History in Today’s Politics – WHITHER THE ELEPHANT

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

 

Frontier justice courtesy of Judge Roy Bean - Public Domain

Where are the Republicans headed?  What is their dream of perfection? When they get through with their current shenanigans in Washington and elsewhere, what will the United States of America look like?

One not wholly facetious answer was given in the following manner. How about a country where there are no taxes, no government, and everyone has a gun.

And, folks, such an entity is not beyond probability. We have a living example in our own day and age of the GOP nirvana.

Yes, that’s correct. The hard right, especially the Tea Party faction, would turn us into Somalia. No taxes. No government. A populace armed beyond the dreams of the National Rifle Association. And even latter day pirates.

Looking at this amazing revival in the 21st century of the (we thought) suppressed bad ways of the past, we might speculate that many  Republicans dream of re-creating the free-wheeling atmosphere of the old Wild West. Gun slingers everywhere. Trains held up by bandits. Posses. Vigilantes. Every man and woman for themselves (except when you had a barn raising). But that scenario is hardly as pure from the Tea Party mantra point of view as Somalia, USA, would be. Beyond the Mississippi, too much government interference from Washington, D.C. Soldiers – lots of soldiers, paid for by the Feds, manning forts, and the people, damn them, wanted that protection. Also, as legend has it, the publ ic toting of weaponry was not as unfettered as the NRA would have liked it.  You had to check your six-shooters at the saloon door. Even non-too-bright cowboys knew that guns and alcohol make for a deadly fix.

Grover Norquist, the GOP’s ultimate anarchist, who’s made a prosperous living by screaming about taxes, has expressed nostalgia for a return to the Gilded Age, when the “robber barons,’ rich on oil and railroads, ruled the roost in the United States. You had to love the Jay Goulds, the Vanderbilts, the J.P. Morgans and their ilk. Pay taxes? Don’t be absurd. These he-men of industry could pour their money untouched into baronial palaces in places like Newport and Bar Harbor and Tuxedo Park. The Federal government let them strut their stuff unhindered…Well, no, that’s not quite accurate. The Federal government of those days in the 19th century gave them the wherewithal  – shall we say “stimulus” – to the railroaders, anyway, by the gift of millions of acres of public land, good not only for tracks to run through but for development, as well. The oil boys like Rockefeller, were not long in bringing up out of the ground geysers of petroleum but also striking gold in mining government subsidies.

There’s a true political story that’s always intrigued me. It happened during the Eisenhower years. Remember that Ike, President from 1952 to 1960, was the first Republican in the White House after the FDR-Truman stretch of 20 years. One of the true believers in Ike’s entourage was a young Republican named Carl Hess. He believed devoutly in the GOP dictum that government should be reduced in size and that the unfettered market should determine everything else economically. Hess worked in the Eisenhower Administration  for a spell, then abruptly quit. His disillusionment was complete. It was not that his fellow Republicans were working to limit government, he had discovered, but they were working to use their control of government to serve their own private interests. When last seen, Carl Hess was living a hippie life on a houseboat.

Republicans enriching themselves and their buddies. Sound familiar? What we have now in D.C. from the Grand Old Party is a screed that you must cow-tow to the job creators (even if an unholy amount of those jobs are created overseas). To disguise the fact that these so-called job creators, after having received billions in tax reductions and other perks have not created many jobs to date – indeed, earlier on, starting in 2007, either lost or deliberately jettisoned millions of employed workers – the cry is out that we haven’t yet done enough for these holders of the purse. Unless we create more unemployment, more foreclosures, more wage reductions, those “job creators” will not be activated. They are – it can be speculated – waiting for another good old Depression, like in 1929. Beginning signs of the success of their strategy are already appearing: like once middle class kids and their parents living in automobiles, a doubling of applications for government-supplied school meals, crowded food pantries for dispossesed families, pockets of unrest and growing desperation. The Baehners and McConnells and Cantors – the GOP leaders – aim at digging the hole deeper. The labor unions have to be gotten rid of. The money for programs they don’t like – Medicare, Social Security, etc. – must be turned over to market forces, to their cronies and masters, who will make billions from them. They offer only blood, sweat and tears, but it’s not their blood, sweat and tears. It’s for us – the 99% – to suffer.

