Hannah Blog

December 30, 2011

The annoyance that is Robert Reich

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The video introducing Robert Reich’s latest sycophantic offering would still be annoying, even if he were making the point that the public IS a nuisance to a ruling elite that’s not used to having its authority challenged. Robert Reich always annoys me. I think it’s because he latches on to the social issue du jour and presents it as his own. Not to mention that he’s been riding his tenure as Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration at the head of any parade he can find, as if he’d had made an iota of difference in the downward slide of the 99%.

I’m not sure I have the stomach for it, but I’m going to try to respond to Reich’s suggestion that, never mind Wall Street and Capitol Hill, it’s democracy that needs to be occupied. What Reich writes is bolded.

You’ve been seeing this across the country … Americans assaulted, clubbed, dragged, pepper-sprayed … Why? For exercising their right to free speech and assembly — protesting the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

Not so. People are being corralled and assaulted by the police because they are disobedient. The police have been trained to extort compliance with their orders, just as they have been trained to comply to orders. They do to others what they expect to be done to them, if they disobey. It’s the culture of obedience on display.

And what’s Washington’s response? Nothing. In fact, Congress’s so-called “supercommittee” just disbanded because Republicans refuse to raise a penny of taxes on the rich.

The D.C. Dirty Dozen failed just as I predicted. They were designed to fail by the denizens of Capitol Hill who rely on their brothers in private corporations to get them reelected. Also, the federal government has no jurisdiction over state and municipal police, other than what it buys with bribes for equipment and training by Homeland Security–equipment that, once disbursed, is impossible to call back.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court says money is speech and corporations are people. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year ended all limits on political spending. Millions of dollars are being funneled to politicians without a trace.

Actually, what the SCOTUS ruled was that, absent restrictions in the legislation authorizing the establishment of corporations (the jurisdiction of states), the Congress has no business imposing restrictions on how and for what purpose money (script) is spent, especially not after the fact. What the SCOTUS did not spell out was that, if the campaign spending of incumbents and candidates for federal offices is to be limited, it’s the behavior of the candidates that needs to be addressed. The SCOTUS likely didn’t bother making that point because Congress is always resistant to imposing meaningful regulation on itself.

And a revolving door has developed between official Washington and Wall Street – with bank executives becoming public officials who make rules that benefit the banks before heading back to the Street to make money off the rules they created.

The connection between Washington and Wall Street has been in place since private bankers were tasked with regulating our currency by the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913. Moreover, the prospect of the federal government taking back “the allocation of credit” is properly concerning to bankers whose income is derived entirely from playing with our money. Just keeping the books is not likely to be highly rewarding, especially now that computers have arrived on the scene. Being able to decide who gets to use money and who doesn’t is where the profit and the power lies.

Other top officials, including an increasing proportion of former members of congress, are cashing in by joining lobbying power houses and pressuring their former colleagues to do whatever their clients want.

That public officials continue the extortion they learned in the public sector in private should not come as a surprise.

Millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street and in executive suites aren’t contributing all this money out of sheer love of country. Their political spending is analogous to their other investments. Mostly they want low tax rates and friendly regulations.

Those that aren’t daft realize full well that money is worthless and it’s use as a lever of power is what counts. “Regulation” has always served to make enterprise regular and predictable. It was a popular mistake to think the public interest was to be served.

Why else do you suppose tax rates on the super rich are now lower than they’ve been in three decades, and why – even though the long-term budget deficit is horrendous – those rates aren’t rising? Why else do the 400 richest Americans (whose wealth is larger than the combined wealth of the bottom 150 million Americans) now pay an average tax rate of only 17 percent?

Neither tax nor interest rates rise on their own like dough. But, the unfairness of how we collect money for public purposes doesn’t lie in the size of the percentages, but in calculating percentages of profits to tax in the first place. Not only does taxing profits create an incentive to generate losses instead of profits and to hide away income in not-for-profit entities, but it subordinates the public interest to private success–making it unlikely that the public, especially now that it is perceived as a great beast, is going to be well served.

Why do you think Wall Street got bailed without a single string attached – not even being required to help homeowners to whom they sold mortgages, who are now so far under water they’re drowning? And why does the financial reform legislation have loopholes big enough for bankers to drive their Ferrari’s through?

