President Barack Obama, Editorial

New York Times, January 21, 2013

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation… explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage…President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women….Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort…With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

Full text

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action. In the coming days, there will be no let up of political combat over the debt ceiling, gun control, national security and tax policies that can either reduce income inequality or allow such inequality to stifle economic growth and opportunity for all but the very wealthiest in this society.

But, on Monday, the president stepped back from those immediate battles to explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage.

“We have always understood that when times change, so must we,” he said, “that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

In every sphere of life — improving education, building roads, caring for the poor and elderly, training workers, recovering from natural disasters, providing for our defense — progress requires that Americans do these things together, Mr. Obama said.

That applies, he said, to “the commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other. The choice is not “between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said.   “For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women. Disappointingly, the need for stricter gun controls was noted solely in a reference to the safety of children in places like Newtown, Conn.

On foreign policy, President Obama expressed with fervor a view of the role of the United States in a world that is threatened by terrorism on many continents. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that what he wants to achieve in his second term must be done in the next two years — perhaps even in the first 18 months. Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort.

Time is not on his side. It is pointless to wait for signs of conciliation from the extreme right, whose central ideology is to render government ineffective. He has gotten off to a good start by putting forward a comprehensive plan to tighten gun laws, despite outrageous propaganda against sensible controls from the gun lobby.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that there is much left to be done to shore up the economic recovery and invest in education and opportunities for the next generation. And, above all, he stressed the importance of the middle class to America’s economic survival. “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said.

It’s natural for a second-term president to be thinking about his place in history. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama has the ambition and intellect to place himself in the first rank of presidents. With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/opinion/president-obamas-second-inauguration.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122&_r=0

GOP, Thomas Hobbes Rig Elections

By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, Tuesday, 22 January 2013 , The Daily Take, truth-out.org

Excerpt

… [election rigging] efforts around the country aren’t just to secure Republicans political victories over the next two to four years and beyond. They’re also to, in the opinion of Conservatives, save the nation from the “evil-natured masses.” They actually believe that by rigging elections to give them power, they’re saving America from the unwashed masses. This mistrust of voters reveals the heart of the difference in worldviews between Conservatives and Liberals.

The Conservative line of thinking comes from Thomas Hobbes’ [17th century philosopher] worldview that man is inherently evil….we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves. Instead, we must be governed by a strong central authority like a King or Pope…Calvinist thinking…claimed that there’s a small group of individuals who have been pre-chosen by God to rule the rest of us. They’re known as “The Elect.”… they were the ones who were rich and powerful, because God made them so…this view that man is best governed by a small, wealthy elite remains alive. It’s the core assumption of the Conservative ideology…

This is why Liberalism is so important.

It was John Locke in the 18th Century who…argued that man is not motivated by malice, but instead by reason. And through reason, “we the people” can actually govern ourselves through laws based on reason.

To Locke, any sort of government that operates without the consent of the people – and without reason – should be overthrown…

To this day, this issue of how much power voters should have, compared to billionaires, churches, and corporations, remains the fundamental point of cleavage between Conservatives and Liberals.

For the last thirty years, the Conservative worldview has prevailed in America… [President Obama is] trying to put Hobbes and his Conservative ideology back into the dustbin of history. And it’s time that we as a nation ask ourselves a fundamental question: Are we capable of governing ourselves as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson believed? Or should we simply let the modern-day kings, the billionaires, run things, as today’s Conservatives believe? Our Founding Fathers answered that questioned with the Declaration of Independence. We must answer it anew today.

Full text

While the nation was hypnotized by the Second Inaugural of Barack Obama on Tuesday, Republicans in Virginia moved America closer to the place envisioned by the 17th century dystopic philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

What they did is jam a new redistricting plan through the state senate that created more safe seats for Republicans, virtually assuring Republican domination of the state Senate come the next election in two years. It was blatant election rigging.

In an interview with TPM, Democratic state Senator Creigh Deeds blasted the surprise redistricting plan. “It goes against every tradition,” he said. “It was a dirty trick.”

And get this, the only reason why the measure passed a split state Senate with twenty Republicans and twenty Democrats is because one of those Democrats – civil rights leader Senator Harry Marsh – was in Washington, DC attending the inauguration. So, with a single vote advantage for a single day, Republicans pounced.

Just like Republicans in Pennsylvania pounced last week when they introduced legislation to change how their state allocates Electoral College votes. Rather than a winner-take-all system, which granted President Obama all of the state’s twenty Electoral College votes last November, Republicans want votes handed out based on which Congressional districts were won by each candidate. Why? Because they gerrymandered the congressional districts in 2010. Under this scheme, Mitt Romney would have actually won 13 of 20 Electoral College votes in Pennsylvania despite losing the statewide popular vote by four points. Again, it’s blatant election rigging.

To make matters worse, Republicans state lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin are all considering similar changes that will make it virtually impossible for a Democrat to win the White House in the future.

As Joe Biden would say, “This is a BFD.”

But these efforts around the country aren’t just to secure Republicans political victories over the next two to four years and beyond. They’re also to, in the opinion of Conservatives, save the nation from the “evil-natured masses.” They actually believe that by rigging elections to give them power, they’re saving America from the unwashed masses.

This mistrust of voters reveals the heart of the difference in worldviews between Conservatives and Liberals.

The Conservative line of thinking comes from Thomas Hobbes’ worldview that man is inherently evil. As Hobbes describes the natural state of man, our “state of nature” is a place where, “there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

As such, we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves. Instead, we must be governed by a strong central authority like a King or Pope.

There’s also a strain of Calvinist thinking to this Conservative fear of voters. While Calvinists in centuries past also concluded that the masses are, for the most part, wicked, they also claimed that there’s a small group of individuals who have been pre-chosen by God to rule the rest of us. They’re known as “The Elect.”

How did we know who these special individuals were? Well, they were the ones who were rich and powerful, because God made them so.

This is a very convenient ideology for the rich and powerful to convince us all to buy into. And it stuck for centuries, as people were reduced to mere serfs or servants, ruled by a “benevolent” King or an “enlightened” religious leader.

Today, Kings and Theocrats have been largely pushed aside. But this view that man is best governed by a small, wealthy elite remains alive. It’s the core assumption of the Conservative ideology that is each and every day eroding the power of the electorate in states across America. It’s why people like Grover Norquist would call for drowning American democracy in the bathtubs of oligarchs like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson – after all, you just can’t trust a government that offers “free stuff” like Social Security or universal healthcare to the rabble.

This is why Liberalism is so important.

It was John Locke in the 18th Century who first pushed back against Hobbes’ “state of nature” and argued that man is not motivated by malice, but instead by reason. And through reason, “we the people” can actually govern ourselves through laws based on reason.

To Locke, any sort of government that operates without the consent of the people – and without reason – should be overthrown. Needless to say, Hobbes’ absolute Kings and Oligarchs, who derived their consent from God or their riches, and not reason, shouldn’t exist in Locke’s world.

Ultimately, as the Enlightenment moved along, Locke’s idea prevailed over Hobbes. And it was in the tradition of Locke that our Founding Fathers became revolutionaries and overthrew the King of England. And it was in the tradition of Locke that Thomas Jefferson fought with the early royalists to spread democracy to more and more people.

To this day, this issue of how much power voters should have, compared to billionaires, churches, and corporations, remains the fundamental point of cleavage between Conservatives and Liberals.

For the last thirty years, the Conservative worldview has prevailed in America. It says we cannot trust the people to govern themselves, and so we must trust the wealthy elite and the market to organize society. And with recent democracy-suppressing efforts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Conservatives use this worldview to rationalize their behavior.

But now, with President Obama saying “we the people” five times in his Second Inaugural, it’s clear he’s trying to put Hobbes and his Conservative ideology back into the dustbin of history. 

And it’s time that we as a nation ask ourselves a fundamental question: Are we capable of governing ourselves as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson believed? Or should we simply let the modern-day kings, the billionaires, run things, as today’s Conservatives believe?

Our Founding Fathers answered that questioned with the Declaration of Independence. We must answer it anew today.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

 

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14069-gop-thomas-hobbes-rig-elections

 

The real deficit argument

By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: January 6, 2013

Should our politicians dedicate themselves to solving the problems we face now? Or should they spend their time constructing largely theoretical deficit solutions for years far in the future to satisfy certain ideological and aesthetic urges?

This is one of the two central choices the country faces at the beginning of President Obama’s second term. The other is related: Will the establishment, including business leaders and middle-of-the-road journalistic opinion, stand by silently as one side in the coming argument risks cratering the economy in an effort to reverse the verdict of the 2012 election? Yes, I am talking about using the debt ceiling as a political tool, something that was never done until the disaster of 2011.

My first questions are, admittedly, loaded. They refer to a difference of opinion we need to face squarely.

It is entirely true that in the wake of two budget agreements, in 2011 and the just-passed deal on the “fiscal cliff,” we have not reduced the deficit enough. The issue is: How much is enough?

Contrary to all the scare talk you keep hearing, Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that we could put the deficit on a sustainable path for the next 10 years with one more deficit-reduction package equal to about $1.2 trillion, plus the resulting interest savings.

By sustainable, I mean keeping the debt from growing as a share of gross domestic product and holding it at around 73 percent of GDP for the next decade. This is a more than reasonable number by international standards. To put it in perspective: According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2011 Canada’s debt was at 85 percent of GDP, Germany’s was at 81.5 percent — and Greece’s was at 163.3 percent.

Holding the debt ratio in the low 70s is well within our sights. It could be achieved through a combination of $600 billion in cuts and $600 billion in additional revenue through tax reform — or through modest taxes on carbon or on financial transactions. (Okay, for now, I am dreaming on the last two, but they are still good ideas.) The cuts could be made without wrecking Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, and without eviscerating government’s capacity to invest in the future.

We could then shelve our deficit obsession for a while and confront the problems that should be center-stage over the next few years: restoring shared economic growth, spurring the creation of good jobs, dealing with gun violence, reforming immigration laws, improving our education system, and taking steps on climate change.

But there is the other side of this debate, pushed not only by conservatives but also by a deficit-reduction industry that sees the only test of seriousness as a willingness to slash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for those who will retire 10, 20 or 30 years from now. They want to be able to admire nice predictions on a computer screen that show the debt dropping to 60 percent of GDP.

There is no objection in principle to discussing the modest changes that could improve the long-term stability of Social Security. But when it comes to health-care cost projections, there is so much we don’t know that it is truly foolish to make decisions now for, say, 2040.

Health-care cost inflation has been dropping. We can’t be sure how sustainable this trend is, but economists who study the matter think the cost curve may be bending downward for the longer run. The Affordable Care Act contains measures that could further restrain health expenditures.

Is it either sensible or humane to decide in 2013 on the basis of such limited knowledge to toss future seniors and low-income Medicaid recipients under the bus? Health-care costs are something we must keep working on. We can buy time for this difficult undertaking by getting the deficit down to a sustainable level.

And that brings us to the debt ceiling. The central weakness of a largely helpful fiscal cliff deal is that it did not save us from a debt-ceiling fight. It would be colossally stupid — there is no other word — to derail an economic recovery that is slowly but steadily taking hold with another battle over a silly provision in our law. Will all the respectable people who know this sit on the sidelines and let it happen, or will they speak out now?

We are finally on a promising path. Only politics of a very degraded kind can keep us from moving forward.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-jr-the-real-deficit-argument/2013/01/06/7e07b314-5830-11e2-9fa9-5fbdc9530eb9_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Cliff After Cliff

By CHARLES M. BLOW, New York Times, January 2, 2013

We have a deal. But please hold your applause, indefinitely.

We momentarily went over the fiscal cliff but clawed our way back up the rock face. Unfortunately, we are most likely in store for a never-ending series of cliffs for our economy, our government and indeed our country. Soon we’ll have to deal with the sequester, a debt-ceiling extension and possibly a budget, all of which hold the specter of revisiting the unresolvable conflicts and intransigence of the fiscal cliff. Imagine an M. C. Escher drawing of cliffs.

Be clear: there is no reason to celebrate. This is a mournful moment. We — and by we I mean Congress, and by Congress I mean the Republicans in Congress have again demonstrated just how broken and paralyzed our government has become, how beholden to hostage-takers, how vulnerable to extremism.

