WHO VOTES FOR REPUBLICANS, AND FOR GOD’S SAKE, WHY?

I read the other day that Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, who represents nearby Burbank and Glendale had proposed, along with two other San Fernando Valley Democratic congressmen an amendment to an aviation bill that would have allowed the Burbank airport to impose a curfew on overnight flights because of decades of complaints of noise in surrounding communities. Republicans voted it down of course, representing their constituents, which I am sure you will be deeply shocked to learn are not the many ordinary citizens affected by the noise, but major airlines and cargo carriers.

This does seem to perfectly encapsulate today’s Republican Party and current conservatism. If you’re a consumer, which virtually everyone is, or anyone who isn’t highly influential economically, there’s very little chance it represents your interests…ever.

There’s an abundant history of segments of America voting against their own economic interests. Prominent analysis, fairly compelling, concludes voting for Republicans often is most influenced by views on social issues related to say, abortion and homosexuality, issues top Republicans will dwell upon not because they really care about them but because it is one of the only methods available to entice some Americans to vote against their own economic interests. One key to this of course is to manufacture or gin up as many faux controversies as possible, and certainly create the perception that Democrats occupy The Dark Side, enemies of all that is wholesome, representing the immoral, the dangerous, and the menacing, Other. That may be an apt description of me, but definitely not of most Democrats.

But ask yourself: Is there any situation, issue or challenge where today’s Republicans unreservedly take the side of everyday Americans and the American middle class as opposed to that of wealth, power, and the more enfranchised? If you can think of one let me know. Really. There’s a comment section here.

Americans historically never have been particularly fond of institutions that have them by the balls and regularly abuse them, hence the telephone company, utilities, banks, landlords and cable companies come in for a bushel of scorn, and guess who speaks consistently for those guys?

Yet, a fair segment of Americans for whatever reasons, and they surely are varied, vote for a political party that rarely if ever has its interest in mind. One can conclude those voters agree with conservative ideology on paper, even if the consequences are poorly understood. There are all sorts of cultural and personal biases that come into play as well.

But when it comes down to a question of where Republicans stand politically as measured by their legislative history and the action of Republican elected officials, there’s no question that the interests of the ordinary person or the consumer are on one side, and the interests of the powerful or the enfranchised are on the other, and Republicans will speak and will act on behalf of the latter.

I’ve made a somewhat offhand and delimited list of specific areas in which Republicans consistently take the side of or empower or protect entities squeezing Americans by their tender parts, with as concise as possible an explanation of how:

Credit card companies:
In 2005, during the Bush presidency, and with Republicans in control of congress, Republicans, displaying their reliable gift for cynicism came up with something called The Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 whose actual stipulations made enforcing laws against predatory lending practices, including credit card use more difficult, as well as allowing more forceful collection practices, siding with banks and against consumers.

In 2008, Democrats proposed something called the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights, including consumer protections such as: reducing unfair or untimely interest rate increases and excessive fees; requiring credit card companies to mail bills 21 days rather than 14 days before the bills were due and late fees were owed; requiring payments made until 5 p.m. on the due date to be credited. Democrats passed it in the House, but Republicans filibustered it in the Senate and it died there.

In 2009, Democrats managed to pass the Credit Card Act of 2009, as part of overall financial reform, containing a host of consumer protections from harsh, deceptive and unfair credit card practices. Republicans opposed it, and after passage made numerous attempts to delay its implementation. As the date of implementation approached, credit card companies began to wildly ratchet up rates prior to the law taking effect. Democrats proposed freezing rate increases until the law could take effect, Republicans fought it.

Banks
After recklessness and abuse in an increasingly laxly regulated banking, investment, and financial sector produced the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression, Democrats proposed financial reforms, attempting to limit or curtail the worst practices related to complicated financial instruments like derivatives and credit default swaps. Attempts were made to separate banks per se from investment companies, meaning limiting the amount of money banks could risk in the investment markets, funds insured by tax-payers. These and other reforms were opposed by Republican legislators, who with the threat of filibusters were able to water down substantially in the eventual law passed as The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Republicans have attempted to chip away at that law since, incessantly proposing bills that would strip or revise its provisions. They claim that if and when they control enough of government to do so, they will repeal most of the law’s revisions, if not the entire thing.