However, America is stirring. The unfairness of what the GOP has already wrought has touched the public. Our democracy has a history of righting itself when it tilts too far in one direction. President Obama, thank God, has now recognized the nihilism of the utterly unloyal Republican opposition. Years back, when the GOP was totally in power  during the 1920’s, they took us down into the depths of the Great Depression. Ever since, they have been working assiduously to undermine the protections that saved us from that cataclysm. This century, so far, a Great Recession has been the fruit of their labors. Time to call a halt.

Categories: National Politics

History in Today’s Politics – Citizens United

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Supreme Court - Public Domain

The recent 5-4 decision by the United States Supreme Court in a case brought before them through the intervention of a group known as Citizens United has created a major sensation on the American political scene. It joins other landmark cases such as Roe Versus Wade and Brown Versus School Board in its making of waves, and some comentators have even dipped into the deep past and likened it to the Dred Scott case on slavery prior to the Civil War and Plessy Versus Ferguson on segregation after 1865.

What the Supreme Court decided by a one vote margin was that money equaled free speech and its use could not be curtailed by State laws during elections. To the dissenters, this meant that elections in America now could be legally “bought.”

So what do we know about this group that successfullychallenged spending limits on the amount that individuals (which include corporations and labor unions) can use to support candidates who, from their point of view, if elected, will favor  their donors in the passage of legislation?

David Bossie is not a name known to most Americans. For the past decade, the Massachusetts native has been President and Chairman of an outfit that Wikipedia describes as “a conservative advocacy organization.” He apparently first surfaced during a CBS investigative report on “dirty tricks” in connection with harassment of the family of a young woman in Arkansas who committed suicide –  an action that was said to have been inspired by an alleged affair with President Bill Clinton. Next Bossie, in Washington, D.C., was involved in the exposing the Clintons’ ties to the so-called Whitewater scandal. Working for Indiana Congressman, Dan Burton , Chairman of the House Committee investigating the Arkansas land deal gone sour, Bossie was actually fired for having tampered with various documents and recordings.

As an author, Bossie’s work is predictably right-wing and includes attacks on John Kerry, Hilary Clinton and Al  Gore. He has also made slanted movies – one of which attributes the 2008 financial plunge not to the manipulations of Wall Street, but to “the selfishness of the Baby Boomer generation.”

Citizens United reached the zenith of its political effectiveness when its challenge to expenditure reached the U.S Supreme Court. The landmark 5-4 decision in the case of Citizens United Versus Federal Election Commission  resulted  in a prevailing opinion that the First Amendment to the Constitution does  not allow government  to put restrictions on political messages by corporations and labor unions. Citizens United brought their suit because it wanted to advertise a film it had made attacking Hillary Clinton in apparent violation of the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act ( McCain-Feingold) passed in 2002. That law would have prevented the film from being shown on TV within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries, in which Hillary Clinton was a candidate.

Rather unnoticed in all of the commotion caused by the ruling was the fact that the Court’s fiat did not undo requirements in any of these political ads for “disclaimers and disclosures” by the sponsors.

Thus, jumping ahead to 2011 and the November 11th vote in Ohio to overturn that State Legislature’s passage of bill to end collective bargaining for public workers, Citizens United weighed in with a six figure donation -$ 100,00 to play a 30 second TV spot. David Bossie openly announced this donation from this group, But there was no mention of who had really paid for it. The circumstances brought a response from the pro-workers coalition that Citizens United’s move was “a desperate attempt by another shadowy out-of-State group that refuses to disclose the source of its money.”

Citizens United’s infusion of cash, however, did not have the desired effect. By a whopping 60-40 margin, the Ohio Republicans anti-worker, anti-middle class legislation was defeated.

While it is obvious that the untraceable six figure donation by the Citizens United organization did not succeed in buying the Ohio election, the same may not be true in future cases. Money needed for campaigns had already surged to hitherto unimaginable heights and consumes most candidates for major office. The media already categorizes those who enter the political arena as viable (if they can raise money) or non-viable (if they cannot). Public disgust with elected officials directly follows out of such buying and selling of political favors. Note that only 9% of the electorate approves of Congress.

