examining newly impoverished children suffering from economic deprivations while living within miles of Disney World in Orlando, Florida ? the shrine of kid-friendly fun in America.

Florida’s Tea Party Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio ignored the pain of those impoverished children featured in the “60 Minutes” segment, but he lashed out at Obama’s tax break reform proposals as rhetoric “more appropriate for some left-wing strongman than for the President of the United States.”

Where is compassion in democracy when miseries from mass unemployment stalk the majority of citizens who supposedly ‘rule’ in American democracy?

The national unemployment rate in May 2011 registered eight percent among whites and ranged much higher for various non-white groups. The rate for blacks was the highest of any racial group, reaching double that of whites at 16.2%, according to federal figures. And these are the official figures. After a lot of politically motivated tinkering, they no longer include people who have despaired of finding a job, and who have stopped looking, who have given up and taken earlier-than-planned retirement, or who have grabbed the offer of a part-time job while wanting full-time work.

Neither the Democrat-controlled White House and Senate, nor the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have acted to address this long-term mass unemployment.

That bipartisan inaction on attacking structural-joblessness is a disgusting contrast to White House/Capitol Hill actions to bail out big banks and major corporations and to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy — revenue-reducing tax cuts that partly drive the escalating federal budget deficit.

Mass unemployment is a major factor fueling the home mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Interestingly, the two states with the highest foreclosure rates ? Nevada and Arizona ? have developed infamous reputations in the past year for having political leaders who push repressive and regressive proposals to cut education, crack down on immigrants, and cut taxes for the rich, all while curiously doing nothing effective to addressing their outsized foreclosure crisis.

Issuance of the Declaration of Independence led to the Revolutionary War, the winning of which led to the creation of the United States of America ? a nation guided by its Constitution.

The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution declares that a purpose of this democracy is to “promote the general welfare?”

Christie, Corbett and like-minded confederates wearing the mantle of elected officials need to understand that this Preamble’s purpose is not limited to promoting the general welfare of only the wealthy.

LINN WASHINGTON, JR., is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-supported online alternative newspaper just beginning its second year of daily publication.


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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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