Monday, December 8, 2008

Week of 12/08/2008

On Undermining America
– by David Matthews 2

There’s a popular laundry list of things that usually start out with titles like “If I were a terrorist” or “If I were the devil” and then go over all of the flaws in society and then say that they really wouldn’t have to do anything; that they would just let things go as they should because we’re already headed for disaster.

But I think that we’re just scratching the surface with these cute little lines. Our problems go much deeper than throwing in petty comments about tax breaks and waging war and then sitting back and saying that things are just going to go the way they should anyway. There is more that needs to be done; and right now, with us firmly realizing that there IS a problem, we can actually LOOK at that problem instead of just talking about it.

Here are some of the key problems:

Dilution of Politics: Democrats and Republicans have actively conspired to manufacture this myth that they are the only two political parties out there. They have written the rules, both on a federal and on a state level, that give tremendous advantages to these two parties to the exclusion of every other independent or third-party organization.

This is a system that has allowed graft and corruption to infiltrate the political process, condone outright and blatant acts of hypocrisy, and empower the most extreme fringes of the parties to influence the course of action for the rest. These extreme groups are then referred to as “the base” of the party, and often demand that their candidates pander to them instead of operating on behalf of the bulk of their constituents, which are referred to as “the center” and are quickly condemned by these fringe elements. Both sides accuse each other of voter fraud and dirty tricks, both sides are guilty of doing them, and they are able to continue and profit from these tactics because they know that as long as they have duopolist control of the process that they can continue to play these tricks over and over again. The scathing campaigns of the past few years should be proof enough of this.

The end result is that they have created a zero-sum system whereby people are encouraged to support either one dominant party or the other on the basis of who would be the “better” candidate of the two, not necessarily the “best” one for the job. By the time the election rolls around, both candidates are seen as being equally inept and incompetent, and many voters are so disgusted by the end result that they are encouraged to not vote in the first place.

The solution here is not the introduction of third party groups, because they ALREADY exist. Rather, the solution to this is the elimination of the rules that were set up to neutralize any influence third party groups may have in the process. This will require some courage on behalf of the judicial system to bring about this change, because the Democrats and Republicans have no incentive whatsoever to change a system that THEY have complete control over and see nothing wrong with.

Abusive Government Taxation and Spending: One of the best ways to limit the expanse of government is to limit how much money it has to spend. States like New Hampshire have long proven this by fervently barring the legislature from enacting any kind of state income or sales tax. As such state legislators there have to actually work for a living and are obligated to spend only as much as they can raise through other forms of taxation. They cannot spend more than they can raise, and they know that if they raise taxes too high that it will actually harm the businesses they rely upon.

Most state governments, as well as the federal government, operate under a completely different philosophy. They firmly believe that any and all money is THEIRS first and foremost and that they then get to determine how much money that you should be ALLOWED to keep. Thus they fully fund their own salaries and pension programs, come up with extravagant policies, and then figure out afterwards how they will pay for it all through income taxes and sales taxes and other forms of taxation.

To further manipulate the system, governments large and small have created complex tax structures on the premise that the wealthier individuals and corporations should be “obligated” to pay more in taxes simply because “they can afford to”. Then they provide tax breaks and tax shelters to serve as both rewards and as a way to “encourage” business to not leave.

The end result is twofold.

First, they have developed a system that discourages individual earnings and thus individual savings. By presuming that they are entitled to know about EVERY dollar and EVERY penny that you get and that they are automatically “entitled” to a portion of that money, they actually end up encouraging people to not have money at all.

For instance, let’s suppose you put $1000 into a retirement account. That’s YOUR money. You’ve already paid taxes on it. But then later on you need to take $500 of it out because of some sort of emergency. Before you even see a penny of that money in your checking account, the government taxes that money, even though it had already been taxed before you put it into the account! Why? Because it’s declared “new income”, even though it is being taxed twice.

So why should you save at all if what you save will be taxed again the moment you take it out? It just doesn’t make too much sense. Keep it all in one account and spend it when you can.

Plus the bureaucracy needed to account for every penny paid and thus eligible to be taxed is such that employers are forced to pay a person LESS than what they are truly worth. Your employer may be spending $60,000 per year on you, but thanks to the government, you’re lucky if you see $45,000 of it, and that’s before they even start taxing YOU.