The Citizen United’s verdict only exacerbates the problem. If money is free speech, then our democracy as we have known it will be eventually doomed. One can bet that Citizens United is funded by the top 1% of the richest Americans who now will be able to use their wealth to influence elections more easily – one could even say “freely” – in buying more privileges for themselves. Their attempts, through will’o’the wisps nostrums like 9-9-9 or the Texas Flat Tax, to garner for the rich ever more of an unbalanced chunk of the national fiscal pie, do follow a twisted path back into America’s past to the pre-Revolutionary Tory aristocracy against which we revolted.

Even now, efforts are under way to counteract this blow to our American liberties by working for an amendment to the Constitution to undo this injustice. We have been there before with other horrid Supreme Court decisions, for example when a pro-slavery U.S. Supreme Court majority declared that a slave was always a slave, even in a free State, or that “separate” meant “equal” when it so clearly didn’t.

In those earlier cases, we Americans eventually “overcame.” Hopefully, we will bestir ourselves to do so once again.

 

 

Categories: National Politics

HISTORY IN TODAY’S POLITICS – THE BONUS ARMY

November 30, 2011 1 comment

 

National Archives: Bonus Army shacks burn after battle with military

Needless to say, various commentators on today’s economic and financial climate in the United States, have seen parallels with the time of the Great Depression. Admittedly. that economic disaster . triggered in 1929 by conditions over here similar to ours at the end of the George W. Bush Administration, hit Americans on a much bigger scale. Unemployment, for example, was 25%, not 9.1%, which is high enough certainly, given that one major political party, the Republicans, have dedicated themselves to keeping it at that level.

Recently, the amazing overnight growth of the OWS, [Occupy Wall Street] movement has brought to mind a similar activity in the early 1930’s, albeit in this case on a much smaller extent compared to the flood of occupiers worldwide at the present time. It then involved the “occupation” of only a single city, Washington D.C., by some 40,000 people, mostly comprised of  military veterans of the First World War and their families. They are known to history as the Bonus Army, although in their own eyes they preferred the term Bonus Expeditionary Force, reflecting the name, the “American Expeditionary Force,” under which they were sent to Europe in 1917-1918.

Those veterans had been left bankrupted by the ravages of the Depression. Following an American military tradition that went back to the Revolution, they had been promised bonuses for their service after they had been demobilized. In the spring of1924, the U.S. Congress passed a bill entitled the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 that granted more than three and a half million veterans certificates redeemable for cash – but not until 21 years later in 1945. On May 15, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed this measure, but Congress overrode him.

However, given the dire conditions in 1932, many of these veterans were so destitute  they could not wait 13 years longer for an infusion of cash. They asked  to redeem their certificates ahead of time. The Hoover Administration’s utter refusal to deal with them led to their organized “occupation” of the capital city.

Actually, they were confined out on a sort of wasteland within D.C. known as the “Anacostia Flats.” Coming from all over the country, they pitched their tents there and set up an orderly campsite that they policed themselves. They also ignored the conservative and right wing critics who called them “Communists and criminals.”

Name-calling, of course, has entered the reception tendered to the Occupy Wall Street groups from their opposite numbers, be they Tea Partyers or Republicans or Fat Cat rich in general. Communist doesn’t have quite the pejorative ring that did in its Marxist heyday, so the detractors of the 99% have taken to shouting “Get a job” to folks who have been looking for work in some case as long as three years running. Here, the kettle is really calling the pot black since by now it is obvious that there is a deliberately organized effort behind the scenes to prevent job creation by funneling more and more of the country’s wealth to the 1% that already has more of it than ever in the past.

Anyway, the Bonus Army, which in no way was composed of “Communists” and “criminals,” was eventually routed by the Hoover Administration, using the U.S. Military to dislodge them from Anacostia Flats. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge. He totally had swallowed the “Communist” charge and even though ordered by Hoover, himself, to tone down the violence, went right ahead with the brutal destruction of the encampment. General George Patton commanded the six armored tanks that formed the vanguard of the military’s assault. Dwight Eisenhower, who was an aide to MacArthur, expressed disgust at the Army’s action and has been quoted as saying: “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch [MacArthur] not to go down there…I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff.” Another military personage who involved himself in this drama was the retired Marine Corps’ General Smedley Butler, twice the winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who had a much different take on what the veterans were doing. He visited their makeshift quarters while they were in Washington and declared his sympathy for their efforts.

A year later, Smedley Butler was found at the center of a bizarre conspiracy apparently orchestrated by “Wall Street” leaders. Despite the fact that Butler, a life-long Republican, had supported Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, he was approached by representatives of a Wall Street clique and asked to head up a coup that would drive FDR from office, apropos of the type of event  happening frequently in the “Banana Republicans” to the south of us.

This “White House Putsch” was apparently put together by Wall Street insider firms like Du Pont and J.P. Morgan. Irenee Du Pont, head of the Delaware company, was particularly cited; so was Grayson Murphy, a Director of Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel and a group of J.P. Morgan banks. Robert Sterling Clark, one of Wall Street’s richest bankers and stockbrokers, was said to be in on the deal; likewise John J. Raskob, a Republican, who paradoxically had become head of the Democratic Party in the 1920’s and was a former chairman of Du Pont. Even Al Smith, who lost the Democratic nomination for President to FDR in 1932, was named as supporting this takeover, which would usher in a Fascist government for the U.S.

During the summer of 1933, after Roosevelt’s whirlwind “First 100 Days,” General Butler was contacted by the conspirators.

Initially, he played along, wanting to learn more about the plot. What they wanted him to do, he found out, was lead an armed force of 500,000 veterans who would overwhelm the government and depose Roosevelt. Butler’s real feelings were later expressed in a quote attributed to him, telling off the Wall Street schemers: “If you get these 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of Fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you.”

In 1934, Butler became pro-active. He went to a new Congressional body called the “Special Committee on Un-American Activities Authorized to investigate Nazi Propaganda and Certain other Propaganda Activities” and told them his story. This arm of Congress, referred to most often as the McCormack-Dickstein Committee [its co-chairs were Representatives John McCormack of Massachusetts and Samuel Dickstein of New York] listened to his evidence and eventually declared it to be true. However, the names of the Wall Street bigwigs were never made public and no action was ever taken against them. Disbanded soon afterward and re-constituted, the House Un-American Activities in time became notorious for its ferocious anti-Communism. Never again were Fascist-inclined groups ever investigated by them.

There has been some speculation that Wall Street right wing types and other contemporary “fat cats” currently may be contemplating just such a latter-day coup as was proposed in 1932. The oil baron Koch brothers, David and Charles, have been cited as potential masterminds. Today, they provide ample funding for conservative “think tanks,” like the Heritage Foundation, a group whose propaganda has been relentless and effective. Neither the Kochs, nor their counterparts more than four-score years ago, have shown any ardent belief in Democracy.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has a different focus from that of the early 1930’s Bonus March. Today’s protest is intent not on pressuring Congress to provide desperately needed promised money ahead of its intended if arbitrary date of 1945, but on publicizing the unequal distribution of American wealth. Despite the “negative gnattering” of the media, they do have an overall goal – and it is to inform Americans of lower financial means, why it is and how it is that they are becoming more and more impoverished.

It should never be forgotten that Herbert Hoover’s brutal handling of the Bonus Army helped lead to his ignominious defeat in the 1932 presidential election. The arch-conservatives in this century who have taken over the GOP will do well to ponder what this history has revealed to us.

     

 

Categories: National Politics

HISTORY IN TODAY’S POLITICS – THE BANANA REPUBLICANS

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Given the present day orientation of the G.O.P. (the “Grand Old [Republican] Party”) as fanatic defenders of the very rich and apostles of fiscal inequality, it is fair for Americans to conclude: “My God, they’re trying to turn us into a Banana Republic.”

The term Banana Republic apparently was coined by none other than the famed American short story writer O.Henry in a book of his, Cabbages and Kings, based on a stay he made in Honduras from 1896-97. The expression, not a flattering one, has been defined by Wikipedia to apply to “a politically unstable country…ruled by a small self-elected wealthy group who exploit the country by means of a politico-economic oligarchy.” The banana part was applicable to Honduras at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th because the monopoly industry growing the yellow-skinned fruit there so dominated that nation. To be sure, the phenomenon that originated in Central America and on the Caribbean islands has since expanded elsewhere and also refers to commodities other than just bananas. Christopher Hitchens, a wasp-tongued British writer turned American citizen has penned an article entitled America, the Banana Republic, stating that his dear adopted land was putting itself “on a par with Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Equatorial Guinea.”