As part of financial reform, the President created, and Republicans ferociously opposed and continue to do so, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose purpose is to protect consumers from bank and credit card companies, principally by requiring transparency and comprehensibility in financial documents, paperwork or pitches that go to consumers, so that at the very least, consumers can reasonably easily understand the rules. In other words, it’s an overall effort to eliminate the fine print that takes advantage of, and frankly tricks many consumers. Again, Republicans claim that should they get the opportunity they will close it down.

Energy companies
Republicans from time immemorial have protected the tax breaks and direct subsidies for the petroleum industry. Republicans claim the deficit is too, too high, and programs for the middle-class are too, too expensive. Yet, while doing so they fight, and have done so from time immemorial to protect the enormous subsidies going annually from taxpayers to oil companies, companies whose profits are the highest of any in business, and which recorded historically record profits during the spike in energy prices in 2009.

The environment
This one has always puzzled me since Republicans are required to breathe the air and drink the water too. I’m beginning to think they now own their own private air supply and a reservoir. In any case, in virtually any instance in which the health of citizens is pitted against the wishes or the convenience of polluters, Republicans side with polluters. Republicans take the position that regulations cost businesses money. That is surely true. On the other hand, if in order for a business to make its money for its limited number of beneficiaries, its owners, the few, is it fair or reasonable that in doing so a large number of citizens should incur negative effects on their basic health as a result of what is happening to the air or water in their proximity?

Leaving aside the dire consequences to everyone of global warming (which despite an indisputable consensus among climate scientists is occurring, and is being driven by human behavior,  Republican politicians deny) we know the effects of particulates, the combining of residue produced by the burning of carbon with small particles in the air creating a toxic particulate that humans breathe. In California, environmental laws consistently opposed by most Republicans have forced significant reductions in lung cancer deaths and other pulmonary-related deaths. So while Republicans may claim to be on the side of business, and opposing regulation on principle, it still requires one to ask the question of whether it is fair to endanger or diminish the health of many so that the profits of a few are never diminished by any amount.

As a measure of how extreme the right has become when it comes to environmental concerns, Richard Nixon approved the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. During the Bush presidency, the agency charged with protecting the environment rolled back protections in over 400 instances. Republicans now call for the dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency, entirely, and the current Republican majority in the House of Representatives has included the end of funding, and hence demolishment of the EPA in its budget proposals.

Wages
While a limited number of Americans are directly affected by the minimum wage, there are Americans attempting to subsist and raise families on minimum wage salaries. Besides that, when the minimum wage, the base allowable wage in the country increases everyone else’s wages increase too. Republicans proposed no increases in the minimum wage during the entire period in which all branches of government were controlled by Republicans. Republicans consistently vote against minimum wage increases when they are proposed, and many of today’s Republicans claim to oppose the minimum wage in principle. Their claim is that requiring a minimum wage increases the cost of doing business and decreases jobs or increases prices, though all economic data prove this has never been the case. Big business perennially opposes the minimum wage, as does the corporation-friendly Chamber of Commerce. But that is who Republicans represent, not the average worker.

Republicans strongly oppose laws making it easier for workers to organize (the Card Check Bill) and as we have seen recently, seek to diminish workers’ rights and unionization in state after state, having proposed more than 700 anti-union laws across the fifty states since Wisconsin’s Republicans made their assault on public employee unions.

However, whatever one thinks of unions specifically, as with the minimum wage, when unions negotiate higher wages for themselves, average workers’ wages increase as well. In fact, union wages provide the major upward pressure on wages in our economy. During the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies when union membership was highest and the power of unions greatest, average income rose at levels it has not since, as union membership decreased and anti-union laws prevailed in more places. Furthermore, the post-war decades saw an economic boom, an expansion of the American economy not equaled since. Once more, if you’re an average worker or middle-class person Republicans’ interest and energy is elsewhere when it comes to your standard of living.

Tax burden
This one is extremely simple: when taxes are extremely low for the wealthy, those with the means to contribute a large amount of revenue, one of two things happens: middle-class and lower income workers absorb the revenue burden, or else government services used by everyone, and that means infrastructure, schools, food inspection, all of it, must be reduced. For modern Republicans this is a clear choice: reduce what government does in order to prevent the rich from having to contribute as they once did, and as they do in other modern, first-world democracies.