So what happens? Your employer is encouraged to (1) not give you a raise, and (2) see if they can outsource your job to another company or preferably another country where they can pay a cheaper wage and not deal with the bureaucracy.

The second end result is you have a body of government that can spend all it wants to without any kind of accountability as long as they can find some way to get the money. Our current federal government is estimated to be in the hole for some TEN TRILLION DOLLARS. But that is all supposedly okay because every penny of that debt is put into treasury bonds backed by foreign governments such as China and Mexico. That means that our federal government can spend all it wants to provided that foreign countries agree to foot the bill on it and that they don’t demand an immediate return on their investment.

I’ll give you a minute or two for that to sink in…

What needs to be done, of course, is also twofold. First we MUST change the tax system completely from one that taxes INCOME to one that taxes CONSUMPTION. This will balance out the tax system so that the wealthier people will STILL pay more, but it would be at an equal percentage as everyone else. Second, we MUST find a way to require fiscal accountability for our legislators. States do this with a mandatory balanced budget. The federal government may need a little coaxing from the Constitutional Convention, though, especially since previous attempts to legislate such a requirement have been shot down in the courts.

Either way, the latter has to happen soon, because the alternative something that should scare the crap out of people!

Corporate Corruption: Corporations really have done themselves and this country a disservice of late.

First, corporations have been manipulating government regulatory bodies, influencing and infiltrating all levels of government activities. For instance, the recording industry has been allowed to write the royalty fees for the Library of Congress, giving badly distorted and biased structures that penalize Internet broadcasters (mostly individuals and small groups) with huge punitive fees while at the same time making sure that the more lucrative terrestrial radio broadcasters (which are mostly owned by other corporations) don’t pay a single penny in royalties.

Now it’s one thing to have special interest groups like corporations INFLUENCE government decisions, but the corruption in government is such that these special interest groups have essentially WRITTEN THE LAWS THEMSELVES and then just submitted them to their purchased politicians to rubber-stamp into effect, like what the recording industry has done with music royalties.

Abuses of issuing visas has also become an issue, with major corporations being allowed to get a whole multitude of special visas to bring in foreign workers. This while domestic unemployment has been on the steady increase.

Banks have also become big corporations. Big banks have bought out smaller banks and become mega-banks. Ditto for insurers and mortgage companies. So now they have become so big they are deemed “too big to fail” according to the White House and Congress and these branches of government are now falling over themselves to give them billions and billions of tax dollars to bail them out because of their reckless actions.

Worse yet, corporate executives have become so disjointed from reality that they will give themselves huge raises and bonuses while at the same time laying people off, shutting down factories, outsourcing jobs overseas, and causing a caustic work environment where customer service and quality are in the toilet. Granted most of these bonuses and perks are written into buddy-buddy contracts to automatically take effect regardless of the health of the business, but the very people that should know better really don’t give a care in the first place because they have no personal stake in the business anyways. It’s just a huge piggy bank for them.

The end result? Big corporations have developed a lack of any kind of meaningful accountability for their actions. Corporate executives no longer care about the health of the company, but instead care about appeasing their investors, which are executives of OTHER corporations. And if they fail? If they screw up? Well they can then turn to the government and get billions in free money.

What needs to be done here is hard but probably necessary… first, government needs to purge itself of the stink of corporate influence. Easier said than done, I know (see the next section), but it must happen. The other thing that is equally hard is that a few of these “too big to fail” companies need to do just that. They NEED to fail! Once insolvent and dissolved, they must then be dissected like Enron and WorldCom were in 2002. The aftermath of that investigation would scare the other corporations to clean up their own act.

Lack of Government Accountability: This is something that I’ve been complaining about for a long time now. In addition to a lack of fiscal accountability in government, politicians and other operatives of the government are also protected from any OTHER kind of accountability as long as they can claim they’re operating on behalf of the government.

Here’s a good example. Police break down your front door and force you to the floor with their guns drawn and dogs barking over your head. They rip up your home, trash your furniture, smash personal items, tear apart the walls, and even kill your pets outright. They claim that they’re looking for drugs, but they don’t find any. They arrest you anyway and seize anything of value, claiming that you’re “harboring a fugitive”. Then it turns out that not only was the address on the warrant wrong, but the person who supposedly “accused you” was lying through his teeth about the whole thing. The prosecutor goes to you and offers a deal where you plead for a misdemeanor charge and he’ll move to purge your record after six months of probation. Mind you, this is even though you have done NOTHING WRONG and the police clearly screwed up! But if you refuse this “sweetheart deal”, he’ll not only prosecute you with what little they have, but he’ll use the system to tie your case up for years, forcing you to run out of money and accept a much punitive deal for something that YOU NEVER DID!

