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Posted by on Jul 13, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 2 comments

What Happened the Last Time Conservatives Ruled America?

 

 

There once was a time, not too long ago, when conservatives dominated most of American daily life.

During this memorable period, three consecutive Republican presidents were elected — all by wide margins.  Each of these presidents appointed pro-business cronies to high office who were given positions of power.  Giant companies prospered due to laissez-faire attitudes combined with government’s abdication of responsibilities.  People at the very top got really rich.

By contrast, liberals were widely viewed as political outcasts.  Many of their ideas were classified as either “radical” or much worse — “Socialistic.”  Politically powerless, many American liberals flocked instead to more welcoming professions such as the arts.  Liberals became really good at making movies, wrote the most popular books of the day, and created a new form of popular music known as jazz.

Conservatives were determined to put “America First.”  Back then, conservatives were viewed as nationalists, while liberals were thought of as globalists.  Relations with other nations were widely thought to be inconsequential.  America tore up previous trade agreements and even imposed strict tariffs on imports from foreign countries.  The United States military withdrew from global alliances and abandoned its status as a world power.  After years of international conflict, America stubbornly refused to join a new organization devoted to peaceful diplomacy called the League of Nations.  Way too European.

Sound familiar?

When conservatives ruled over the land, immigration to the United States from other countries was curtailed.  Tough new naturalization laws were imposed which denied entry to most people from other nations.  Immigrants were even subject to a rigid quota system, based on national origin (race and religion).  No one wanted to take refugees from countries in crisis.  In particular, Leftists were singled out and were widely viewed with suspicion.  Despite the rising scourge of Right-wing dictatorships all over the world at the time, the few immigrants who did make it to U.S. shores were asked only about “Communist” sympathies.  Nothing about fascism.

Republicans held onto control of the White House for 12 years.  Republicans also dominated both chambers of Congress, holding more than two-thirds of all seats in the legislature — the highest percentage ever in American history.  Wall Street went absolutely bonkers.  Republicans cut corporate and personal taxes, especially for the super wealthy.  Banking and finance were deregulated.  The stock market soared to record highs.

Ring a bell?

While conservatives may have indeed championed economic freedoms, individual freedoms were widely curtailed.  Alcohol was banned nationwide in the form of a new Constitutional amendment known as Prohibition.  The government’s first “War on Drugs” was openly declared, which made drug possession a serious criminal offense.  Gambling was illegal in every U.S. state, including Nevada.

Inside conservative America, Christianity wasn’t just religion — but was the veritable law of the land.  All communities everywhere were subject to a strict faith-based code of morals and ethics.  Church attendance reached an all-time high.  No coincidence, membership in the Ku Klux Klan also skyrocketed, becoming that largest fraternal organization inside the United States with more than four million active members.  The Klan was so prominent all across America and so politically powerful that white-robed throngs all waving American flags marched down the streets of the nation’s capital, to the cheers of thousands.

The social order in America was as strict as it was clear.  Abortion was illegal everywhere and punishable by imprisonment.  Gay rights didn’t exist.  Blacks and other minorities weren’t merely treated as second-class citizens.  Rather, they were often confronted with violence and even murdered without any repercussion by angry mobs, and sometimes even by law enforcement.  There was no such thing as a “hate crime,” back then.  Minorities were dragged down the streets and hung from trees.  For millions, segregation and discrimination were a way of daily life.  The existing social order imposed mostly by White conservatives also made it far more difficult for minorities to vote in elections.

Remind you of anything?

Public education wasn’t so much a path to enlightenment as an indoctrination of traditional beliefs based on faith.  Creationism, not evolution, was taught in schools — at least until a famous landmark case finally ruled in science’s favor.  Conservatives in many parts of the country continue to fight this ruling, to this very day.  In other words, we’re still entrenched in the attitudes of the past.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the period of American life when conservative ideology dominated the political, economic, and social landscape like no other time was — the 1920’s.

Yes, the Roaring Twenties.

To many, the fond memory of flag-waving patriots following a faith-based moral code is appealing.  To many, the thought of reducing government’s role in our lives and allowing unregulated businesses to profit might seem an intriguing proposition.  To many, the notion of building relationships with other countries just isn’t all that important.  In short, except for far less white sheets and a lot more booze and casinos, the conservative American mindset isn’t that much different today from the way things were nearly a century ago.

However, let’s never forget what happened when the conservatism’s grand illusion all came crashing down.  Recall the instant the light switch flicked on at America’s unprotected financial orgy of unregulated excess and the avaricious saw each other with their clothes off.  Remember what occurred when capitalism was left to its own self-policing devices and the working class was utterly abandoned by the protections of government regulation and proper oversight.

October 29th, 1929 might not jog the memory, because it happened so long ago.  That’s when the Great Depression officially began, which turned our national economy into a dust bowl and ruined millions of lives.  Some historians even claim the global economic collapse fostered the rise of totalitarianism over the next decade, and eventually the start of World War II.  Thanks, conservatives.

