RSS Contributor Archives: TerryBlaurock

Blog: The Fiscal Cliff is but a Symptom of a Wider War

The following is a cautionary tale. The Democrats won the election but you wouldn’t know it by how the House Republicans are acting. Although the American public voted against their agenda, and quite frankly, polls have shown overwhelming opposition to their attempts to cut social spending while refusing to raise taxes on the very rich, the ‘Tea Party’ wing of the Party refuses to make the smallest compromise with the President. There is no doubt that we are about to go over the ‘fiscal cliff’ and no doubt at whom we should be pointing our fingers. It seems absolutely nuts.  These conservatives remain so adamant about cutting government spending and regulations and reducing government income that they would permit, yea even encourage, the US economy to crash again apparently just to prove a point, a point, BTW, based on class ideology, not fact. John Boehner is embarrassed and powerless in what is rapidly becoming a GOP civil war and might well lose his position as Speaker. It seems beyond the comprehension of reasonable people until you understand that their actions and opinions can only be understood in the context of the contest for the control of a nation’s resources that has existed between the very rich and and the rest of us since the industrial age reached maturity in Europe and the US in the 1880′s. To put it in its simplest terms, the corporate Moguls believe government should exist only to assist them to get wealthier and otherwise get out of the way. Taxes are anathema and those who aren’t rich are either stupid or slackers. Government should never be involved in assisting the poor, disadvantaged, or elderly as that is a waste of taxpayers’ (read THEIR) money. Romney’s contempt for the middle and laboring classes was hard to conceal and the attitude runs through the entire leadership of the Tea Party. Paul Ryan has stated many times that he wants to see the end of both social security and Medicare. Perhaps the most extreme position was that of Ron and Rand Paul who would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it would have interfered with private property owners’ freedom to do what they want with their property. They were referring to the refusal of Woolworth’s to serve African Americans and the Pauls were OK with that because, in their mind and the mind of their class, property rights trump Constitutional rights. James Madison and the other Founding Fathers would be appalled.

If this sounds like the battles of Capital against Labor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that is because it remains precisely the same battle. The late 19th century Moguls, Astor, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Fields, et al, made their money and then promptly bought government officials, got laws passed, and generally used governmental power to help them consolidate and expand their fortunes. The Socialist movement grew out of the tenements filled with pitifully paid laborers on whose backs the Moguls made their millions. They and the Liberals, who represented the growing middle classes, had this funny notion that government exists not as an extension of the wealthy classes, but to serve its constituents by providing services and, quite frankly, protecting us against the exploitation and abuses of the Moguls who would pay ten cents an hour if they could get away with it. Socialists, Liberals, and trade unionists wrested such concessions out of Capital as the 8 hour work day, an end to child labor, and some workplace safety laws. But it wasn’t that long ago that the national guard, police forces, and private detectives fired on strikers and worker demonstrations in defense of the Moguls.

The Socialist movement was never that strong in the US, and in Europe, it was blasted apart by World War I and the accession to power of Totalitarian Communism. But the power of US Moguls was finally challenged by the combination of the recklessness of Wall Street investors and the agricultural crisis of the 1920′s. It took the Depression with its massive unemployment and bread lines to finally create the New Deal of FDR. And it was FDR who created government designed to help all the people and constructed the safety net that has helped create the strong middle class in this country. The Progressive movement has, from 1932 until 1980, created a nexus of laws that promoted safety in the workplace, the minimum wage, social security, Medicare, environmental protections, student loans, etc. that has allowed the majority of Americans to share in the immense wealth and resources this country has to offer. We’ve grown accustomed to this safety net and other insurance programs and protections, but they are under attack and if we don’t fight back, we’ll lose them. The reelection of President Obama hasn’t stopped the assault, for the assault is taking place on both the local and national levels.

The Moguls haven’t gone away nor changed their cultural mindset. They were beaten back in the 1930′s by the tide of national disaster, but they hate FDR and have consciously plotted a comeback to destroy the power of labor and dismantle the social programs and economic protections of the New Deal. It is no coincidence that teachers, public employees, and unions are the target of the Republican Party. Nor that Medicare, work place safety, and Obamacare are under attack. The CEO’s of companies such as Pizza Hut and Red Lobster have already threatened to fire employees or hire part time workers rather than comply with the law. Heaven forbid employees should have health insurance. Right to work laws are nothing more than a technique to break the power of the unions so employers can decrease wages and benefits for workers.

Funded by the Koch brothers, and the super PACS of Rove, et al, they have sought in the last 30 years to do three things. First, to convince Americans of a series of myths about government, liberty, and wealth creation that would win electoral victories for the right wing. Second, to win allies amongst white males and evangelicals by pushing issues such as abortion, gay rights, guns, immigration, and religion, even though these issues are not important or central to the Moguls behind the PACs. And third, to deliberately work on the local and national level to dismantle governmental programs, lower taxes as much as possible so as to prevent their reestablishment (literally starve government), and bring about an end to environmental, work safety, and other regulations that force them to spend money on anything but making more money.

Despite Obama’s election and the Wall Street/Bush recession, the Moguls have been succeeding in their quest. A huge percentage of Americans now believe that government is injurious to freedom, especially the freedom to make money. The ‘self made’ myth has been molded to become the basis of the greatness of America. The producers and job creators as opposed to the ‘dependent victims’, as Romney called us, need to be freed from government interference or else the economy will crash. Never mind the ‘job creators’ are sitting on 3 trillion dollars rather than create jobs thanks to the Bush tax cuts. Self interest, they proclaim, drives the greatness of American society, which is a far cry from the Founders’ who emphasized their governmental experiment as one to promote the general welfare.

Many Americans further believe, against all studies, that privatizing governmental services somehow makes them more efficient, when in fact, the reverse is true, since private companies are there to make money, not service the public. Medicare vouchers, for example, would not only cut benefits but end up costing the government much more than the Affordable Health Care Act or a single payer health care system.  The Moguls have very successfully sold the myth that government is incompetent, even dangerous, when there is no evidence that the private sector does any better. The truth is that many of the current Moguls couldn’t have succeeded without government help and subsidies, including the Koch brothers. Which leads to the final myth that the government punishes success and that the successful pay for all those freeloaders. Thus Romney’s 47% remark. The truth, folks, is that state and local taxes hit the low and middle income working families at a much higher rate than the wealthy and tax loopholes in the income tax system allow the Moguls to duck most taxes. You and I pay a higher rate of our income then they do, as Warren Buffet pointed out. And, the real job creator is consumer demand, which is fast disappearing as the wealth of America is transferred into the hands of the top 2%.

So, my point in this very long blog? That it is not time to rest on the laurels of November’s victories. The GOP ideologues are controlled by outside money and the Koch’s and their friends have no intention of backing down on their strategy.  The action of the GOP House Caucus clearly illustrates this. To quote Winston Churchill,

we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender

This must be the Progressive imperative. From Michigan Right to Work Laws to the Tea Party’s refusal to raise taxes on anyone, we must be vigilant, strong, and be willing to fight to save America from those who want to impoverish the rest of us for their own greed. Democrats who falter, including the President, must be pushed to fight. This will not be a short battle, but it must be won if we wish to preserve the American dream.

Blog: The NRA Drops the Ball

There are moments in time that, in retrospect, become historic turning points. I don’t know if the Newtown shootings will turn out to be such a moment, but it certainly won’t be unless we get past the tributes, vigils, and talk, and actually enact laws and procedures that will help control access to guns. As the President said, we have to change.

I had hoped against hope that the NRA, which is in a position to really be a leader on this issue, would come out, as had a number of pro-gun Senators, and finally admit that there was a problem. Unfortunately, NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre came out with a lame rehash of excuses and falsehoods blaming everything from ‘gun free zones’ to the media. Way to drop the ball, Wayne. The media was stunned, and not allowed to ask questions, and even conservatives grumbled in their embarrassment. Given a chance to lead, the NRA made the ludicrous suggestion that we put armed guards in every elementary school in the country. That was the extent of their solution. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything more from the same guy who sent me a form letter telling me that as a Civil War re-enactor I had better join the NRA to protect my 2nd Amendment rights or one day I’d find the government knocking at my door to confiscate my one shot muzzle loader. You can literally taste the paranoia in the air. But it goes beyond that.

Good guys with guns, said Wayne, will stop bad guys with guns. Really? And how many cops are shot each year? Colombine High School had an armed guard. Virginia Tech had a police force. Didn’t stop anything. There were security guards at the Portland Mall. In Colorado, anyone can own and carry a concealed firearm. And these folks are trained in firearms and couldn’t prevent the violence. So by allowing more access to weapons, no training and no regulations, Wayne expects that the violence will decrease? The evidence shows that he is wrong – dead wrong. Plus, to blame Obama for gun free zones, which, in the gun lobby’s warped idea of reality, invites gun violence, is not only non fact based but just plain falsehood.

Then there is the simple economic issue. Who will pay for all of these armed guards, their weapons, and their training. Who will pay their salaries? Maybe the NRA, which supports Tea Party economics, will ask their wealthy friends to foot the bill. How will we put together a national data base of ‘mentally ill’ people without violating doctor-patient privilege? And who will define who should be on that list? Lanza wouldn’t have been on it. Neither would the Colombine shooters. One could make a case, after his pathetic performance at the NRA news conference, that LaPierre should be on it. Food for thought.

Here is the reality. First, the people who are behind the NRA are the gun makers and they stand to benefit economically the more of their product they sell. That is why they don’t want regulation. They talk about the 2nd Amendment and freedom and whatever else they think will convince the public, but the truth behind their stand is that the gun lobby makes money off of gun sales. That is what it is all about.

Second, there is absolutely no evidence that additional guns stop violence. It simply isn’t true. Armed guards in schools not only won’t prevent violence (and we already have them in many city schools), but there is the risk that they will be shot first by an intruder or that they will shoot students they think have guns. The whole idea is dangerous and truly outrageous. It is stunning that the NRA and Illinois Rifle Association would suggest such a thing after the wholesale massacre of 20 elementary children.

No, if the NRA won’t lead, then it is time to ignore them and push them to the shadowy corners of the political world where they can freely indulge in their paranoia. Banning assault weapons can be a start, but without the companion pieces of defining what an assault weapon is, national registration, and training, this will not solve the problem. Gun owners need to come out and be clear that it is for our own protection that only people who are qualified to use them should own them. This isn’t a conversation about all or nothing. There will be guns in America, but the culture that thinks that anyone can own any gun must change. This is the challenge. Change the culture and make gun ownership safe – and in doing so we will decrease gun violence. If you don’t agree, than show the evidence that more guns make less violence. You won’t be able to because it simply isn’t true.

If this is to be an historic turning point, progressives and conservatives, gun owners and non-gun owners must join together to solve the problem. What the NRA did was run from the problem like the cowards they have always been. We together must face the truth and break their power if we are to accomplish the goal of ending this sort of gun violence.

Blog: The Time is NOW for Reasonable Talk about guns

As I said a few days ago, the internet is hot with finger pointing over who/what is at fault for the massacre of children in Connecticut. The NRA, who has spent tens of millions to keep government from limiting access to any gun any time, remains silent, but the gun enthusiasts have been effluent in their defense of gun ownership. Their arguments, as pointed out by another blog on this page, are faulty, to say the least, but the silliest, and most dangerous, of all, is that MORE guns would prevent gun violence. One gun advocate in Arizona baldly stated today that if all the teachers were armed, this wouldn’t have happened. Really? Aside from the ludicrous thought of elementary school teachers standing at their blackboards lecturing with guns hanging off their belts, every state but Illinois has a concealed carry law. Has that prevented the shootings in Aurora or Portland? Of course not because the shooters are crazy. But the issue isn’t their mental state. It is that they have easy access to guns that fire dozens of rounds a minute. And that is the fault of the gun lobby. Not one life in that theater in Aurora would have been saved if every person in there had a gun. It all happened too fast because that is what happens when you can use high volume magazine weapons. The folks who argue more guns are the answer are completely out of touch with reality.

