Beltway Fantasies – Part 1

Corporate control of the media undermines democracy by displacing reasoned consideration of opposing points of view to the margins of public discourse.  In place of considered arguments, the corporate media simply repeats and amplifies the fallacious and self-serving fantasies of the corporate elites and their representatives in Washington.  As a result we base our economic and social policies on Beltway fantasies that succeed in garnering (bare) majority support but that bear almost no relation to reality or good sense.  These fantasies promote the short-term corporate bottom line at our considerable expense, threaten the viability of our ecosystem and make a mockery of the ideals of democracy for which our fore-bearers organized, fought and often died.  This article, written by the members of the Spilling Ink writers’ collective, is the first in a series of articles written to throw some needed cold water on beltway fantasies.  Comments or suggestions are welcome at http://www.SpillingInk.net.

Fantasy #1:  Regulation is bad – it burdens business, kills jobs, and hurts the economy. (Chris Schell)

Non-existent, poorly designed, weakly administered, under funded and intentionally ignored regulations have killed more jobs, bankrupted more businesses and done more damage to the economy than any over-regulation has ever done.  And that’s just the business and financial regulations.  Most Superfund sites (scenes of environmental destruction) were caused by regulation lapses of one kind or another.  The gulf oil spill – lack of regulation.  And the number of lives saved by regulation of cars, highways, medicines, hospitals, nursing homes, food supply, workplace safety?   Countless.  Someone is always willing to make money by endangering other peoples lives and homes.

Lack of financial regulation, deregulation, or unenforced regulation (through greed or ideological blindness) has been at the root of nearly every major economic disaster of my lifetime.  The Savings and Loan scandal, the buying and dismantling of businesses to raid workers pension funds, the recent housing and financial collapse all resulted in what can only be termed obscene wealth being reaped by bankers, Wall Street financiers and corporate CEOs.  All of these scandals resulted in devastation for working Americans.  This is true class warfare.   Alan Greenspan could have stopped this last collapse but he believed in the free market.  He believed regulation was not needed because Wall Street would not be so blind and greedy to risk economic destruction for short-term greed.  He really nailed that one didn’t he?

Today microsecond trading which makes huge profits for a few while adding value to absolutely nothing could easily be taxed or regulated out of existence but the SEC does nothing.  Today grain and oil prices spike without regard to supply because the Bush administration removed limits on the futures commodity market.  These limits could easily be replaced but Republican appointees on the Federal Trade Commission do not believe it is necessary.  People around the world are starving because of our ideological blindness, including in the Middle East, contributing to the current turmoil there.

Deregulation has consequences.

Fantasy #2. All tax cuts are good all the time. (David Kristjanson-Gural)

This belief follows from the following claims:

i)               that government run services are inefficient and should be replaced by privately run services which are efficient;

ii)             that providing money and assistance to people in need causes them harm because it undermines their initiative and causes them to become more dependent;

iii)            that tax cuts provide an incentive to businesses to increase production and create jobs;

iv)            that wealth and income distribution results from fairly rewarding individual effort so redistributing income through taxation is unjustified.

In fact:

i)               Many government run services are highly efficient and many privately run services are inefficient.  Monopolies, in particular, maximize profits by restricting supply and charging high prices and they lack competitive incentives to innovate.   Adam Smith advocated the regulation or elimination of monopolies because they impose “an absurd tax” in the form of monopoly prices.  Most mature industries – drugs, agriculture, insurance, banking to name a few – are dominated by monopoly.

ii)             Providing money and assistance to people in need most often allows them to regain self-reliance and contribute to their families and communities.  Incidents of welfare fraud or recidivism are very low.  Crime and health costs are higher when we fail to provide assistance to people in need.

iii)            Tax cuts are not associated with greater business investment.  Business investment is governed primarily by the expected future rate of return, which depends highly on the business cycle and consumer confidence.  Cutting taxes simply allows corporations and wealthy individuals to free ride on the social investments taxpayers finance including education, infrastructure, and research and development without which corporations would be less profitable.

iv)            Wealth and income distribution is not the result of individual effort and innovation but largely results from ownership and control of productive or financial assets.  These assets “produce wealth” only because they allow owners to lay claim to the value created by the workers they employ.  Furthermore, social investments in education, research and development, common property in the form of raw materials, the legal and political system – all publicly financed – form a collective basis for the privately acquired wealth.  Taxing income and wealth is a means of ensuring individuals pay their fair share of the social investment.

The belief that cutting taxes is good rests on self-serving beliefs concerning fairness and the role of government.  Many working class people, whose pay has been squeezed by private corporations for 30 years, have been hoodwinked into believing these false claims because taxes are one thing they can affect.  Instead of focusing on cutting taxes, it is time to focus on raising wages, breaking up monopolies and calling into question the legitimacy of corporate profits.