A fiscal cliff deal was cut at the last possible minute, covering a minimal number of issues. It was far from perfect and barely palatable. It was a compromise, and compromises are inherently imperfect. No one likes the whole of it, but they balance the bad parts against the good and see beyond dissension.

As the fiscal cliff votes came down to the wire, many repeated the aphorism: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But sadly, we are beyond even that. Now the perfunctory has become the victim of the grueling.

The American people suffered through another moment of manufactured suspense brought on by political malpractice. There was no grand bargain. There was only a begrudging acquiescence.

Not only is the era of grand bargains “over,” as Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in The Times on Tuesday, I believe that the era of basic governance is screeching to a halt.

As Steinhauer pointed out in September:

“The 112th Congress is set to enter the Congressional record books as the least productive body in a generation, passing a mere 173 public laws as of last month. That was well below the 906 enacted from January 1947 through December 1948 by the body President Harry S. Truman referred to as the ‘do-nothing’ Congress, and far fewer than even a single session of many prior Congresses.”

That’s an abominable shame. The one function of a lawmaker is to make laws. They can no longer seem to do that in any meaningful way.

It is no wonder that Gallup finds Congress’s approval rating stuck in the teens.

We have moved from a type of governance where the art of the compromise was invaluable to one where adherence to ridiculous pledges is inviolable. (By approving this fiscal cliff deal, many Republicans voted to broadly raise taxes for the first time in decades and many are still grousing about it.)

The change has taken place primarily among Republicans, who have struggled to balance the responsibilities and prerogatives of minority-party status with the anxiety of losing their long-held power at the expense of the growing influence of minority and historically marginalized constituencies like women and gays.

Smaller federal government! Out-of-control federal spending! States’ rights! Defense of Marriage! Defund Planned Parenthood! There is an individual argument (merit not withstanding) to be made about each of these issues in its own right. But only a person who is willfully blind or hopelessly ignorant would not acknowledge the common thread that runs through them: the fear of a future in which income, wealth and cultural inequalities dissipate and traditional power structures dissolve.

The country’s debt and solvency are real and legitimate concerns, but the true crux of the friction lies in the implicit arguments about the cause of our troubles. It is the tired and worn takers vs. makers argument just slathered in lipstick — Resistance Red, I suppose.

And since some of these Republicans are from safely gerrymandered districts, they have little to lose and something to gain by holding the line even if it continually pushes the country to the brink.

House Republicans like to say that Americans voted for a divided government and this gridlock is what becomes it. But that’s not entirely correct. As The Economist pointed out in November:

“The Democrats won 50.6% of the votes for president, to 47.8% for the Republicans; 53.6% of the votes for the Senate, to 42.9% for the Republicans; and… 49% of the votes for the House, to 48.2% for the Republicans (some ballots are still being counted). That’s not a vote for divided government. It’s a clean sweep.”

Republicans control the House in part because of the geography of ideology — cities tend to have high concentrations of Democrats and rural areas have high concentrations of Republicans — and because of the way district lines were redrawn, in many cases by Republican-led state legislatures.

So we will be soon be pushed back into a state of panic because Republican members of Congress demand a state of paralysis.

We are stuck with this reckless, whining and ultimately dangerous gaggle of wounded spirits. As many people can attest, an animal is often at its most dangerous when it’s sick, wounded or afraid. Brace yourselves.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/opinion/blow-cliff-after-cliff.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130103

Meet The Radical Republicans Chairing Important House Committees

By Zack Beauchamp on Nov 28, 2012, thinkprogress.org

Excerpt

…ThinkProgress’ guide to the views of five of the new committee chairs on the issues they’ll be in charge of, which range from climate change to immigration to financial regulation:

Lamar Smith (Texas) — Science, Space and Technology – …Smith is a climate change skeptic…Smith received significant donations from both Koch industries and the oil and gas sector in his most recent campaign…

Jeb Hensarling (Texas) — Financial Services – …his candidacy was underwritten by Wall Street: banks donated more than seven times as much as the next largest industry to Hensarling’s reelection campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hensarling wants to take down the Dodd-Frank regulations and thinks taxing the financial industry is “frankly ludicrous.” Hensarling has also called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes.”