The current Wall Street Occupation Movement configures our present financial system through percentages – 1% of the country [the extravagantly rich] versus 99% [the rest of us]. This might be deemed what a full-fledged Banana Republic ends up becoming. Perhaps we are not quite at that point now. The top 1 % of our citizenry at this point in time merely pockets 25% of the nation’s income and 40% of its wealth. However, rest assured that the secret plans of the Banana Republicans contemplate going much, much farther in the direction of what the United Fruit Company turned Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American countries into during the heyday of inequality there from the 1920’s until the 1960’s. The unrest created by these conditions still have their repercussions until this day [Honduras presently has the highest murder rate in the world]. It should also be acknowledged that a goodly part of our immigration derives from this Banana Republicanism.

That we still have time for the U.S.A. to avoid such a fate can be argued from the fact that the massive re-distribution of American wealth is of fairly recent origin. The Bush Re-distribution [from the middle class to the very rich] can be traced to the Bush Tax Cuts. In the year 2000, the ex-Governor of Texas was handed a healthy surplus, not a deficit, when he entered the Oval Office and as part of the Banana Republican game plan, embarked upon the Bush Debt March toward the bottom and the Bush Job Loss and the Bush Bank Bailout.

The three Republican Top Bananas – Senator Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor – have since picked up these cudgels from George W.Bush and bullied their way steadily downward to the goal of Banana Republicandom for the United States. Unlike their guru Grover Norquist who merely wants to destroy the U.S. Government, this trio of ideologues seeks to divert to divert those governmental resources into the hands of a pampered few – i.e., the 1% whom people are getting angry about. The sense of where the GOP’s “No Way” is headed can be seen in a placard held up by one protestor at an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City. Its message simply declared: “BAN CORPORATE GREED. WE ARE NOT PEASANTS”

That is, we are not yet all peasants. But the Banana Republicans are assiduously working to assure that we soon will be. Their utter refusal to do anything about jobs or let anyone else do anything strikes them as good politics. Unfortunately, such anarchistic behavior has seemed to work for them. If they should achieve total power in the 2012 election, the rush will be on to create even more income and wealth inequality in the U.S. than at present.

As it is, that statistic in America now stands at the highest level worldwide among the developed nations. In 2005, this inequality was already as dire as it had been here in 1928, before the Great Depression struck. Most if not all Banana Republics never experienced the recovery that the U.S. achieved in the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy years. Consequently, by 2011, we have reached the dubious distinction of having become the top banana when applied to increases in fiscal inequality, with much, much, more in the offing should the Banana Republicans have their way.

History, of course, has left us examples of what happens when these trends turn intolerable. Our own Revolution against Great Britain reflected an anger at the arrogance of our Tory “betters,” who paid little if any taxes and lorded it over the “little people” whom they scorned and sought to keep from voting. We now have Eric Cantor imitating that Tory snobbishness with his characterization of the Occupy Wall Street Movement as a “mob.” The term brings up an image of the French Revolution, which transformed the “little people” of France against their own blood-sucking aristocracy. Remember Queen Marie Antoinette’s cold-hearted response when she was told: “The people have no bread to eat.” Without missing a beat, she shot back: “Let them eat cake.” An echo of such selfish detachment was recently witnessed at a gathering of the so-called Tea Party. Told that there were many Americans without health insurance, they shouted back: “Let them die.”

No, the American people are still not a disposable peasantry. As the Banana Republicans struggle to keep the privileges they have bestowed upon their wealthy financial backers  and fiercely thwart all efforts to deal with unconscionable lobbyist-introduced loopholes in our laws and regulations, sectors of our American community are beginning to realize what is being done to the country at large.

“Let us return to American values. No Banana Republic for the USA.”

Categories: National Politics

HISTORY IN TODAY’S POLITICS – SECESSION

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Texas Governor Rick Perry

Since Governor Rick Perry of Texas has entered the Republican Presidential Primary, he seems desperately anxious to distance himself from remarks he made not long ago about his State’s seceding from the Union. Having a Jefferson Davis in the White House, he realizes, is probably not something most Americans would welcome, even in the South.

However, if I were a reporter covering Mr. Perry, I would confront him on this issue with a number of direct questions.

Like “Governor, if you were President and a State – say it was your own Texas – said it was determined to secede, would you let them go or would you, like your fellow Republican Abraham Lincoln refuse to allow them to break up the United States of America and use force if necessary?”

