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One Way or the Other

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Democracy thrives on altruistic patriotism; capitalism thrives on unbridled greed. While both political parties agree that this is the worst economic event since the Great Depression, they have somewhat different ideas about how to fix it. The Democrats in Congress have cobbled together a stimulus package, and yes it is full of bobbles such as Charles Schumer's tax credit subsidy for mass transit riders and tax credits for Hollywood. The Republicans have formulated an alternative stimulus plan, the same plan that they have been pushing for the last thirty years, tax cuts and credits for corporations and the wealthy.

The Republican leadership, after pledging to the President to work in a bipartisan manner, on Friday returned to Capitol Hill and attacked the Democrat's plan like hungry lions on a wildebeest. They complained about the $600 million for new cars. Let's see, $600 million divided by $25,000 is 2,400, that amount divided by 50 states, that is 48 cars per state. American cars, to keep American workers working. The Republicans are also upset about $200 million to re-sod the National Mall in Washington; this after Republicans approved $592 million to build an embassy in Baghdad the size of Vatican City with annual operating costs of $1.2 billion dollars.

The House version of the bill includes $275 billion in tax cuts; the Senate bill has $342 billion in temporary tax breaks to appease the Republicans but they are still unhappy because there is increased funding for family planning and $20 billion for food assistance. Too much pork and not enough stimulus, they cry, but the Republicans don't have a real alternative plan. Their plan is to hobble this plan. To delay, decry and defame this plan for as long as possible. If they can delay it until March or April, then there won't be enough time to process the money. Or to let out the contracts before September, and then it will be too late to begin construction this year in the northern tier of states, and Rush Limbaugh gets his wish to see this President fail.

If this was just a highway bill or an education bill, I would chalk it up to plain old politics. However, millions of Americans are shivering under blankets because they can't afford to turn the heat up. and they live in dread of going to their mailbox each day for fear of what they might find. Meanwhile, the Congressmen and women live the sumptuous life of the top 1%. They drink the best whiskey and turn the heat all the way up. They come in in the morning when they choose and leave when they get tired. Both sides are playing politics while millions suffer, men, women and children, who through no fault of their own find their jobs gone and their futures dimmed.

Is capitalism a cancer that eats away at representative democracy? Or is democracy just too weak to hold back the forces of rapacious greed? The stimulus package is a bad bill, but it is a bill that is trying to fix an airplane while in flight. It is too small, too top heavy, too unimaginative, and if it is not passed soon it will be too late. The Republicans remind me of taking children to Disneyland. You buy them cotton candy and balloons but when the car breaks down on the way home, they fold their arms and ask, "Why should I help push the car? What's in it for me? Maybe if you'll take me back to Disneyland I might consider it!"

What has happened to the party of freedom fries? Where have all those sunshine patriots with their flag pins affixed fled to? Give me tax cuts or give me death! 46 states are facing budget shortfalls. California is in the hole to the tune of $40 billion and if a solution isn't found by Friday California will begin to furlough workers and stop payments to vendors and creditors.

That $40 billion shortfall is 35% of the general fund budget. Any ideas as to how to cut 35%? California is by far the biggest and the first, but New York, Florida, and New Jersey are right behind. What will happen when state retirement checks start to bounce? When contractors start to lay off workers because the state can't pay them in a timely manner? This is not some science fiction scenario of a dark, distant future, this is next week in California.

sh*t rolls downhill and money runs uphill. As our Congress is living it up on Capitol Hill, we the people are knee-deep in the big squishy. The crisis hasn't reached them; they haven't received their disconnect notices yet. The stimulus bill includes $87 billion in increased Medicaid funding, without which many states will have to discontinue services. Just put up the closed sign and go home and let the poor do without and the doctors with claims do without and the hospitals do without, and it just keeps rolling downhill and just keeps getting deeper.

Conservative pundits call this Obama's New Deal and the media repeats the ridiculous Republican assertion that Obama's stimulus package is larger than FDR's New Deal. In real dollars, in 1932 New Deal spending was $600 billion annually, but by 1936-37 it had grown to almost $900 billion for a country of only 120 million. Obama's is a one-shot deal, but no, it won't be. It's the same mistake that was made by the New Deal, to slowly increase the spending while the situation deteriorates. The correct answer is more money up front and less later.

To our Congress ensconced in their palace of mirrors, the travails of a few millions of the lesser minions mean nothing when compared to the bigger issues of protecting the castles of their liege lords from relentless assaults on their taxable income. They must maintain their privilege of arbitrating labor and their divine right to control all that their eye sees. The game is as follows, if the Obama stimulus plan has some success at reviving the economy, Republicans lose ground in 2010. If the plan is delayed or is unsuccessful, or is delayed and hampered enough to be ineffective, Republicans would gain ground.

During FDR's first term Republicans and business interests attempted to engineer a coup, and in 1937 Roosevelt accused big business of again trying to create a new depression to cause the failure of the New Deal and to bring Republicans back to power. You see, Rush Limbaugh's ideas are not new or even slightly original.

Will the coal industry sit idly by and watch as the Obama administration pushes for green energy? Will the medical industry allow any program to pass that it doesn't benefit from? And the insurance companies? Even the "Buy American" provisions of the bill have been attacked. But even these are partisan knee-jerk attacks have prompted Congress to promise to water them down. The EU complained, but we are at parity with the EU. Mexico complained but Mexico is a wholly-owned subsidiary of US corporate conglomerates. They say what they are told to say, or we'll just find somebody else who will. China whispers but she whispers no.

The apologists argue that it's not so bad, 93% of mortgaged homeowners are making their payments on time. Only 7% of borrowers are behind in their loans, but the iceberg that pierced the Titanic's hull did so with a 1% hole. The flames that destroyed the Hindenburg grew quickly from a small spark. It was 5% of borrowers behind in their loans last year, and 3% the year before that. The mortgage industry operates on large volumes and small margins so 7% is nearing the abandon ship mark.

So how do we solve this dilemma? We have a government that can't or won't put aside politics even for the good of the people in a crisis. Weighed down by special interests and partisan maneuvering, when we really need them to reach deep down inside themselves and do the right thing, we get at best half a loaf, and at worst nothing.

The New Deal's goal was to rescue Capitalism and to put it on a treadmill of public good. Maybe it can't be rescued; perhaps it's too dangerous a beast to be controlled. It's tentacles and machinations will always overcome a two-party democracy--especially a democracy of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Maybe the Republican pundits are right, when they say the New Deal was a failure but not for the reasons that they think but because it didn't strangle Capitalism in its bed when they had the chance.
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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that (more...)

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