Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
There will always be bigots who insist on denying the rights of others not like them, and those driven by greed who only want to take, to consume and devour and in doing so, leave our planet despoiled. Social and environmental justice have always been continuous struggles. However, don’t be discouraged into thinking that justice isn’t just.
Civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and environmental rights movements are all fighting the same enemy. That enemy is the existing corporate and political power structure, a predominantly male, Republican body that has brought together many of humanity’s worst sins, namely greed, racism, misogyny, and for very many, willful self-delusion, into a dangerous and potent political force. Incredibly, the directors of this movement, the McConnells, Kochs, and Trumps of the world have little in common with the most fervent in their base. Yes, bigotry and misogyny run rampant, but beyond that, the stratospheric wealth enjoyed by those in the one percent relies on suppressed wages, broken unions, easy layoffs, gender and race-based pay discrimination, temporary employment contracts, diluted worker safety rules, lax corporate bankruptcy and pension laws, and weakened environmental rules. In short, the ultra-rich and their purchased politicians have created a vulnerable, underpaid, and needy workforce – the suffering middle class – that is hostage to their whims. That record wealth enjoyed by the very few relies on the allegiance (and votes) of millions of the same people they victimize. Those who voted for Trump hoping that his magic dust might rub off on them, voted against themselves. Sadly, Trump’s rhetoric appeals to many bigoted voters who chose Trump thinking it would sanctify their hatred.
Shamefully, it all worked out for Trump. Promise more corporate welfare, manipulate the millions of those hit by offshoring, and blast the dog whistles of hate and bigotry, and you too can win the presidency, even if not by a majority. Trump appealed to the worst in many of us, and he won.
All of that notwithstanding, Democrats, liberals, have made great progress over the many decades. Witness the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the 19th Amendment, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and many other accomplishments. Women only got the right to vote in 1920, and African Americans effectively in 1965!
These battles were hard-fought. People died for the right to unionize. People died for a 40-hour workweek and overtime pay, people died for a guaranteed minimum wage, and people died for job safety protections. The civil rights struggle saw many African Americans attacked and murdered, and that struggle continues; witness black incarceration rates and rampant murders by racist police agencies. As recently as 1938, there were no federal laws limiting child labor and many children worked up to 70 hours per week in grueling jobs, receiving only a pittance, and no education.
Before passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, there were no national controls over the discharge of chemicals and raw sewage into the nation’s waterways. In many rivers, lakes, and bays in the US, heavy pollution had killed most aquatic life. By the 1960s, Time Magazine declared Lake Erie dead, and in 1969 the Cayuga River in Ohio was so polluted that it caught fire, causing $100,000 in damage (in 1969 dollars) to two railroad bridges. However, the Cayuga River had burned at least 12 times prior. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fires were common on rivers in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo and elsewhere as businesses used American rivers as dumping grounds. Before the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, smog polluted our major cities so badly that they looked like Beijing, China today. The National Institutes of Health calculated that the Clean Air Act had, by 1990, saved over 200,000 lives and avoided millions of cases of non-fatal but severe illnesses. Over those twenty years alone, the CAA saved the US as much as $50 trillion in healthcare costs, lost wages, lost productivity and premature deaths compared against implementation costs of only $523 billion. Today, Trump and other Republicans gush of abolishing the EPA and overturning the Clean Water and Clean Air acts.
In each of these victories, it was contemporary liberals, women, and minorities who carried the struggle against the powerful and their complicit politicians. The record of most Republican politicians over the last century has been to protect the corporatists and plutocrats and attack the rights of average American citizens. A notable exception was Nixon’s introduction of the EPA. (Government marginally worked once upon a time, many years ago.) Today, corporations today pay their dues to the Republican Party in return for legislation that benefits them exclusively, at the direct expense of everyday citizens. A perfect example is ALEC, a Republican organization founded to create a secret forum where member corporations (those willing to pay a lot of money) can directly access and influence Republican state legislators. ALEC is quid-pro-quo in action. Democrats aren’t immune from conflicts of interest, but with ALEC, Republican politicians have codified blatant, systemic corruption.
Clearly, the battle still rages. Republican governors, senators and representatives are still pushing to slash workers’ rights, end overtime pay, kill the minimum wage, weaken safety regulations, destroy unions, cut unemployment compensation, eliminate training programs for Americans whose jobs have been offshored, and even end child labor restrictions, all for the greed of corporations.
Rick Snyder, Republican governor of Michigan, gave his ultra-wealthy corporate friends a massive tax break, ($1.7 billion) and financed it by increasing taxes on seniors and low-income families and stealing revenue from Michigan’s cities, including Flint. Michigan diverts a portion of state tax collections from the cities, cuts that Snyder deems “fiscally responsible”. Short on cash, Flint’s City Council switched its public water supplier from the City of Detroit to a cheaper supplier that drew water from the Flint River, a source severely polluted with corrosive acids and heavy metals from decades of industrial abuse. The move poisoned Flint’s 100,000 residents for months, including over 10,000 children under six. Lead poisoning can cause permanent neurological harm, even kill. Coincidentally, in Flint’s case the state’s diversion of funds totals over $55 million, about the same amount it would take to replace all of Flint’s toxic water pipes with new piping.
Republicans are screaming about killing Obamacare immediately with no backup plan – too bad for the twenty million people who rely on it. Their paramount concern is corporate profits, and those profits are at all-time highs. Now, more than ever, more American workers have no power, little job security, bankrupt pensions, and little hope of improvement. Average wage growth in the US has flat-lined over the last thirty-five years, with many red states mired in permanent poverty even while average America CEO salaries have exploded. The only period of actual wage growth has been in the last six months, under President Obama, but this doesn’t make up for over 30 years of losses. Income disparity in America is at an all-time high, and growing worse.
Citizen’s rights struggles have never been easy, but they have succeeded for two reasons: 1) those citizens had the courage to stand up for their rights. By aggressively resisting, they refused to consent to the abuse, and 2) their cause was always just. They never needed Republican/Orwellian double-speak to defend themselves, because the core truth of their cause was clearly undeniable: Dignity is a human right.
Through weak labor laws, global capitalism, and unrestrained trade pitting American workers against third-world factory sweatshops, corporations have amassed wealth and political clout unprecedented in human history. Republicans have dished out decades in corporate tax cuts, hundreds of billions of dollars, effectively creating permanent, taxpayer-sponsored welfare programs for the ultra-rich plutocrats
Republican plutocrats complain that America’s corporate tax rate of 35 percent is too high, but that number ignores the smorgasbord of deductions and loopholes that slash the effective corporate tax rate to only 14 percent on average. And many corporations pay far less. In 2014, Pfizer reported a $3.1 billion tax bill worldwide and an effective tax rate of 25.5 percent. However, Pfizer actually paid less than $1 billion in taxes to the US government, for an effective rate of just 7.5 percent. The reason is, the US doesn’t collect taxes on American companies for profits earned overseas. Many companies horde those profits offshore and never pay US taxes on them, or they open overseas factories and sell those products back to the US, paying no taxes on the profits. Pfizer has parked roughly $148 billion in untaxed profits in offshore accounts. The company currently earns many millions on overpriced drugs made at its foreign subsidiaries, using American patents and sold to American customers, and pays no US taxes on those profits.
In fact, 20% of all profitable, major American corporations paid no income taxes in 2011, zero, and this is typical. Donald Trump claims he is a billionaire ten times over, yet has paid no federal income taxes for at least a decade. In actual dollars, most Americans have paid more in federal income taxes than Trump. This is justice? Now, Trump and the Republicans plan to cut corporate taxes even more – to benefit the one percent – the nation be damned. Republicans only worry about the national debt when they are not in power.
With November’s election results, a century of progress is at risk. As a nation, we cannot win and lose at the same time. State and federal laws that rob our treasury, cut wages, destroy unions, rob pensions, deny healthcare, pollute our soil, water, and air, these laws affect us all, blacks, whites, Latinos, men and women, and our families. Racism and discrimination are debilitating problems for America, but make no mistake; plutocrats will not protect you or your job just because you’re white.
The facts are these: Republican politicians openly demand the total deregulation of capitalism and its supremacy over all else, people, democracy, healthy food, breathable air, drinkable water, and the planet. To the plutocrats and their Republican benefactors, the Earth and its citizens are only resources to be used, devoured, and discarded, or obstacles to be crushed. They detest the notion of a “common-wealth” and the advancement of America as a whole. Their bigotry and their greed blind them entirely. Their “cause” is blatantly unjust, anti-American, anti-Earth, ravenous, bigoted, misogynistic, corrupt, rapacious, sociopathic, and for all of us and this Earth, utterly unsustainable.
Our silence is consent. In silence, we agree to be victimized. The longer we, the 99 percent, fail to unite – all creeds, all colors, all men and women, those in poverty and those soon to be – the harder the fight becomes. We the citizens must realize our common interests and goals, because divided by hatred, we lose. We cannot let ourselves be manipulated. We must unite and resist together. We cannot lie down. We must constantly challenge our representatives, we must vote in every election, and we must resist, en masse, in the streets, on campuses, in federal and state office buildings, or so much of what America means to us, our lives, and the world will be lost. If we unite, we will win, because our cause is just.
Copyright 2017 Daniel R. Cobb
Anti-Trump protest in downtown Pittsburgh outside Trump’s fundraiser at the Duquesne Club — which was founded in 1873 by robber barons and which a progressive activist recently renamed “The Belly of the Beast.”