Following up would be: “Governor, had you gone ahead with your threat to take Texas out of the Union, where would you have taken the former Lone Star State? Would you have joined with Mexico? Or would you have reverted to being the independent Republic that broke away from Mexico and clamored to be accepted by the United States as a Slave State (that is, a State in which Slavery was legal)? Speaking of which, one of your arguments for Secession was that Texas had a clause in its agreement with the U.S. that it could pull out if it so wished.

An interesting question would then be: What about Vermont, which also entered the Union as a former independent Republic? The Green Mountain State’s status is particularly cogent now because a law was recently passed there setting up a “single payer” Canadian-type health care system within its boundaries. Suppose you are President and try, as you most likely would, to do away with what you would surely label “a Socialist experiment.” If Vermont, unable to stave off your Federal pressure, decided to secede, would you send in the troops?

But let’s get back to Texas – independent or Tex-Mex or whatever. Here’s some questions. What happens to your athletic teams? I’m thinking particularly of your college football elevens. I know of no instances where teams from other countries, even our closest neighbors Canada and Mexico, compete in the various leagues and conferences we have. Would the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist, Baylor, Rice, etc. be precluded from competing for BCS berths? How big would that be? Needless to say, if Texans are no longer Americans, they will need passports to enter the United States. Will quotas be set up for Texan immigrants? Will an Iron Curtain be erected to keep Texans in Texas? Will Texas join the United Nations? Will Texas seek a free trade agreement with the U.S.? What about U.S. military bases currently on Texas soil? Remember, Mr. Perry, the attack on federal Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was the spark that lit the Civil War.

“Governor,” I would go on, “perhaps you have studied the Civil War and the events that led up to it. Perhaps you know about the Slave Power, as it was called then, and how strong and powerful these pro-Slavery forces were before 1860. Their political reach was dominant in all three branches of the federal government, controlling both bodies of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidency under its northern allies like Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. Perhaps, Governor, you are contemplating such total power at play in Congress again – a new Slave Power, fueled by selfish billionaires and shock troops who call themselves Tea Partiers, in a distorted attack on taxation instead of taxation without representation. Maybe you suddenly feel Texas may not have to secede, after all, if the new Slave Power can win all the marbles. Is that why you’re keeping silent on Secession now?

Or are you also waking up to the fact that a carelessness with words can catch up with you. “Secession” has not been a popular initiative in American history. Several decades before the South attempted it with such disastrous results, a political party in the North, the Whigs, self-destructed after they met in Hartford, Connecticut and, because of their opposition to the War of 1812, openly discussed taking New England out of the Union.

It is ironic, Governor Perry, that your recent attack upon a fellow Republican, Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve Board, led you to denote that his carrying out of his job in way you didn’t like was “treasonous.” Did you not realize that “Secession” in the United States was juridically deemed “treasonous.” Those who fought for the Confederacy were charged as “traitors.” A subsequent “Amnesty,” applied to 11 million men, brought them back into the nation’s fold. Possibly, seeing you’re a Texan, some of your ancestors were thus pardoned.

“Secession” and “treasonous” are not terms to be loosely used, Governor Perry.

Categories: National Politics

HISTORY IN TODAY’S POLITICS – MRS. HELMSLEY’S DICTUM

September 3, 2011 Leave a comment

          Leona Mindy Roberts Helmsley died in 2007, enormously rich but still burdened by her status as an ex-convict who had served time in Federal prison for tax evasion. Even more of a weight on her persona was a remark she supposedly made to one of her housekeepers. “We don’t pay taxes,” she had boasted, speaking of herself and her billionaire husband, Harry Helmsley, New York City real estate mogul and luxury hotel owner. “Only the little people pay taxes,” she continued, a statement that to paraphrase FDR, has lived in infamy,

and has never been more pertinent than in America’s current economic and political climate.

            Leona Helmsley had become famous for the ads she ran promoting the Helmsley Hotels, playing the part of the “Queen,” who with royal hauteur pursued every avenue of producing perfection for her guests. But as stories of her chintzy penny pinching, abuse of employees, ultra-selfishness, etc., began to be bruited about, her title changed to the “Queen of Mean,” under attack for stiffing vendors  upon their presenting bills for work they’d done or what seemed an attack of unfathomable spite when she had her daughter-in-law evicted from a family property right after her son died of an unexpected heart attack.