Marginal rates for the wealthiest Americans were in the vicinity of 91% during the post-war economic boom. Kennedy reduced them to 70%, where they remained until Reagan cut them in half. Clinton increased them minimally during his administration, though Bush wiped out that increase and decreased them additionally during his administration. The wealthy now pay the lowest taxes paid by them historically, and are among the lowest in the entire world.

Republicans relentlessly oppose progressivity in the income tax system, meaning the more you make the more you pay. Republicans generally support regressive taxes, such as sales or payroll taxes that tax everyone pays at the same rate, meaning the more you have the less it hurts, the less you have the more burdensome the tax is.

Republicans incessantly clamor for lower capital gains tax rates, meaning taxes owed on money made from investment or speculation. Most of this income flows to the already wealthy naturally, current rates standing around 15%. In other words, if you make your money shuffling paper around or gambling in the securities market you pay a tax rate of 15%. If you punch the clock and get a paycheck you’ll pay fifteen or twenty percent more on the money you earn.

Net neutrality
Like breathing air, it would seem even Republicans use the internet. But here again, they stridently oppose net neutrality laws or FCC rules imposing any degree of neutrality. This means they favor allowing internet providers to charge websites for speedier service on that site, meaning smaller sites unable to pay those fees will become part of an internet ghetto of slow service or inaccessibility. Service providers, supported by Republicans seek to move toward a “fee for services” model, in which charges to consumers will be along the lines of cable television “packages,” in this case for a set number of websites instead of channels.

Education
There are many Americans who historically have considered American public education one of America’s great accomplishments. It educated a working class that prospered for decades and won two world wars. However, since the era of public school segregation ended, and large swaths of white families transferred their kids from public to private schools, conservatives have had the public school system in their gun sights, and rarely miss an opportunity to denigrate the public schools.

The idea conservatives and Republicans promote is transferring money otherwise devoted to public education to vouchers. The Republican snake oil is that by giving vouchers for private schools, everybody rich or poor can attend a private schools. Except they can’t. If the private school tuition is $30,000 a year, a $5,000 voucher reduces the tab for wealthier folks whose kids are going there already. Of course, if you give that voucher to a middle class or lower income family they can’t use it all, because they can’t afford the $25,000 a year remaining on the tuition. So rich folks, who can afford to send their kids to private schools anyhow get a nice rebate on their tuition, and their kids enjoy private school. Everybody else’s kids continue to go to public school, which of course, absent the funding now going to vouchers, are even harder pressed to provide a quality education. And in every federal budget discussion Republicans seek to reduce federal money to states for public education.

Likewise, Republicans regularly, and certainly in their recent budget proposals aim a meat axe at Pell Grants that make it possible for the children of middle-class Americans to go to college. At the state level, among the first areas Republicans seek to cut are funds for local schools and state supported colleges and universities.

Workplace safety
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA , was created by congress in 1970, and in another of those markers of Republican drift to the extreme right, was signed into law by Richard Nixon. But since then it has been under attack by a series of Republicans, and today is a bête noire for Republicans of all stripes. The basic idea behind OSHA is to ensure a reasonably safe work environment for workers. The Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush administrations significantly reduced OSHA enforcement. In the late Nineties, with a higher and higher percentage of workplace injuries classified as musculoskeletal, resulting in more and more time missed from work due to muscle and bone stress from office work, and essentially computer work, OSHA issued ergonomic guidelines to business. In 2001 a Republican controlled congress passed and George Bush signed legislation repealing those guidelines.

OSHA enforcement was all but ended during the Bush administration. The Washington Post reported that, “From 2001 to the end of 2007, OSHA officials issued 86 percent fewer rules or regulations termed economically significant by the Office of Management and Budget than their counterparts did during a similar period in President Bill Clinton’s tenure.” Among the regulations proposed by OSHA but stifled by the Bush administration was one designed to protect hospital workers from tuberculosis, and could have prevented 32,000 illnesses and 200 deaths annually. Another rule killed by the administration related to the regulation of crystalline silica, the tiny fibrous material in cement and stone dust that causes lung disease or cancer. According to OSHA, these regulations could have prevented an estimated 41 silicosis deaths and 20 to 40 lung cancers annually.