Fantasy #3.  Government should be run like a business.  (Joe Detelj)

This bit of corporate propaganda is actually based on a false equivalency.

A business is chartered for the express purpose of generating profits for the owners. A business offers products and charges what the market will bear in order to maximize these profits.  Any activity that generates revenue, no matter the social costs, is an institutional imperative.

Governments impose taxes in order to generate revenue for investments in infrastructure, human capital and public safety.  Governments are elected to promote the general welfare and are to function with the consent of the governed.  This arrangement was designed to provide a system of checks and balances.

Inadequate revenue is a prescription for bankruptcy for both entities.  The irony of the false equivalency is that were it to be implemented, taxes would be levied on the governments most lucrative market, our wealthiest citizens and businesses and increased substantially.  We would have ideological consistency – government run like a business – but I imagine, public policy that would drive the advocates of business-government equivalency insane with rage.

Fantasy #4: The Tea Party and the Founding Fathers have similar beliefs. (Chris Schell)

Most of the Founders were personally tolerant of others’ religious beliefs. A few were atheists; several were Deists, cafeteria Christians in today’s negative terminology. Most believed in religious tolerance because they had seen the result of religious hatred.   The Founding Fathers were freethinkers, scientists and lawyers – the educated elite of their day. They were at the forefront of scientific discovery and invention and of legal and political thought. Elite, educated, thoughtful, progressive, devoted to knowledge, tolerant.  They were also willing to negotiate and compromise for the sake of political progress. Does this sound like the Tea Party?

Naturally the Founders did not always live up to their ideals. They tolerated racism and bigotry for political success or financial advantage.  They thought land ownership was a requirement for political participation and that wealth should provide a path to political power. They particularly were interested in the rights of white males.  Some – but not all – of these belief dovetail nicely with those of the Tea Party.

But even if you disagree with these judgments, do you really think that Washington, Hamilton, Paine, Adams, Jefferson or Franklin would have any respect for Glen Beck?

Fantasy #5: Republicans Support our Troops. (Charles Sackrey)

Starting in 2003, George W. Bush and the Republicans used a witches’ brew of fraudulent evidence to justify sending over 1,000,000 military personnel to war in Iraq.  Of these, 4,440 died, and 30,000 were wounded.  About one third of the survivors have suffered mental illnesses since their return.  These facts alone dispel the myth that the Republicans support our troops: they sent them to war and to their fate on false pretenses.  (It always needs mentioning that, along with U.S. military losses, at least 125,000 Iraqis have so far died and 2.5 million have been displaced.)

Once the U.S. troops came home, the Republicans’ assault on some of them continued.  In 2005 Salon.com, and in 2007 the Washington Post, brought national attention to complaints from war-wounded patients at D.C.’s Walter Reed Army Hospital about treatment there.  The complaints were about understaffing, and about rats, roaches, black mold, cheap mattresses, and a lack of heat and hot water in some rooms. Investigations led to the sacking of the hospital’s head and to its overhaul.  Thus, during much of the Iraq War, the hospital was in a steady decline.

More recent examples are easy to come by.  In their war on spending, Congressional Republicans are now trying to eliminate $75 million from the budget of the Veterans Administration to be allocated to housing vouchers for at least some of the 76,000 veterans who are now homeless. And, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, a Tea Party fan from Minnesota, has proposed lopping $4.5 billion from the overall VA’s budget.

While they try to limit housing vouchers for Iraq veterans, the Republicans are working just as hard to retain the Bush tax cuts which each year provide about $40 billion of extra income to the nation’s richest 1%.

What do the veterans think?  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) recently evaluated the Congress on the basis of support for the interests of U.S. war veterans. These grades were awarded strictly on performance rather than on party affiliation.

Here are the results:

The IAVA gave out 154 D and F grades. 142 of those went to Republicans and 12 to Democrats — meaning that 92 percent of the D and F grades went to members of the GOP.

Of the 94 congressmen that received A or A+ grades, 91 are Democrats and three are Republicans.

Fantasy #6: Cold Winters in the Eastern USA prove Global Warming is a myth. – Karl Patten

Snowstorms or colder weather do not prove much about global warming.  These events are simply weather experienced in a specific location at a specific time.  Climate, however, refers to the prevailing weather conditions – such as average temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity, and atmospheric pressure – observed over decades.

Climate data show that global warming is already having profound effects on precipitation patterns, intensifying rain or snowfall in places accustomed to such precipitation while decreasing precipitation in areas or times of the year that typically receive little.  These impacts are likely to become even more pronounced in the decades ahead if heat-trapping emissions continue unabated.  (See Union of Concerned Scientists – www.ucsusa.org/blueprint)

Fantasy #7:  Evolution is just a theory.  (Joe Detelj)

Actually this is true.  Evolution shares elegant company with the theory of gravity, electro magnetism, relativity and photosynthesis.  Just to name a few.

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