            It also turned out that “Her Majesty” Leona was not above committing a criminal act. In 1988, Federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani indicted Leona Helmsley and two associates for tax evasion and extortion. She hadn’t been kidding when she said she and her husband didn’t pay taxes. Harry Helmsley, whom she had married at an advanced age after getting him to divorce his wife of 33 years, was found to be in such poor physical and mental shape that he escaped being tried. But Leona was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, three counts of tax evasion and ten counts of mail fraud. Luckily for her, she was acquitted of the charge of extortion, for that would have landed a much more serious sentence. As it was, her original sentence of 16 years was reduced to nine months plus an extra two months of house arrest.

            No doubt deliberately, there was a touch of gallows humor to her sentencing. She was ordered to appear for incarceration on April 15, 1992 – April 15, which everyone knows, is the deadline for paying your taxes  inAmerica.

            When Harry died in 1997, he left Leona a $5 billion estate. She had been out of prison for six years by then, but as a convicted felon she was not allowed to own property. Her final years were spent in the luxurious penthouse at the Park Lane Hotel on 59th Street, which had been part of the Helmsley kingdom.

            On occasion, Leona could be charitable – witness her gift of $5 million to the New York City firefighters after 9/11. But the mean streak never entirely faded. Example: she disinherited her grandchildren, allegedly because they hadn’t named any of their children after Harry. [later, the probate court allowed them $6 million]. However, another of her gestures left behind almost as much outrage as her scorn for “little people” taxpayers. Her will created a $12 million trust fund for her dog, a White Maltese named “Trouble,” The Probate Judge reduced this grant to $2 million. On the other hand, one of her ex-employees who claimed she fired him for being gay, saw his settlement of $11.7 million reduced to $554, 000. Apparently, Leona’s homeophobia extended to her public charge that her hated rival Donald Trump was gay.

            A Hollywood movie was actually made about Leona, called – fittingly enough – the Queen of Mean.

            Leona had always denied having made “the little people” statement. It was her word against that of one of her housekeepers, Elizabeth Baum. But her reputation had left such a sour taste that it lent immediate credibility to the snotty dictum said to have come from her lips. At least, she was being honest about her dishonesty.

            Not so those who have carried on in the tradition of letting the “little people” and particularly the middle class – carry the brunt of paying for government services and shelling out far more than their fair share.

            Thus we have stories that are hitting the media with increasing frequency. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont recently went after America’s largest company, Exxon Mobil, for the fact that in 2009, the oil giant made a profit of $19 billion and yet paid not a penny to the U.S. Treasury. In fact, the petroleum outfit even received a rebate from Washington of $156 million.

            Another offender in the same regard was almost equally big, a true titan of American industry, the Bank of America, with statistics like having $2.2 trillion in assets and last year, also paying zero dollars in taxes to Uncle Sam, after utilizing 115 offshore tax havens. In 2009, it should be pointed out, our Federal government gave the Bank of America $2.3 billion, a year in which their corporate profit was $4.4 billion.

            Doubtlessly, the companies involved are prepared to trot out high-paid tax consultants and other legal experts who will testify that all of these actions are entirely legal under present-day tax codes.

            The “little people,” however, don’t have access to these same resources and the operation of the game now played increasingly leaves them with the dubious honor – elucidated by Mrs. Helmsley – of being the only ones who pay.

            Even some “little people” have preyed on other “little people,” trying to dump the responsibility for funding government on other folks and even trying to do away with most of such funding of services that help everyone. One of the loudest bellyachers in the State of Maine about taxes was a transplant from New Jersey named Carol Palesky. She went to Federal prison in 1987 after embezzling from a local law firm when she was its bookkeeper. Then, almost a decade later, she was in trouble with the law again over signatures on an official petition that she was deemed to have forged. The Maine Attorney General’s Office actually alleged that she used some of the stolen money to finance a campaign she headed to force a stultifying tax cap on all Maine communities. Three times, Mrs. Palesky initiated referenda that would have had the effect of fiscally hogtying local officials and three times she lost. 

            Yes, Leona Helmsley also ended up in jail, one of the few times someone of her wealth was punished for tax cheating. Yes, she was disgraced, as was Carol Palesky. But the Queen of Mean’s words have become immortal, still resonating as mantra for those who find no embarrassment in the roles of deadbeats, free-loaders and leaches.

