Aug 262010
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Article first published as Americans Need Jobs on Technorati.

We’re in a heap of hurt here people. Unemployment is stuck at 9.5%, and real unemployment, which includes those who have stopped looking for work, is still at 16.5%. This means we have nearly 30 million Americans competing at a ratio of 5-to-1 for what jobs are presently available. A continued jobless recovery with the possibility of a double-dip recession — what’s the average American to do?

People can help improve the situation by voicing their opposition to the anti-job policies promoted by certain factions in the federal government. The current focus on the deficit would be one such item. The last thing we need now is to further reduce the purchasing power of average Americans by trying to cut deficits at the expense of the middle and working classes. We successfully climbed our way out of a 122% deficit after World War 2; we’ll climb out of today’s 94% deficit too. The screech of the deficit hawks is really nothing but a wrong-minded attempt to draw attention from where it belongs — on job creation.

Concerned citizens can also make a difference by ignoring the fear mongers and voicing support for programs designed to help average Americans and create jobs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is one such program. Though it’s taken a beating from conservative trash talkers, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the program has created between 2 million and 4 million full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs, helped raise the GDP, and served to restrain further increases in unemployment. The only real problem with the stimulus is that it was too small.

If citizens really want to make progress, they need to compliment the above with a full court press on the Obama economic team. The trillions poured into Wall Street must at this point be considered a bad investment. The money cycle is still stalled, with small business and average Americans frozen out, while the banks that were saved are enjoying free money from the Fed and still partaking of the gambling practices that crashed the economy. Wall Street greed is the closest thing there is to a direct cause of these dire economic times — you can’t remove 8 million jobs from the economy and just keep on truckin’. The Obama team can, at the very least, increase the price of money to force these thieves to lend again. Obama can also appoint an advocate of the middle class to chair the newly created CFPB.

The last major part of the job picture is the impact of globalization. Unlike other areas where the American people must exert their will through political pressure, including their votes, The People can actually intervene directly in the trade imbalance. They can do so by buying American, which in general terms means shopping somewhere besides Wal-Mart. The nation’s largest retailer identifies more than 70% of its products as originating in China, and most of the rest from its other 47 foreign sources. Wal-Mart is the largest importer of goods from China and a direct contributor to the estimated 1.8 million jobs American jobs lost as a result.

Of course, a change in shopping habits alone will not remedy the situation. One key reason that China now enjoys such a trade advantage is the manipulation of the value of their currency. Estimated to be undervalued by approximately 40%, it’s impossible for American manufacturers to compete. Couple their artificial currency valuation with trade agreements that essentially allow them to pilfer the intellectual property of competitors, and the picture really starts to form. Add to this, their total disregard for the environment and regulations to protect it, and it becomes crystal clear that the deck is stacked. China enjoyed a $28.7 billion trade surplus in July — the U.S. accounted for $26 billion of that. These issues must be addressed by the federal government.

If Americans are ever again to enjoy anything resembling full employment and decent wages, The People must push the government to do the right thing. Businesses will do what serves business, and as in the case of Wal-Mart, what’s good for business isn’t always good for the American people. Fortunately, government is charged with serving the needs of The People — we just need to join together and remind them of that.

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Aug 242010
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President Obama spoke to the people of America on Saturday. With the campaign season for the fall election heating up, his message was focused on the insidious effects of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United case. The President cited the recent “flood of attack ads, run by shadowy groups with harmless sounding names.” He contended that the people deserve to know who’s behind these campaign ads, and argued that the Disclose Act, which is being blocked by Senate Republicans, is an effective device to accomplish that end.

Legislation that’s directed at greater disclosure by donors, the Disclose Act would require, “special interest group officials to physically appear at the end of campaign ads they sponsor, acknowledging their campaign contributions.” It would also prevent foreign run entities from interfering in our election process, undoing another detrimental side effect of Citizens United. The bill was already passed by the House, with 2 Republicans voting in favor, along with all but 30 Democrats. But the legislation has been stalled since it reached the Senate.