For those who may need a refresher course in history — incredibly, unbelievably, inexplicably — all this happened again a decade ago.  Starting in 2001, a proud conservative was elected to the presidency.  This new leader was widely admired as a Christian man, with deep personal faith.  A cornerstone of his economic philosophy included the comprehensive deregulation of banking and finance sectors, resulting in a temporary stock market boom that all came violently crashing down on September 15, 2008.  Just as before, when Republicans were allowed to run most of the show, the entire world ended up in crisis and chaos. [See Footnote]

On both previous occasions (1932 and 2008), progressive new leaders from the Left were elected to office to scrub the shit stains out of the rug left by conservatives.  And they did.  Franklin Roosevelt and his “New Deal” programs (including an overhaul of banking regulations) eventually restored the United States into a stable, even prosperous economy.  Some seven decades later, President Barack Obama inherited just as huge an economic mess and — despite overwhelming opposition from conservatives every step of the way — still somehow managed to lead the American economy to a full recovery, on which the grotesquely-oblivious and historically-ignorant current President now rides coattails like a hopelessly spoiled child craving attention and praise.

Conservatism versus Liberalism isn’t a dull argument for academics.  It’s a debate we all must engage in, here and now, given the stakes are so high and that we’ve been down this familiar path twice before, both times when conservatives dominated the political landscape and crashed the national psyche onto the rocks, abandoned the ship and left us all to sink.

This time, let’s remember our history and try to learn from it.

___________

Footnote:  On October 19th, 1987 a third economic collapse occurred, when stock markets crashed around the world.  On “Black Monday,” the NYSE dropped 24 percent.  The formula for this disaster was much the same.  A Republican president with traditional values professing to be anti-government and pro-business was well into his second term.  Conservative economic policies — including deregulation of banking and finance as well as massive tax cuts for the wealthy — were adopted.  After a temporary boom period, the end result was disastrous.

 

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Posted by on Mar 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 6 comments

Is the Federal Government Really Too Big?

 

 

How big is the federal government exactly?

If we listen to critics, especially conservative pundits and fiery activists who constantly attack the size and scope of Washington’s reputed bureaucracy, we’re led to believe the federal government is a behemoth, incurably dysfunctional, and even parasitical — sucking the very life’s blood out of society.

Is this true?

Let’s examine the most reliable statistical evidence that’s available as to the true size of government, which is the total number of federal employees.

In 1960, as the final months of the Eisenhower Administration were winding down and John F. Kennedy was about to take office, there were about 1.8 million bureaucrats working within the federal system.  That number doesn’t include military personnel, nor employees of the U.S. Postal System.  Remember that number — 1.8 million.

Many opponents of “big government” cite this period — circa 1960 — as the golden age of America’s dominance when we were the world’s preeminent economic and military superpower.  Yes, that’s an accurate assessment.  The United States was unquestionably the most prosperous nation in the world at the time, by any measure.

Since 1960, much has changed.  Now 57 years later, our nation’s population has increased from about 180 million to nearly 325 million.  That figure represents about an 80 percent increase in population within a time span of only two generations.  The federal system has also expanded significantly, just as one might expect with a booming population increase (in addition to perhaps 8-10 million more undocumented workers who also reside here).

Consider what’s happened since 1960 in terms of the actual composition of government.  No significant programs have been cut.  However, many programs and new responsibilities have been added.  No federal agencies were eliminated.  However, many were created.  Medicare became law (in 1965) which provided tens of millions of seniors with health coverage.  Six new cabinet-level agencies were also formed — including Housing and Urban Development (1965) , Transportation (1966), Energy (1977), Education (1979), Veterans Affairs (1989), and Homeland Security (2003).  Moreover, the EPA was created (1972).  Oh, and then there are other federally-funded initiatives — including the Peace Corps, the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, NPR, and several other agencies which might lead us to believe the size of government has mushroomed in size.

Indeed, since the Eisenhower era, government has assumed an important role in health care, retirement planning, public housing, education, energy, workplace safety, civil rights, domestic security (consider the size of the TSA at airports), and the environment.  That’s a lot of new federal workers doing stuff that government didn’t used to do.

Given what’s seemingly been a huge increase in the size of our government, combined with a significant population increase nationwide, now here’s my question:

What would you estimate the number of federal employees to be today?

Remember, back in 1960, there were 1.8 million federal workers.

Take your time.  When ready, take a guess.

The actual number may surprise you.  Even the staunchest liberals among might be shocked to learn the total number of federal employees is approximately….2,079,000.

For those who are bad at math, that’s about a 14 percent increase over the past 57 years.

14 percent.

Wow.

[A complete breakdown from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) can be found HERE at the government’s official website.  The number of federal employees is listed by year, since 1940.]