Neil Steinburg, of the Sun Times, wrote in his column last week, ‘Where do we even begin?’. This is my humble opinion:

First, define the problem. We have a society that has regular and increasing gun violence. The only real difference between us and countries like us (Canada, UK, Japan, etc.) is the lack of regulation and the physical number of guns. There are over 300 MILLION guns in America, many of which are for hunting and recreation or for basic protection. But there are also millions of high magazine weapons which no private citizen has any need to own. We need to provide a realistic solution to this. These other countries do not have regular mass shootings, so are they just better than us? Or is it the lack of regulation and number and types of guns. Obviously, the latter, no matter what the pro-gun lobby says.

So, before we can even begin to deal with defining the problem, there are facts we have to accept. First, Americans will not accept a total gun ban. Second, there must be background checks and gun education before anyone can own a gun. None of us would allow a person to drive a car without testing, why should it be different with guns? There can be no exceptions to this – no gun shows, no internet, no place where you can avoid being screened and trained. Arguments about the Second Amendment are pointless and irrelevant. There was and is no constitutional intent to allow people to buy any gun they want any time they want no matter who they are. Third, there are Americans who should not be allowed to own firearms. Fourth, by restricting easy and unrestricted access to guns, you will have a reduction in gun violence. Fifth, there are types of guns that simply should be banned. No one needs Uzis, AR 15s, AK 47s and the like – exactly the types of guns used in all of these shootings.

So, if reasonable people in Congress can accept these realities, the initial step would be for the gun experts to sit down and realistically examine what sort of firearms are appropriate for hunting, recreation, re-enacting, defense, and the like and what sort of weapons simply ought not to be in the hands of anyone outside of the military or law-enforcement. Then legislative experts need to design ways to set up the screening of people who want to own firearms. Then they both need to cooperate to set up gun training programs and requirements that make legal and practical sense. This is the only solution.

For those that believe that the government is out to get them and that’s why they need a gun, I can only say that if the government wants to get you, it doesn’t matter what firearm you own. And for those who feel the criminals will still get guns? I say this – restricting access nationally will dramatically reduce access to firearms by gangs and other street criminals. As far as disarming the gangs – I’ve always felt the Patriot Act could be used against them, but that is a whole nother issue.

Truth – there are guns everywhere and gun violence is increasing. Easy access to guns HAS NOT prevented this from happening. So, how many more children must die in elementary schools and on the porches of houses in the inner cities before Congress sits down and reasonably discusses this and proposes workable solutions. We can’t wait any more. It is time for action. Enough talk. This is what needs to be done. Does anyone out there have the guts to ignore NRA money and do it? I sure hope so because it is only a matter of time before the next gun tragedy.

Blog: Of Guns, Cliffs, and Compromise

I admit it. I am a legal gun owner. Please don’t demonize me because I own guns. I’m also a Progressive who strongly believes in gun control. Please don’t demonize me because I think some guns should be banned and folks should register firearms and show they understand how to use them before they get them. It’s not an oxymoron.

So, with a foot in both ‘camps’ I can justifiably say that the news of yet another mass shooting, this time in an elementary school in Connecticut,  has made me really angry. Not only at the perpetrator, but at the predictable blather to come. The gun lobby will push their line that people kill people, ignoring that easy access to guns without any background checks significantly contribute to these types of shootings. Ignoring the obvious fact that the Second Amendment was written in a time of flintlocks and no standing army (“In order to have a well regulated militia…”), the NRA spends millions to prevent any regulation on obtaining any firearm, resulting in the truth that 40% of all guns sold are sold without any checks on the buyers. No gun is too powerful for the gun lobby, no matter that an AK 47 has no other use but mass killing.