Now I’m sure you’re thinking that somewhere along the line someone will step in and realize what a HUGE mistake the government made on this hypothetical case and put a stop to it all, right? WRONG!

The police department will REFUSE to admit to any wrongdoing. The same applies even more so for the prosecutor. Even if the truth comes out and the charges are dismissed, the officers involved with the arrest will probably NEVER be prosecuted for their malicious actions. Your home will still be trashed. All of your belongings will still be destroyed. Your pets are still dead. You’ll STILL have an arrest record on your name, which could be used to disqualify you for loans and certain jobs. Oh, and good luck getting back the valuables that the police seized when they arrested you on those phony charges. Even if you’re vindicated, the police will fight you tooth and nail to return those things, never mind even raise a finger to repair the damage done to your home.

That is probably the most blatant of government abuses that most of you might be forced to deal with. Even more commonplace are instances where local government uses zoning and other regulatory powers to get rid of businesses they find “objectionable”, or when state prosecutors force businesses to adopt “voluntary standards” so they won’t get prosecuted on trumped-up charges. Or when you have local government adopt laws that they know are blatantly unconstitutional but they out-and-out say “to hell with the Constitution!” These are all actions that, if carried out by private citizens, would lead to charges of blackmail and racketeering! BUT because they’re done by members of THE GOVERNMENT, it’s okay.

And of course we have the various acts that the federal government does that may or may not break the law. Even if they are clearly in the wrong, nothing happens to them.

Here’s the problem: government operatives are protected by “sovereign immunity”, which operates under the delusion that the government can do no wrong! Whatever the government does is okay BECAUSE it’s the government! The only way a person in government can actually face justice for their actions is when those actions are for personal gains. A city councilor can use his power to kick people out of their homes and turn those homes over to a developer to be turned into overpriced condos, and that’s okay. But if he then gets promised one of those overpriced condos to live in for free, then that’s supposedly a crime.

So you have a government that believes that it can do no wrong, even when it IS wrong, and they know that they can get away with it by just telling people that they’re acting on behalf of government. And then we expect these same politicians to be able to watch out for themselves, even when they clearly demonstrate that they can’t!

What needs to be done here is simple… the whole principle of sovereign immunity needs to go away. Government officials need to be held accountable for their actions, especially when those actions cause harm to others. And again this is something that can only be done through the judiciary.

The Death of Private Property: Once upon a time, private property was very sacred. Your home was your castle. Remember that? Well that’s all that it is right now… just a memory.

You can blame the racketeering laws of the 1980’s to starting the domino effect. That allowed the federal government to seize any kind of property that they just THINK may have been gained through illegal means. That meant that the government could seize homes, cars, personal possessions, even large sums of money, without a warrant, and sometimes without even actual charges!

Got a new sports car? All some cop has to do is say “I think you got it from selling drugs” and suddenly your new car is now the property of the local police department to either sell off or use for their own purposes. In fact suddenly any kind of drug-related charge was upgraded to include “with intent to distribute” just so they could seize anything and everything of value. And even if the charges are thrown out, the property is still theirs. They don’t give it back.

If you’re one of those folks that only deals in cash, then you might have a problem with the government, because all they have to do is accuse of being involved with drugs and your cash is gone. That’s even harder to get back than physical items.

And the terrorist rules of 9/11 have made it such that you can be searched at the airport for any reason, and your phone calls and personal correspondence can be searched and screened without you knowing it.

Homes and businesses have been subject to ever-intrusive zoning regulations and covenant agreements which have given government agencies and private citizens the power to seize control of your property without any kind of accountability.

And of late, the court system drove the final nail into the coffin of private property when they ruled that governments had the power to take any property they wish and turn that property over to other private entities. So your house can be taken away from you to be turned over to a rich developer to build a mini-mall, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

The end result of all of these things is that there IS no such thing as “private property” in any real sense. What you have can be subject to search and seizure at any time by any group for any reason. Your home, your “castle”, is no longer yours anymore. Your home is now the property of your neighborhood homeowner’s association, and the sole purpose of you living there is to maintain the overall property values of your neighbors. And should a rich developer have plans for your property, your local government has every right and authority in the world to take that land right out from under you and turn it over to the developer, because he wants to use it generate even more money for himself and for the local government.