Given these startling facts, is it really fair then to keep on criticizing so-called “big government?”  The number of government employees has hardly gone up at all.

Why is this so?  Well, the federal system has become far more efficient within the past six decades.  Civil servants are doing far more work with less employees than before.  Certainly, office automation and various technological advances have contributed to what’s been only modest-size increases in the number of federal workers.  However, there’s even something more remarkable happening here.

What we’re seeing is this — government works quite well when it’s managed properly.  Government provides us with the essential protections and services that we need, and at a relative bargain for what we’re getting.  And, it’s never functioned more efficiently, as is reveled by looking at the number of workers and the broad spectrum of duties entrusted to the federal government — including everything from making sure our hamburger meat is safe enough to eat to keeping planes in the sky from crashing into each other.

Now, hold on.  There’s more.  Here’s the real shocker.

While the number of federal employees it takes to do all the important things that government does has remained stagnant over many decades, what’s happening within the murky macrocosm of the defense establishment is downright scandalous.

Since President Eisenhower warned us about the evils of the military and defense establishment in his farewell address in 1960, for-profit contractors have pigged-out at taxpayer expense like no other beneficiaries of government.  In fact, there are nearly as many defense-related contract employees now feeding off American taxpayers as full-time civilians who work for the Department of Defense.

Citing research performed by John J. Dilulio at the Brookings Institution, and published in his 2014 book titled, “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” conservative political columnist George Will took on this important issue recently.  He noted there are about 770,000 for-profit contractors working in defense, compared to about 800,000 federal workers doing similar work.  That’s an astonishing overreach of budget and manpower appropriation, amounting to tens of billions of wasted tax dollars, especially so if the current Administration’s call for decreasing international intervention is to be believed.  Other national security-related agencies too, most notably intelligence, are just as wildly out of control when it comes to federal employees, private contractors, and overall spending in light of all the belt-tightening elsewhere.

So, next time you hear the same old stage complaints about the alleged evils of “big government,” let’s remember the actual data.  Look at the facts.  Facts are not partisan.

We should all agree on at least one thing.  Part of the federal government is way too big.  Yes, indeed.  Federal spending is out of control, and there are way too many workers — at least in one sector.  And that sector is the bloated defense establishment.

Not to be outdone by his hawkish predecessors, in his first federal budget (for fiscal year 2018), President Trump has just proposed $54 billion in cuts to various federal agencies.

President Trump also proposed an increase of $54 billion….for defense.

 

FOOTNOTE:  While we’re at it, let’s also dispel the falsehood that the size of the federal government increased during the Obama Administration (2009-2016).  According to the OPM’s own data, the number of federal workers during President Obama’s first full year in office was about 2,774,000.  During the most recent year statistics were available (2014), the number of government employees was 2,663,000.  That’s a decrease.

 

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Posted by on Mar 23, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 7 comments

Bernie Sanders Supporters — What’s Next?

 

bernie_sanders_crowd_ap_img

 

The time has come for Bernie Sanders to take a final bow.  He should graciously exit the 2016 presidential race and end his campaign — the sooner, the better.

Given his glaring defeat yesterday in Arizona (losing by 16 percentage points), following five straight losses just a week earlier when he was trounced by 14 points in Ohio and lost by a whopping 31 points in Florida, there’s no path to the Democratic nomination for Sanders.  Obstacles have bricked into an impasse.

Yes, the upcoming slate of state primaries and caucuses is far more favorable to Sanders in terms of voter demographics.  He’ll win a number of moral victories — maybe even pull off a surprise or two.  Trouble is, there simply aren’t enough states remaining on the campaign trail like Vermont and Idaho, which were won by double-digit margins.  Even New York and California are now projected as longshots for Sanders.

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Posted by on Mar 11, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

Dictatorships and Double Standards: Bernie Sanders on Castro’s Cuba

 

Cuban President Fidel Castro stands at Havana's Jose Marti airport after sending doctors and medical personnel to Armenia to treat earthquake victims in this May 10, 1978 file photo. Castro, who has not been seen in public for 16 months, suggested on December 17, 2007, that he might give up his formal leadership posts, the first time he has spoken of his possible retirement since he fell ill. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/Files (CUBA)

 

In the last Democratic presidential debate, candidate Bernie Sanders was asked about his views on Communism in Latin America.  He’s made controversial statements in the past perceived by some to be sympathetic towards Left-leaning authoritarian regimes, particularly Fidel Castro’s Cuba and the former Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

The question directed at Sanders was pointed, but fair.  It was appropriate given the time and place.  The debate was held in Miami, home to a large number of Cuban-Americans, many of them the descendants of gangsters and thugs so-called “political refugees” who fled the island-nation soon after Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt and brutal dictatorship was toppled by Castro-led revolutionary forces on New Years Eve in 1958.

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