Bankers claimed they had run out of money. So, since the Treasury prints money, Washington sent them more. Also, since, as private corporations, banks typically don’t have to open their records to inspection unless there’s a suspicion of a crime having been committed, giving Wall Street an infusion of dollars seemed like a good opportunity to check up on what was really going on. Evidence to support this hypothesis can be deduced from the fact that as soon the strings associated with TARP became evident, the banksters came up with the bucks to repay their loans. Secrecy, after all, is the key to power.

And why else are oil companies, big agribusinesses, military contractors, and the pharmaceutical industry reaping billions of dollars of government subsidies and special tax breaks?

American enterprise has always relied on the kindness of our public corporations to provide it with free access to exploitable natural resources. Now that these natural resources are “playing out,” it’s only natural that enterprise should focus on the apparently infinite supply of human beings to exploit. Human husbandry has proved a more stable enterprise than warfare to capture other kinds of resources, as long as humans don’t resist being “milked.”

Experts say the 2012 presidential race is likely to be the priciest ever, costing an estimated $6 billion. “It is far worse than it has ever been,” says Republican Senator John McCain.

The suggestion that John McCain is a reliable prognosticator about anything is an insult to anyone with a functioning brain. That said, spending dollars on prognostication and the touting of candidates for public office is eminently preferable to building stealth bombers and tactical nuclear weapons. If people are to be targeted, it’s better they be targeted with lies than bombs or chemical warfare agents.

If there’s a single core message to the Occupier movement it’s that the increasing concentration of income and wealth at the top endangers our democracy. With money comes political power.

Well, that’s what the denizens of Wall Street were led to believe. They thought that democracy–i.e. government by the people–which only achieved potentiality with the passage of universal suffrage, access to public records and participation in the electoral process, could be staved off via propaganda and the designation of office holders as popular fronts for the real wielders of power, the money men. What they’ve discovered, to their distress, is that money makes it possible to count and identify whereto our public assets have disappeared and to demand that they be given back.

Yet when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with all this, they’re told the First Amendment doesn’t apply. Instead, they’re treated as public nuisances – clubbed, pepper-sprayed, thrown out of public parks and evicted from public spaces.

What people discover when they assemble and communicate directly, they don’t need money to organize their interests. When people without money get out of their cages on wheels and take to the streets to reclaim their spaces, the police are called to dole out punishments. But that only serves to confirm that their obviously well-practiced, but individually administered, restraints have been oppressive all along. Compliance is not appropriate when there are predators about. That’s what the occupy movement has pointed out.

Across America, public officials are saying Occupiers have to go. Even in universities – where free speech is supposed to be sacrosanct – peaceful assembly is being met with clubs and pepper spray.

This is the kind of outrage mongering that makes Reich so annoying. Speech and association are natural human attributes, the basis of our rights. But, respect for people and other organisms, for that matter, does not depend on sanctification or a holiness designation.

The First Amendment is being stood on its head. Money speaks, and an unlimited amount of it can now be spent bribing and cajoling politicians. Yet peaceful assembly is viewed as a public nuisance and removed by force.

The First Amendment addresses the behavior of public officials, the agents of government, but makes no provision for how compliance is to be enforced. That’s provided for in the body of the Constitution which provides for regular review and opportunities to remove low or non-performers. Money, on the other hand, is a tool. If it is being misused to propagate falsehood and fraud, the solution is not to get rid of the tool, but to remove the abusers. Reich resorting to the passive voice is a sign that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

This is especially worrisome now that so many Americans are in economic trouble. The jobs recession grinds on, seemingly without end. Homes are being foreclosed upon. Qualified students cannot afford college. Or they’re forced to take on huge debt loads they can’t repay in a jobless economy. Schools are firing teachers. Vital social services are being axed.

See what I mean about the use of the passive voice and the outrage mongering Reich employs?

How are Americans to be heard about what should be done about any of this if they are not allowed to mobilize and organize? When the freedom of speech goes to the highest bidder, moneyed interests have a disproportionate say.

The Constitutional remedy is to carry out the obligations of citizenship: vote, run for office, serve on juries, draft laws, provide support, enforce the laws.

Now more than ever, the First Amendment needs to be put right side up. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.

The First Amendment to the Constitution is a toothless prohibition–a good example of the fact that prohibitions do not effect correct behavior. If you want respect, demand it; don’t bother outlawing insults. The verbally proficient will just find alternates.

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