And it’s not going to get any better! Once you lose your right to own property, it’s not that far from losing any other rights you may have. And forget having the Constitution protect you… lest you also forget the previous segment about the politicians that say “to hell with the Constitution” with complete impunity.

The solution here once again is in the hands of the judicial system. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court made a constitutionally-flawed decision and only they can correct it. The legislature can only go so far to fix this, and that’s only if they are determined to have it passed and not let themselves get swayed by those special interest groups that have plans for your stuff. Remember, realtors and developers have MONEY, and they’re not afraid to spend it on government if it can help make them even MORE money.

And finally… the biggest thing that is undermining America…

The Death of Production: Let’s get brutally honest here… America has gradually become a nation of consumers, not producers! Where once we used to be the innovators and inventors, there really isn’t much that is being invented that is new or original. TV shows are getting rehashed and redone. Classic movies are being remade. Comic book publishers are rehashing old plots… and sometimes pulling out overused and really BAD plots such as the ones involving zombies and monkeys. (Don’t laugh, or else they’ll churn out a special “zombie monkey” miniseries!)

We have a president that tells a fearful nation that the best way to combat the scourge of terrorism… is to go shopping! And if they don’t want to shop? Well, he’ll give out some money to help them! Go, spend, spend some more, and then spend still more. Go into debt if you have to! We’ll help you do it! Don’t let the terrorists win! Spend like there’s no tomorrow!

And it was easy to do that back when banks were lending money like there was no tomorrow. Bad credit? No references? No means to pay off the loan? No problem!

We complain about the holidays becoming too commercialized, but we’ll still show up at 4am on the day after Thanksgiving for that “door-buster” sale. We’ll even shoot someone standing in line, or trample an unfortunate worker just to get in!

As mentioned earlier, corporations bring in thousands of workers from other countries instead of hiring from the current job pool. They have no qualms hiring illegal immigrants if it can get around paying the taxes. They’ll outsource jobs and shut down factories while at the same time rake in huge bonuses for “bringing down costs”. And if they go broke? There’s free bailout money for the groups deemed “too big to fail” but nothing for the people that work for a living and are “too small to bail”.

We don’t make the goods that we’re told that we “need” to buy. They all come from China and Mexico and India, and some of them are designed to not last a whole year. America has a huge stinking trade deficit, but nobody seems to care about that. No, just get your ass to Wal-Mart and get the latest flick out on Blu-Ray Disc. And while you’re at it, get a Blu-Ray player. And a new HDTV. And get a home theater system. And you probably should upgrade your cable package while you’re at it. And have you though about signing up for our new line of credit?

Seriously, though, how do people expect to pay for all of these items when all of our jobs are getting outsourced and cut? And then of course the government – on behalf of the corporations, which includes the banks – changed the banking and bankruptcy laws on us back when the times seemed good (albeit on paper), so now in addition to losing our jobs and losing our homes, we have no way to free ourselves from the debt we’ve been saddled with. And then we’re expected to bail out the very corporations that helped screw us over… with tax money that we don’t have and we now have to put our country further into debt to other nations.

You would think that somewhere along the line someone… besides myself of course… would connect all of these dots and figure out what’s going on.

Sadly, to resolve this particular problem requires a combination of things. We need to resolve some of the other issues first. We need to change the tax system so that the emphasis is on taxing consumption instead of income in order to encourage savings. We need to let reckless businesses fail and make sure that the incompetent executives take the fall for their actions. We need to do the same thing to our elected grifters and shysters and hold THEM accountable. We need to restore the concept of private property if we are every going to put any value to it. And then, while we’re doing that, we need to go back to being doers and makers and producers for this country first and foremost. China may make it cheaper, but we should be able to make it BETTER and make it so it lasts much LONGER.

The issues that are undermining this country are monumental, but they are only insurmountable if we chose to not deal with them. We certainly cannot afford to sit back and play games about what you would do if you were “a terrorist” or “the devil”, and we absolutely cannot afford to ride out the great punchline of “but then again I really don’t have to do anything.”

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