Falling into the prevalent pattern of Senate dysfunction, the Disclose Act is just another bill to find itself the victim of Republican obstruction. Needing one more vote to gain cloture and avoid filibuster, Americans will not gain knowledge of the people behind the campaign ads unless Democrats can get at least one Republican to break ranks and put The People above the Party.

Asked for comment on the legislation, Mitch “Tax cuts pay for themselves” McConnell offered more nonsensical blather. According to McConnell, “The president says this bill is about transparency. It’s transparent all right. It’s a transparent effort to rig the fall elections.” So, in the Senate Minority Leader’s own words, informing voters of who’s paying for campaign attack ads somehow amounts to rigging the election.

I’m sure that Senator McConnell had no intent of supporting the President’s position, but based on his own comments, it’s hard to refute what President Obama had to say regarding Republican opposition to the bill, “This can only mean that the leaders of the other party want to keep the public in the dark.” The President added that, “They don’t want you to know which interests are paying for the ads. The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”

The November election will be laced with illegitimate attack ads of all sorts, and those ads will come from both sides. This has long been the case, and now the problem has been magnified by the Citizens United decision. The Disclose Act is essential legislation that can’t prevent the ads, but can at least inform the voters who’s behind them. It’s like truth in advertising 101, and the Republicans want no part of it. That fact alone should call their position into question.

Concerned voters need to speak out and make sure their representatives understand that We the People want to know. Voters want transparency. Big-Money has already hijacked the American government, and the Supreme Court, through Citizens United, has given them yet another avenue to exert their will. Corporations are not people, and in the long term, our nation needs reform to undo the damage of this decision. Such reform is already underway in the form of a constitutional amendment carrying 74 cosponsors in the House. People can also voice their support at Free Speech for People.

Like campaign finance reform, the Disclose Act should have nothing to do with partisan differences. The fact that it is being debated along party lines should be sufficient cause to make people stand up and take notice. Citizens United was anti-democracy at its very worst. To fight against its reform is un-American.

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Aug 232010
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There are 537 elected officials representing all Americans in our federal government. So, disregarding the inequalities that result from congressional district sizing and the 2-per-state allocation of Senate seats, this means that each elected official represents, on average, around 575,000 Americans. This number alone should raise an eyebrow or two, in that it begs the question of adequate representation, but while the ratio does further dilute the voice of the average person, its impact pales when compared to the effects of a government sold to the highest bidder.

Washington, long ago, lost any semblance of legitimate representation of The People. Being one voice in a half-million may seem weak, but the reality is that the average person’s voice is far smaller than that. Both the Presidency and the Congress of 21st Century America have been purchased, and unless you have tens of thousands of dollars to contribute to election campaigns, you really have no voice at all.

Elections are costly. Contributions for the 2008 federal campaign totaled $5.3 billion. The average winner of a House seat spent $1.4 million while the average Senate seat went for $8.5 million. Sure, there are many small donors; in fact, about half of the 2008 money came from donations of under $200. Unfortunately, that means the other half came from larger donations, with $1.9 billion coming from donations over $2,300, and $974 million in large donations — over $10,000.

It’s these large donations that do more than merely help support a candidate; they are the currency of government. The average Joe, who donates $10 or $25 to their favorite candidate, expects nothing specific in return, but such is not the case for the Goldman Sachs of the world. As expected, in the shadow of the housing/banking crash, the 2008 election was largely financed by big banks, insurance companies and real estate. The largest contributor to the 2008 election, this sector donated $477 million. And companies like Goldman, who topped bank spenders at more then $7 million, and JPMorgan and Citigroup, who each coughed up over $5 million, don’t spend money unless it improves profits.

The fact that no financial reform legislation was passed, for more than two years after Bear Stearns crashed and started the collapse of the economy, is prima facie evidence of the power of campaign capital. It’s no coincidence that the top donor for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), the chair of the Senate’s committee for banking and housing, is the securities and banking sector — the very people he’s charged to oversee. The nearly $5 million investment the sector made in contributions, over the 2008 and 2010 cycles, to Dodd and the ranking committee Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), not only helped stall legislation for years, but it paid for the diluted excuse for “reform” that was finally passed.

This is but one example of business-as-usual in Washington.  Healthcare legislation wrangled its way through Congress for most of 2009, while the Health industry was busy greasing the skids with $84 million in campaign donations. Their investment was not in vain. It actually produced excellent returns, netting 32 million new government sponsored patients and nothing in the way of real reform. Energy, Communication/Electronics, Trial Lawyers, they’re all present, and they’re all spending millions to make sure that any legislation that’s passed is favorable to their business profits. With government so clearly under the control of big-business, is it any wonder why the 61.7% voter turnout for the 2008 election was the high-water mark since 1968?

American voters feel increasingly frustrated with Washington politics, and there’s good reason for it. Regardless of which party people support, it’s becoming more evident with every passing year that the will of The People is being ignored, their voices unheard beneath the din of the corporate campaign hijacking.

Angry conservatives are already gathering under banners proclaiming, “Take our country back!” But the loss of voice in Washington politics isn’t a partisan issue. Campaign funding for the 2010 election, and the control that goes with it, is nearly split down the middle between Democrats and Republicans. There may be legitimate political differences being liberal and conservative voters, but neither is served when special interests have bought and paid for the federal government.

If indeed the country is ever to be taken back, Americans from left and right must join forces on this critical issue. Together, they can put an end to big-money control of Congress. It’s time voters stop falling for the blatant misdirection of party talking points and start demanding results. The American people can take back control of the nation, and the surest path to that end is through real campaign finance reform.

The sad truth is that while votes are the mechanism by which politicians are elected, it’s money that makes campaigns — and campaigns are the means through which votes are secured. Today’s system ensures that elected officials are beholding to the big-money donors who finance their election. The People are but pawns in this game of quid pro quo, and they will remain so until and unless they unite and change the system that allows this corruption to exist.

Like students left with the huge loan balances, the present system ensures that our elected officials are left with huge favor balances on their books. To think that politicians will bite the hand that feeds them and vote against the interests of their big-money benefactors is delusional at best. To take back the country, The People must take back the Congress, and to take back the Congress, the politicians must once again be beholding, not to influence peddling special interests, but to the people who elect them. One person, one vote must again reflect the control of the nation.

There’s only one way to make this happen, and that’s through public financing of elections. It’s already working in several states in the form of Clean Elections. And there’s a bipartisan bill in the House and also the Senate to bring similar reform to Washington. Public financing will require that candidates secure significant funding in small donations from their constituents before qualifying for public money. But once established as a viable candidate, public funding would be allocated in amounts sufficient to finance a competitive campaign.

The power of such a system is obvious. For a relatively small investment, American voters could actually ensure that elected officials would owe their loyalty to no one but the people who elected them. It would in essence break the favor bank.

But the benefits of public campaign financing don’t end with properly placed loyalties. The investment would also pay dividends in productivity, as it would mitigate the demand for fund raising by incumbents. In the present system, officials start focusing on the next election cycle as soon as they’re elected. Estimates place fund raising efforts for members of Congress at 20% to 40% of their time. With so much misuse of time, is it any wonder they get so little done? It’s like a business that pays its employees to look for another job two days out of every week.

Public campaign finance is not a silver bullet; it won’t by itself bring the federal government back under the control of The People, but without it — there is no hope of that happening. The removal of special interest influence on election campaigns is a critical first step for Americans to take back the country. Couple public financing with preferential voting, which would allow a significant increase in votes for third party candidates, add congressional term limits and weld shut the revolving lobbyist door, and America may once again return to a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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