On the other side will come the plea to ban all guns, something that will never fly in Peoria or anywhere else in this Country, because people do have a legitimate right to defend themselves and to participate in recreational shooting and hunting. I am a Civil War re-enactor. Should my one shot muzzle loading rifle-musket be prohibited? What sense does that make?

So the blather will come and no one will step up to the plate and make common sense compromise. It is really sad, but unfortunately true. But the NRA and gun lobby needs to understand this madness has to end. Ban the guns that are simply designed to kill lots of people, define assault weapons in a way that makes sense, and end the loopholes that allow purchase without background checks. Please stop with the quite frankly silly idea that owning a gun will protect you from ‘the evil government’. Believe me, if the government wanted to get you, they’ll use a drone and take you out from 1000 feet. At the same time, the anti-gun folks need to design laws that make sense and allow legitimate people, such as myself, to own a firearm. Yes, there is no way to make sure that no shootings are going to happen, nor that gangs will get firearms, but, background checks and closing the loopholes that allow anyone at a gun show to buy whatever they want, will go a long way to preventing them.

Yes, I’m talking about COMPROMISE, something that seems to be dead these days in our legislatures. Which brings me to the so called fiscal cliff. Anyone who understands the basics of economics knows that both the Federal government and Illinois State government need to put together a long term budget that is going to include both revenue enhancement (read income) and cuts. The recent election made it very clear that, first, Americans feel that the top 2% should be paying more in taxes and, second, that they don’t want to see their entitlement programs to be dismantled. Polls show that Ryan’s budget plan was not palatable to Americans. Yet here we have the GOP insisting they won’t tax the very rich and that entitlements must be cut. The same party that spent a billion and a half dollars to lose seats in both houses of Congress, never mind the Presidency. The same party, by the way, which created the fiscal cliff by refusing to make ANY compromise with President Obama two years ago. So, now, the folks that drove us to the ‘cliff’ and lost the election have the Chutzpah to push us over.

Yet, will they actually push us over? I think not because, as Animal said in ‘Stalag 17′, “just because the Krauts are dumb, doesn’t mean they’re stupid.” John Boehner, while trying to push for every advantage he can, knows that the public will point the finger squarely at him and his party if the cliff provisions come into effect January 1st. As well it should. The question is what the President will do. Hopefully, he won’t give too much away and will stand his ground. He has the cards and should play them. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Meantime, the point of this is to urge you to urge our representatives to think carefully and work with the other side. I am sure that Congressman-elect Brad Schneider will do so, but it will take a great amount of work to come up with lasting solutions. Let’s not back down nor fail to continue to point out the flaws in GOP thinking. The key? You can’t work out of debt by cutting your way out of it. Nor do most Americans share the Koch brothers desire to return to pre-FDR America. Make sure everyone you talk to understands that.

 

Blog: Whither the GOP?

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! It’s been a couple of weeks since I published my late night post Schneider victory celebration blog and, with the kind permission of Lauren Beth Gash and the 10th Dems, I will continue to blog on the political events of the day. I do want to make it clear that while I am a Progressive, I will call it as I see it and no one but me is responsible for these blogs. The past two weeks saw me in Virginia Beach for 5 days with my fencers and then hosting 11 teams at Northwestern last weekend, so it has been hard to get on the computer, but I finally get a couple of days off and wanted to share some thoughts with you.

I am sure you are all sick to death of post election analysis, yet I’d like to make some observations. Although many in the GOP don’t seem to yet get it, they are way off message when it comes to the American people. They will not be able to win another presidential election, and will probably lose the House in the next election, unless someone over there realizes this. The problem is two fold.