            “Of course, we pay no taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

 

           

 

 

Categories: National Politics

HISTORY IN TODAY’S POLITICS – ERIC CANTOR

September 3, 2011 1 comment

Eric Cantor - Photo courtesy of the Guardian (UK)

A recent front page photo in the New York Times showed job seekers lined up at a jobs fair in Arlington, Virginia. An unremarkable illustration of the plight of the American middle class all over the country, this scene is only noteworthy due to where it is happening. For this portrayal of desperate job searching was occurring in the bailiwick of Eric Cantor, the third ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives and a loud proponent of the GOP movement to bring us back to the days of Hoover, Coolidge and Harding.

I cite Cantor because of the contrast between the image of his fellow Northern Virginians currently seeking jobs and his own recent pronouncements on the future of unemployment insurance.

Representative Cantor wants to end unemployment insurance. His wholly unoriginal illogic, voiced many times in the past by ultra-conservatives, is that if you end unemployment insurance, people will get off their lazy butts and start looking for jobs. I have to wonder if Cantor would dare to face those neighbors of his seen in the Times and tell them that they are really a bunch of lazy bums. Lolling around their houses and living off the fat of their unemployment checks.

The media tells us otherwise. Some if not most middle class job seekers have been at it for a long time, some even for two years, sending out hundreds of resumes, chasing down every possible opening and slowly depleting the resources they worked years to accumulate. What Cantor doesn’t say is that behind his smarmy insistence on cutting unemployment insurance is his real goal of accelerating the impoverishment of the people in the Times photo. Perhaps, he hopes, only after losing their homes, their cars, their nest eggs, their middle class way of life, will they be willing to accept starvation wages, even go out into the fields to cut lettuce or pick strawberries as more and more immigrants are deported.

Which brings up other elements of the Republican mantra that Representative Cantor professes. Arch-conservatives like himself complain loudly when statistics are posted about the huge proportion of our national wealth that is being diverted into the hands of a relative handful of very rich people, and the G.O.P.’s promise to continue down this path, come hell or high water or default. To oppose them, in their words, is “Class Warfare.”

I have commented in a previous blog that it is, indeed, Class Warfare – an unprecedented attack on our middle class American way of life and that, at last, the middle class is beginning to realize this and to fight back. The Grover Norquist concept of an American government so shrunken that it can be drowned in a bathtub must have warmed the cockles of the heart of Osama Bin Laden, our super enemy, who had the same goal of destroying the American government, was taken down by our Special Forces.

Another aspect of the Republican mantra as trumpeted by Eric Cantor and his cohorts is that the Great Recession, as it’s now called [and should be called the Great Republican Recession since it happened under them] cannot be rectified except by exclusively cutting Federal government expenses and reducing revenues even farther.

How plausible is this cry of “Do nothing but reduce the debt?” That cut-cut-cut, and that, alone, will get us out of the jam we have created by fighting two wars on a credit card and instituting humungous job-killing tax breaks, which are just another form of spending.

Our U.S. history shows that the Republican thesis is nonsense.

When the Great Depression began in 1929, President Hoover’s position was much like the Republican position today. Balance the Budget. Most people don’t realize that Franklin Roosevelt initially took the same position. But this was a real mistake and FDR almost immediately recognized the fact and instituted the New Deal. Progress was slow but steady. Five years after he entered office [President Obama has only been in the White House for three years], Roosevelt’s programs were beginning to show results. Unfortunately, in 1937, he listened to the voices still calling for a Balanced Budget and deep cuts. The result was that the U.S. economy faltered once more and unemployment rose again.

So what eventually brought America out of the Depression? Was it ever deeper cuts in Federal government expenditures – the remedy that today’s G.O.P. keeps relentlessly professing?

No way. What lifted us, as everybody knows, was World War II and the colossal increase in U.S. governmental expenditures that pursuing victory against our enemy required.

Had Eric Cantor’s ideas been in vogue then, we might never have triumphed and gone on to become the predominant economic – and military – power in the world.

We all worked together then. Everyone was patriotic. Everyone was willing to sacrifice something for the good of the country. The strength of our domestic economy and the burgeoning of our middle class buttressed the military forces that were able to launch against the Axis.

History shows: the Republican approach of all cuts and no revenue will never solve our problems.

Categories: National Politics