In West Virginia in 2010 an explosion in a coal mine operated by Massey Energy killed 29 workers. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration and other outside experts this explosion was due to lax safety procedures and was preventable. Later that year Democrats in congress proposed the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010. Republicans attacked the proposal, with Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming saying, “Democrats have chosen to introduce a sweeping piece of legislation that affects every business in this country and only amplifies the adversarial role of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.” The law failed a House vote in late 2010 and has yet to be resurrected.

Current Republican budget bills in the House of Representatives propose cutting 99 million from OSHA’S budget, in effect crippling it.

Health Care
Though Democrats have proposed overhauls of the healthcare system since the Truman administration, and Richard Nixon proposed a plan more consumer friendly than the recently enacted health reform law, Republicans have consistently opposed health reform. Though America is the only first-world country in the world that does not have a universal health care system, and that America pays twice the amount of its gross domestic product on health care than nations with universal coverage, and despite that with all of this America has health outcomes far inferior to nations with universal coverage, Republicans have protected the status quo, and the profits of insurance companies.

Republicans have fought health reform by propagating the misinformation and false propaganda injected into every health reform debate by insurance companies seeking to protect exorbitant premiums that year after year rise at multiples of the rate of inflation. In particular, falsehoods are repeated regarding the quality and cost of care in the many nations with universal systems, where for-profit health insurance no longer exists, and for somewhat obvious reasons one would say. The recently enacted health reform law, opposed by all Republicans does in fact remedy some of the worst practices of insurers, such as recisions, the practice of dumping the insured from their coverage once they get sick.

Again, for Republicans, the well-being and profits of a powerful and influential industry trump the needs of millions of ordinary citizen with no, or inadequate health coverage, resulting in billions in extra cost and countless preventable deaths.

Social Security
Created as the most prominent, and over time the most successful of the nation’s safety net programs Social Security was proposed by Franklin Roosevelt despite strong conservative opposition. At the time of its inception 25% of America’s elderly lived below the poverty line. Since its enactment, the poverty rate for seniors is eleven or twelve percent, in line for that of other demographic groups.

Republicans rail against Social Security, though it is self-supporting, is financially sound as it is until 2042, and in fact has such a large surplus it has been loaning money to the treasury for decades (a source of revenue by the way, that again shields America’s wealthy from a larger tax contribution). It also should be noted that the wealthy have been protected when it comes to contributions to social security. A flat percentage of worker’s incomes goes to Social Security. However, that percentage applies only to the first $106,000, meaning those with higher incomes get a nice break.

Republicans continue to push to end Social Security or “privatize” it, which would amount to the same thing. Leaving workers only the option of putting some of their earnings into investments and stocks may be good for banks and investment companies but not so good for retirees. The recent financial collapse wiped out billions of retiree funds, and had Social Security been effectively privatized when George Bush attempted to do so, the situation for seniors would have been catastrophic.

Medicare
Medicare, like Social Security has been an extraordinarily successful program. Though Republicans rail against the purported inefficiency of “big government” and government programs, the percentage of administrative cost for Medicare is two to six percent. For private insurance companies it is in the fifteen or twenty percent range.

Though like Social Security, Americans pay into this system for their entire working lives, and like Social Security provides a hedge against hardship for ordinary, middle-class Americans when they no longer are able to work, Republicans opposed its creation in the Sixties (Ronald Reagan famously describing it as encroaching Stalinism), and have criticized it since, and currently are seeking to privatize it as well.

Tort Reform
Here’s a reform Republicans love dearly, and they’ve been pushing it for many a year. Unfortunately, it would not make life better for ordinary folks but again, only for corporations or others with heavy-duty economic power. Simply put this reform seeks to limit what juries may award to plaintiffs who have suffered harm or injury, or the families of those killed due to defective or faulty products, or as the result of malpractice,.

Once again Republicans argue that paying heavy legal damages cuts into corporate and business profits, and typically like to argue goods will cost more if companies are forced to spend more to ensure their safety. Evidence from numerous trials and litigation over the years has shown that companies regularly are aware of dangerous product defects, but rather than remove them calculate it would be cheaper for them to pay legal damages than to iron the problem out of the product. So tort reform simply would allow business to offer dangerous products to the consumer, and simply budget in the cost of  legal damages capped by tort reform.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: