Obstacles to meaningful change

Obstacles to meaningful change

Bob Sheak, Oct 23, 2018

The consolidation of right-wing power

It’s no secret what Trump, the Republican party, the mega-corporations, many or most of the rich, Fox News and other right-wing media, along with tens of millions of Trump/Republican supporters want. Note that this is a huge slice of society, and with the corporations controlling huge financial, productive, and physical resources. A glimpse at the 2018 Fortune 500 list is illustrative. According to the Fortune website, “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP with $12.8 trillion in revenues, $1.0 trillion in profits, $21.6 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide.” Walmart and Exxon Mobil were first and second on the list, Walmart with over $500 billion in revenues and Exxon Mobil with $244,363,000,000. And there is little doubt that most of those who are corporate CEOs and others who have powerful positions in the economic-political system, like the status quo and whatever policies stand to protect and enhance their privileges and power. This is true of the rich generally. Take little regulated hedge fund operators who profit from speculative investing that adds no real value to the economy. Les Leopold wrote a book in 2013 on this subject with the revealing titled How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning off America’s Wealth.

Anand Giridharadas, author, previous columnist for the New York Times, who teaches at New York University, offers a concise explication of what corporations and rich want.

“These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform” (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, p. 30)

Money in Politics

There is no doubt that corporations and wealthy donors contribute significantly to campaign contributions and lobbying at both the federal and state levels. In his recent book, Can American Capitalism Survive? Steven Pearlstein offers these facts.

“Nearly $7 billion was spent to influence the results of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections in the United States, up from $3 billion in the 2000 election cycle. To that we must add another $3 billion a year that corporations and industry associations now spend on lobbying, double what it was 20 years ago.

He continues.

“This escalation in spending is partly the result of court rulings that have chipped away at limits on what individuals and corporations can donate and spent to support policies and candidates they favor and oppose those they do not. But it is also a result of the upward shift in the distribution of income. When a small network of billionaires headed by brothers Charles and David Koch is both able and will to spend $800 million in a single election cycle, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the United States has crossed the line into plutocracy” (pp. 157-158).

And Robert Reich adds:

“By the 2016 campaign cycle, corporations and Wall Street contributed $34 for every $1 donated by labor unions and all public interest organizations combined” (The Common Good, p. 84).

Looking back to the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Larry Lessig reminds us:

“0.26 percent of us give more than $200 to congressional campaigns, 0.05 percent of us max out to any congressional candidate, and 0.01 percent spend more than $10,000 in a campaign. These figures are from the 2010 election cycle; in the 2012 elections, the number of those given $200 or more to congressional candidates actually shot up dramatically (to 0.53% of the U.S. adult population.) To be a viable candidate in federal elections, one essentially needs to secure the approval – in the form of dollars – of a group that is far more elite even than the top one percent” (quoted by Richard L. Hasen, Plutocrats United, p. 40).

Pearlstein refers to similar data from the research of professor Nick Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago, who finds:

“…surveys… all have found that individuals who contribute at least $200 to federal candidates are ‘overwhelmingly wealthy, highly educated, male, and white.’ In 2004, for example, 58% of those donors were male, 69% were older than fifty, 78% had a family income over $100,000, and 91% had a college degree. In 2012, these donors amounted to just 0.4% of the population, but supplied 64% of the funds received by candidates from individuals…. [and] study after study has concluded that donors hold more extreme views than the public at large” (p. 43).

Recent Supreme Court decisions have made it easier for big donors to hide their identities by creating “super PACs” that do not require the disclosure of the donors. Hasen refers to research on this issue.

“According to a report by Demos and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, in the 2012 elections ‘nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93% of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000 – from just 3,318 donors or the equivalent of 0.0011% of the U.S. population” (p. 44).

What they get

The corporate-connected donors get access to legislators and sometimes appointments to the President’s cabinet or other policy-influencing positions in the executive branch. See John Nichols’ book, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse for Trump’s appointments to “cabinet secretaries and assistants, commissioners and counselors, blood relatives and retainers, billionaire ‘advisers’ and unindicted co-conspirators.” For example, billionaire Betsy DeVos was nominated and confirmed by the Senate to be the Secretary of Education. Nichols quotes Elizabeth Warren on the decision. “It is hard to imagine a candidate less qualified or more dangerous.” According to Nichols: “…she had never taught in a public school and nor had she administered one. No. she had not served on an elected school board. No, she had not sent her children to public schools. No, she had never applied for a student loan and nor had her children” (p. 4). This is an agency, which in 2017, had “a budget of $70 billion, more than four thousand employees and responsibility for serving 50 million students in 16,900 school districts nationwide, along with 13 million post-secondary students” (p. 3).