First, the Republican Party has been run by the extremely wealthy since the Gilded Age of the 1880s. Once the Party abandoned the humanitarian part of their platform in 1876, which had been founded on Abolitionism and the program of the progressive reform of the ills of society promoted by the “Great Awakening”, the basic motivating factor for them has been to use the government to facilitate trade and promote the conditions that allow the rich to become richer. The Great Awakening was the religious movement of the late 18th and 19th centuries in America and Great Britain which was based on the impulse that Christian principles included a moral duty to improve the lot of, not only the common man in Great Britain and America, but also bring Western Christian civilization to the World. The tangible result of the movement was the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, child labor laws, the 8 hour work day, prohibition, regulation of the safety of consumer products and of the workplace, and, in Great Britain, the extension of the franchise to all males, and, in both countries, women’s rights and suffrage. Some of this also became tied up in Missionary endeavors to places in Africa and Asia, and, ultimately, the issues of Western Imperialism and colonialism.That is a whole ‘nother discussion.

Up until the Gilded Age, opportunity in America had been wide open. The frontier gave many the right to go and make something of themselves. But, with the burst of industrial growth by 1880, those who had made it began to try and preserve and expand the wealth they had made at the expense of those who hadn’t. So the Carnegie’s, Vanderbilt’s, Adams’, Field’s and other magnates moved the GOP to being the party of business and, quite frankly, exploitation. They fought the Unions with hired cops and fought every piece of legislation designed to make the lot of the working man better. They also supported Imperial expansion to Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines to enlarge their trade opportunities, even if it meant war to suppress the aspirations of other peoples to govern themselves – an irony noted by Anti-Imperialists of the day.

The crash of 1929 finally allowed a coalition of labor, farmers, populists, etc. to challenge big capital and the result was the election of FDR and the New Deal. But big capital has never given up the fight to regain the right to do what it wants and it hates the New Deal. But it also realized that to win elections, it had to find allies and convince some sector of the American people that it wasn’t just a question of what the wealthy wanted, but some other issue that was paramount. In 1968, Richard Nixon played the race card in the South during the height of the Civil Rights movement and brought the ‘solid Democratic south’ into the Republican fold. Ronald Reagan opened the door to right wing Christian fundamentalists and so Nixon’s southern strategy plus the addition of evangelicals resulted in 24 years of Reagan and Bush.

But, this strategy is bankrupt. Rove and his PACs spent billions to try and win by convincing people that the President was a socialist and to ignore the GOP’s assault on Wall Street regulations, labor, and the environment. And they failed. Lost the race for President and seats in both the Senate and the House. Ryan’s plan to cut social programs doesn’t resonate with the American people because they don’t want to lose them. Simple as that. Until the GOP realizes that they can’t blatantly favor the rich over the rest of us, they won’t win.

The second part of the problem for the GOP is their choice of allies. Both parties have suffered election losses when they have been taken over by the more extreme parts of their parties. People predicted the end for Republicans with Alf Landon and Barry Goldwater, and for the Democrats when they threw over Humphrey for McGovern. Neither happened, for both parties moved back to the center left, where mainstream America is – where the New Deal reforms have put it. Now, the GOP is fronted by the Tea Party and the Evangelicals, backed by Big Capital, but Americans were repelled by the Mourdocks and Akins and they lost. Until the GOP abandons this lot, the demographics will continue to work against them and they will shrink as a party.

The last time a major party disappeared was in 1856 when the Whigs dissolved. I find it hard to believe that the Republicans will follow. It might take a licking in the 2014 mid-terms, but the moderates in that party will push back against the extremists and move it back to the center. Moreover, the Koch brothers and their allies aren’t stupid. They actually convinced themselves that Romney was going to win, but they were given a rude shock two weeks ago and they will adjust. Those of the very wealthy who think that making money is the only thing in life will never quit and they will be always with us. Don’t be surprised to see them suddenly stop denying climate change to make money off wind and solar power. To keep them in check, the Democrats need to take advantage of the moment and present quality and realistic solutions to our fiscal and other problems. More on this next time.