Over the years, DeVos and her family had contributed $200 million to the Republican Party. And she has spent a great deal of time and money advocating for profit-based charter schools, which is in sync with the long-standing Republican position on privatization of education and other government functions. On the issue of education policy, Nichols writes that Betsy DeVos “was delighted that the Trump administration’s [2018] budget blueprint called for steering $1.4 billion toward the gimmicky ‘school choice’ programs that she had championed for decades as an alternative to public education – and that the historian of education… Diane Ravitch decries as a ‘hoax’ that destroys communities and destroys public schools” (p. 252).

Much more

 The bailouts and hidden subsidies

Wall Street banks, which were the main causes of the Great Recession in 2007-2009, got huge bailouts, even though their reckless policies caused the recession. Nomi Prins points out that banks obtained a $13 trillion bailout, “doled out from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to back to biggest players on Wall Street, “while leaving the banking and investment structures intact” (It Takes a Pillage, p. 5). The auto industry was given emergency government loans in 2008. Prins points out: “As of late April 2009, the Treasury had poured a total of $32.7 billion in total loans to General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler Holding, and Chrysler Financial to help the firms avoid bankruptcy….” (p. 73). This was part of an $800 “stimulus package” initiated by the Obama administration. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy enabled the banks to unload toxic, worthless securities on the public. James K. Galbraith comments on this: “the Federal Reserve pursued its programs of ‘quantitative easing,’ which were ongoing purchases of mortgage-backed securities.” He continues: “While this program was touted as support for the economy, its obvious first-order effect was to help the banks clean up their books and to bury potentially damaging home loans deep in the vaults of the Fed itself, where they might – or might not – eventually be paid” (The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, p. 184).

The big tax cut

Trump and the Republicans pushed through a tax law in December 2017 that significantly reduced corporate taxes, from 35% to 21%, and gave the rich disproportionate tax breaks. Rather than new investment and jobs, much of the corporate tax bonanza was spent on buying back stocks in corporations to increase their value, buying up other companies, or investing abroad. Citing a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Julia Conley summarizes various findings of the tax cut effects as follows: “The GOP’s promises that companies would boost hiring and salaries after receiving their tax cuts have been proven categorically false since the beginning of the year, with just six percent of companies’ windfall going to employees’ wages and the vast majority rewarding wealthy shareholders.” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/07/24/no-evidence-goptaxscam-has-benefited-most-americas-republicans-unveil-plan-double).”

Economist Dean Baker finds that the tax cut did not lead to increased domestic investment.

“…when we’re actually looking post-tax cut, you know, what has happened since the tax cut was passed or was known it would be passed, we look at the data we have from January and February [2018], and there’s nothing going on there. The data on durable goods or capital goods orders, so this is what companies are ordering by way of new investment equipment, that’s actually down slightly in January and February. I wouldn’t make a big point of it being down. But the point is they had projected, the Trump administration had projected a huge rise in investment, and we are certainly not seeing that.

“Another measure, the National Federation of Independent Business, has a monthly survey of its members that they have been doing for more than 30 years now, and they asked them, do they expect to increase capital expenditures over the next 3 to 6 months? And again, here, too, we have data, January and February, nothing. It’s maybe a very, very modest uptick, but it’s back to levels we saw last year, as far back as 2014” (http://therealnews.com/t2/story:21368:Economic-Benefits-of-Tax-Cuts-Should-Have-Arrived—Where-Are-They%3F).

The military-industrial complex

The big arms producers got a boost from increases in the 2018 and 2019 military budgets, going up over a trillion dollars when all military-related expenditures in the federal budget are included, that is the $700-plus basic Pentagon allocation, veteran’s benefits, nuclear-weapons’ programs in the Department of Energy, money for the fight against terrorism abroad and domestically, and annual interest related to budget deficits related to military-related interventions and war. Kimberly Amadea identifies four components in her analysis of the 2018FY military budget (https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-military-budgetcomonents-challenges-growth-3306320)

First, she refers to the $616.9 billion “base budget for the Department of Defense.” Second, $69 billion is allocated to the “overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State Group.” Third, $181.3 billion goes to the Department of Veterans Affairs ($83.1 billion), the State Department ($28.3 billion), Homeland Security ($46 billion) and the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($21.9 billion). The fourth and last component identified by Amadea is “$18.7 billion in OCO funds for the State Department and Homeland Security to fight ISIS.” The total of all components is about $890 billion. Her estimates do not include military-related interest on the debt. This is significant. Note that the 2018 budget deficit rose to $779 billion, and some part of it was related to the massive increase in military spending. If the interest related to military spending is added to the other components of military-related spending, the total goes well beyond $1 trillion. This benefits the arms makers, their employees, and the Pentagon above all.

William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex and other books and many articles, gives us some details on how the top weapons contractors will fair (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/17/how-pentagon-devours-budget). He writes:

“…contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).

“And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate.  According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States.  In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.

“Items that snagged billions in new funding in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget included Lockheed Martin’s overpriced, underperforming F-35 aircraft, at $10.6 billion; Boeing’s F-18 “Super Hornet,” which was in the process of being phased out by the Obama administration but is now written in for $2.4 billion; Northrop Grumman’s B-21 nuclear bomber at $2.3 billion; General Dynamics’ Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine at $3.9 billion; and $12 billion for an array of missile-defense programs that will redound to the benefit of… you guessed it: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, among other companies.  These are just a few of the dozens of weapons programs that will be feeding the bottom lines of such companies in the next two years and beyond.  For programs still in their early stages, like that new bomber and the new ballistic missile submarine, their banner budgetary years are yet to come.

“In explaining the flood of funding that enables a company like Lockheed Martin to reap $35 billion per year in government dollars, defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Groupnoted that ‘diplomacy is out; air strikes are in… In this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs. If demand goes up, prices don’t generally come down. And, of course, it’s virtually impossible to kill stuff. You don’t have to make any kind of tough choices when there’s such a rising tide.’”

Other profitable sectors with dubious societal benefits

The prices of pharmaceuticals continued to rise, boosting the profits of pharmaceutical corporations and, when coupled with rising insurance rates, making it financially difficult for tens of millions of Americans to obtain adequate or any health care. Oil and gas corporations continue to do well and are given more opportunities by the Trump administration to lease and mine for oil and gas off the U.S. coastline, off Alaska, and on national parks, despite warnings of how fossil-fuel emissions contribute to ever more dire global warming.

CEO compensation soars, while average employee/worker earnings stay flat

Corporate CEOs earn hundreds of times more than their average employees and the gap is rising. Chuck Collins gives us this fact: “In the mid-1960s, the ratio of CEO pay and average worker pay was about 20:1. In recent years, the ratio has swollen to more than 300:1” (Is Inequality in America irreversible?, p. 7). Furthermore, Collins points out: “Between 1980 and 2013, the richest 1 percent saw their average real income increase by 142 percent, with their share of national income doubling from 10 percent to 20 percent.” And: “Since the economic meltdown of 2008, an estimated $91 of every $100 in increased earnings have gone to the top 1 percent” (p. 8).

Wages overall continue to stagnate, despite rising productivity. Union membership among private-sector workers is down to less than 7 percent. The federal minimum wage continues to erode. Here’s one fact from Collins book: “In 1970, the bottom half of wage earners, roughly 117 million adults, made an average of $16,000 a year in current dollars. By 2014, earnings for the bottom half of households had remained virtually unchanged, bumping up slightly to $16,200” (p. 6). To pin down this point, Collins notes that “[h]alf of US jobs pay less than $15 an hour and 41 million workers earn under $12 an hour, or less than $25,000 a year” (p. 18).

Some good news on Democrats and fund raising

Some reports indicate that Democratic Party and supportive PACs good news are outspending their Republican counterparts in the 2018 mid-term elections and related spending. According to Open Secrets, “The Center for Responsive Politics projects that more than $5 billion will be spent during the 2018” and “Democrats will spend nearly $300 million more than Republicans — $2.5 billion to $2.2 billion. If current trends continue, Blue will outspend Red for the first time in 10 years” (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/10/cost-of-2018-election).

Of course, this trend add to the information that the Democrats are likely to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, some 10 or so governorships, and perhaps a number of state legislatures and municipal governments. However, if such anticipated Democratic victories come to pass, this would be an indication that a majority of voters are fed up with Trump/Republican policies and corruption. At the same time, it’s not clear how far Democratic officeholders would be able or willing to bend the arc away from the current right-wing agenda.

The abundance of right-wing constituencies beyond the corporate CEOs and billionaires

The right-wing side of the political divide also includes many evangelicals who want America to be a Christian nation and want a Supreme Court and federal judiciary in the hands of ultra-conservative justices. It includes xenophobes, super-patriots, white nationalists and white supremacists, and those who want the government to quash the LBGTQ community, those who oppose the reproductive rights of women, and those who hold an absolutist position on unrestricted access to and ownership of guns, even high-powered assault weapons.

They stick with Trump despite his lies and flip flops

They tolerate or admire the malicious narcissism of Trump, despite his unending stream of lies and his appointments of Wall Street and corporate executives to key positions in his administration, just the opposite of “draining the swamp.”

They don’t seem to care that the revelations that much of Trump’s personal wealth stems from his father’s real estate ventures and from tax evasion and fraud. This story is told in well-documented detail by David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner in a long article for the New York Times. They write:

“Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

“But the Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

“Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.” (https://www,nytimes.com/interative/2018/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-tax-schemes-fred-trump.html).

They like Trump’s rejection of climate science and evidence-based discourse generally, unless it comes from right-wing “experts.” They like his efforts to delegitimize the media with his unceasing claims of “fake news.” They like his statements at rallies that encourage violence against his opponents in the crowd. They like Republican efforts to systematically suppress the vote of those who tend to support Democrats. They don’t mind government actions to suppress dissent generally.

There are several reports that indicate Trump’s supporters remain unflagging in their support, despite criticisms of the president. Writing for The New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters reports that “dozens of Trump voters, as well as pollsters and strategists, described something like a bonding experience with the president that happens each time Republicans have to answer a now-familiar question: ‘How can you possibly still support this man?’” One possible electoral consequence: “Their resilience suggests a level of unity among Republicans that could help mitigate Mr. Trump’s low overall approval ratings and aid his party’s chances of keeping control of the House of Representatives in November.” And:

“Republican voters repeatedly described an instinctive, protective response to the president, and their support has grown in recent months: Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is now about 90 percent. And while polling has yet to capture the effect of the last week’s immigration controversy, the only modern Republican president more popular with his party than Mr. Trump at this point in his first term, according to Gallup, was George W. Bush after the country united in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/politics/republican-voters-trump.html).

Further, it remains to be seen whether the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh will lead more women, including Republican women voters, to withdraw their support of Trump and the Republicans and throw their support of Democratic candidates. This story is still unfolding. But, according to a report by Christopher Cadelago for Politico,

“White House aides and allies conceded that throughout the touch-and-go confirmation battle, they weren’t sure whether Kavanaugh would hold on in the face of the sexual assault allegations and the prevailing #MeToo movement that has swept the country for more than a year. But with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) coming out in support of Kavanaugh Friday afternoon — giving the judge enough votes to get through — Trump’s gamble to stand with him has conservatives feeling like they narrowly escaped catastrophe” (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/05/kavanaugh-confirmation-trumps-base-876298).

Cadelago also reports that White House officials and Republican pollsters are upbeat about what their polling indicates after reviewing polling that shows a narrowing of the “so-called enthusiasm gap between Republicans and already motivated Democrats in key states. And they are encouraged by a surge in fundraising over the final week in September.

The right-wing forces and their agenda going forward

They want further dismantling of the welfare state, keeping taxes low, deregulating government agencies, undermining collective bargaining, privatizing as many government functions as they can, building up an already inflated military, promoting a hyper nationalistic and militaristic “America first,” foreign policy to protect “the homeland,” threatening war with Iran, supporting dictators, ignoring the genocides in Gaza and Yemen, and going along with the continuation of a vast network of U.S. military bases around the world, while withdrawing, weakening, or attacking a host of international agreements and UN programs under the slogan of “America first.” And, most disturbing, their support for buttressing the fossil-fuel dominated energy system continues unabated, even after the most recent report by the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) documenting that catastrophic effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions will destabilize human societies across the globe. Jon Queally reports:

“If the latest warnings contained in Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which included pronouncements that the world has less than twelve years to drastically alter course to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused global warming and that nothing less than keeping all fossil fuels in the ground is the solution to avoid future calamities—have you at all frightened or despondent, experts responding to the report have a potentially unwelcome message for your already over-burdened heart and mind: It’s very likely even worse than you’re being told.” Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate is quoted: “The IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/09/whats-not-latest-terrifying-ipcc-report-much-much-more-terrifying-new-research).

You can find an informative summary of the report on the IPCC website at: https://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events?pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml.

There is more. They favor or are content to go along with the President and other Republican leaders in accepting unprecedented corporate concentration in industry after industry by a few mega corporations. Anti-trust enforcement is becoming an historic relic. They welcome or have no idea of the disproportionate political power that such corporations wield on elections, from lobbying, and in the appointments by the president to policy-influencing positions in the executive branch of government. They accept the views that what really matters are reducing government interference in their lives and allowing an unfettered capitalist system and the corporate-dominated private sector to flourish. The questionable assumption here is that such a political-economic system produces optimal economic growth and benefits that trickle down to most people. Will the next economic recession rupture the Republican base? And it remains to be seen whether Trump’s base of support will splinter over issues such as “pre-existing conditions” and the anticipated Republican plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and the rising costs of housing and education.

The right-wing version on inequality – and the poor, struggling workers, and unions

They have a self-serving Social Darwinist twist on inequality. Those with wealth and power are believed to have earned what they have because of superior intelligence, extraordinary ingenuity, and/or hard work. Why do Trump’s non-rich constituencies go along and seem little concerned about increasing inequality? There are many reasons, but one that stands out is that many of them are doing okay financially, if not doing very well.

Blaming the poor justifies helps to legitimate political and institutional inequalities

Overall, the right wing assumes that the poor are themselves responsible for their situation. How could it be otherwise if people are believed to sort themselves out in the society’s income and wealth hierarchies according to merit and there is assumed to be -at least for the present – a plenitude of, if not equally available, opportunities. So, given these assumptions – other parts of the agenda fall logically in place. They support policies that reduce benefits for those who do not have the means to acquire necessities. They pay little attention to the under-funding of schools in districts with high concentrations of poor households. The issue here is that they rely on property taxes in communities with low property values and little or no industry. Steven Pearlstein documents this point as follows:

“According to the Education Law Center’s 2014 annual report, in only 14 states do schools with high concentrations of poverty households get more in pupil funding than districts with no students in poverty. The rest either have regressive state and local funding structures, with high poverty schools receiving less per pupil than no-poverty schools (19 states), or are neither regressive nor progressive (15 states). Analysis from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development indicates that, among advanced economists, only the United States, Turkey and Israel have school funding structures that are this regressive” (Can American Capitalism Survive?, pp. 112-113).

They claim there are plenty of jobs, but ignore that many don’t pay a living wage

The right-wing adherents also argue that there are plenty of jobs available everywhere and therefore poverty can be avoided if only people who work and have no need for welfare. They disregard facts about employment. The economy is filled with low-wage jobs, less-than-full-time jobs, jobs that have little security, and jobs that offer no benefits. And they ignore how many poor people do work, cycling in out of poverty, as they work when there are available jobs for which they are qualified and fall back into poverty when the jobs end or their life circumstances (e.g., illness) make it impossible to continue.

Barriers to employment

Those on the political right who rehash the old well disputed argument about poverty being the result of people wanting to avoid work ignore the poor who are children, disabled, single-parents who can’t afford child care and may not have transportation, the elderly without adequate pensions or any pension, and those who are already working, often full-time, in jobs that pay a poverty-wage. The ignore the hardships and the accumulation of disadvantages that poor children and families often experience. I’ll quote again some of the evidence documenting this statement from Pearlstein’s book.

They ignore how disadvantages begin early in life

“The latest research confirms that it is the earliest environmental influences that matter most. ‘Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning with the prenatal period and extending through the early childhood years,’ a panel of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in a landmark study published in 2000” (p. 109). I delved into one small aspect of this in an earlier post on the “poisoning of Flint.”

They want to deepen the institutionalization of poverty

Based on the victim-blaming assumptions of the Republicans, they want to further limit access to public assistance for the poor; for example, forcing those getting food stamps or Medicaid to work at least twenty hours a month. The predictable outcome would be to increase the number of poor people who will end up with no or even more inadequate government support.


Moreover, Republicans want to pass laws that limit the ability of workers to unionize and eliminate occupational health and safety regulations. A growing number of states now have “right to work” laws and the right-wing Supreme Court has just decided, 5 to 4, that unions can no longer collect fees for their services from non-union members in a workplace, that is for increased wages and benefits or protecting workers from violations of collective bargaining contracts. The right-wing forces in the country hate unions, which have been among the most important institutional vehicles for reducing poverty in American history. Professor Jason Stanley has a useful summary.

“Today, ‘right to work’ legislation has passed in twenty-eight U.S. states, and at the time of this writing threatens to be validated by the Supreme Court, at least for public unions. These laws forbid unions to collect dues from employees who do not wish to pay them, while requiring unions to provide employees who do not choose to pay dues equal union representation and rights. Such legislation is intended to destroy labor unions by removing their access to financial support. ‘Right to work’ is an Orwellian name for legislation that attacks workers’ ability to collectively bargain, thereby robbing workers of a voice” (How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, p. 174).

Criminalizing the poor

In municipalities strapped for revenues, the criminalizing poverty has become a way of generating revenues. Peter Edelman devotes his new book to this subject, which is titled Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America. He writes:

“Beyond mass incarceration, beginning in the 1990s we adopted a new set of criminal justice strategies that further punish poor people for their poverty. Low-income people are arrested for minor violations that are only annoyances for people with means but are disastrous for the poor and near poor because of the high fines and fees we now almost routinely impose. Poor people are held in jail to await trial when they cannot afford bail, fined excessive amounts, and high with continuously mounting costs and fees. Failure to pay begets more jail time, more debts from accumulated interest charges, additional fines and fees, and, in a common penalty with significant consequences for those living below or near the poverty line, repeated driver’s license suspensions. Poor people lose their liberty and often lose their jobs, are frequently barred from a host of public benefits, may lose custody of their children, and may even lose their right to vote” (p. xiii).

As indicated, the expansion of the already massive system of jails and prisons, imprisoning disproportionately high numbers of African Americans and Latinos, and the building of for-profit detention centers and concentration camps for refugees trying to enter the country are a testimony to how the poor suffer from institutional arrangements and government policies that limit opportunities and ignore the tribulations and consequences of poverty. All the while, the president and Republican Party advance the most anti-immigration policies in generations.

The Challenges

We now find ourselves in a political situation in which approaches one-party rule, as the Republicans have control of the presidency, more and more of the executive branch agencies, both houses of the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court and more and more positions in the federal judiciary, and the majority of state governments. Responding to the challenge, Democrats and activists of all stripes are working to register, educate, and mobilize voters for the upcoming mid-term elections in November. And polls indicate that they have a good chance of taking control of the House of Representatives, electing perhaps 10 additional Democratic governors…. And there is the hope that there will be additional Democratic victories in 2020.

If all this should transpire, there are great and pressing challenges to confront. It will take not only a mobilized and educated electorate and victories at the polls that bring strong progressive Democratic majorities to the White House and the U.S. Congress, but also strong initiatives to implement policies that reign in corporate power, introduce progressive taxes, campaign finance reform, and a Medicare-for-all health care policy, that protect voters’ rights, that strengthen the social safety net and consider the idea of a basic income for everyone, that reverse the anti-union “right to work” laws, that accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, that revamp foreign policy in ways to advance international agreements and reduce the threats and use of military force, that renew international efforts toward rational climate and environmental policies, that are aimed at phasing out of nuclear weapons, that ensure protection of the reproductive rights of women and the constitutional rights of all citizens to fair treatment….

There is much to be done, the opposition is powerful and relentless, and there little time to do it.


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