Ed Royce (California) — Foreign Affairs -  Rep. Royce has a questionable history with respect to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds: last year, he told an anti-Muslim rally that multiculturalism “has paralyzed too many of our citizens to make the critical judgement we need to make to prosper as a society.” He also appears on lead Islamophobic propagandist Frank Gaffney’s radio show, proposed a national version of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, and allegedly sent mailers accusing his Taiwanese-American opponent in the 2012 election of being funded by Chinese Communists.

Michael McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security -  Rep. McCaul…endorsed .. hearings on Islamic terrorism that..demonized” Muslims. He’s also a drug warrior… celebrated Arizona’s discriminatory “show me your papers” immigration law…

Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) — Judiciary -  Rep. Goodlatte…is staunchly anti-immigrant, opposing a pathway to citizenship…holds fringe views on the Constitution: he believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that the federal minimum wage may be.

Full text

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has announced the new House committee leaders: a full slate of white men. While many of these Congressmen are holding on positions they’ve already got, there are a few new faces sitting in the Chairperson’s seat. What follows is ThinkProgress’ guide to the views of five of the new committee chairs on the issues they’ll be in charge of, which range from climate change to immigration to financial regulation:

Lamar Smith (Texas) — Science, Space and Technology – Like his predecessor, Rep. Smith is a climate change skeptic. Smith refers to supporters of the scientific consensus as “global warming alarmists” and has criticized the media for not giving equal time to warming skeptics. His official website does say warming is occurring, but does not, as the consensus does, cite human activity as the cause. Unsurprisingly, Smith received significant donations from both Koch industries and the oil and gas sector in his most recent campaign. The new House point man on technology is also the author of the terrible Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and opposes potentially life-saving embryonic stem cell research.

Jeb Hensarling (Texas) — Financial Services – Rep. Hensarling will be the point Republican on anything relating to the financial sector, but his candidacy was underwritten by Wall Street: banks donated more than seven times as much as the next largest industry to Hensarling’s reelection campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hensarling wants to take down the Dodd-Frank regulations and thinks taxing the financial industry is “frankly ludicrous.” Hensarling has also called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes.”

Ed Royce (California) — Foreign Affairs -  Rep. Royce has a questionable history with respect to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds: last year, he told an anti-Muslim rally that multiculturalism “has paralyzed too many of our citizens to make the critical judgement we need to make to prosper as a society.” He also appears on lead Islamophobic propagandist Frank Gaffney’s radio show, proposed a national version of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, and allegedly sent mailers accusing his Taiwanese-American opponent in the 2012 election of being funded by Chinese Communists.

Michael McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security -  Rep. McCaul, Congress’ richest member, seems primed to carry on his predecessor Peter King’s hardline legacy. McCaul enthusiastically endorsed King’s hearings on Islamic terrorism that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “demonized” Muslims. He’s also a drug warrior who proposed legislation designating Mexican cartels “foreign terrorist organizations,” a move that infuriated the Mexican government and would have given the DEA access to enhanced counterterrorism powers. McCaul has also celebrated Arizona’s discriminatory “show me your papers” immigration law and compared President Obama to King George III.

Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) — Judiciary -  Rep. Goodlatte, like Rep. Royce, is staunchly anti-immigrant, opposing a pathway to citizenship and calling the DREAM act “ripe for fraud.” The Judiciary Committee has principal jurisdiction on immigration. Moreover, Goodlatte holds fringe views on the Constitution: he believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that the federal minimum wage may be.

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/11/28/1180181/meet-the-radical-republicans-chairing-important-house-committees/?mobile=nc

Social Contract

Reweaving the Fabric of our Societyby Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations, posted on HuffingtonPost.com, 05/22/2012 …Most of us agree that D.C. dynamics have got to change for the U.S. to solve the real challenges we confront and to retain our leadership role in the world. Political leaders and the media are failing us on so many levels…all Americans have a great deal in common. But our understanding of politics, economics, science and even basic facts is increasingly disparate. We cannot afford to continue on this path. A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civility…While the traditional media loves fights, the new and emerging social media loves connections. We can leverage the wisdom and creativity of crowds to find win-win solutions to our common problems. We can scale our efforts to tens of thousands of conversations, giving individuals the power to begin to reweave the social fabric of our communities…

The Social Contract by Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 22, 2011 …people…who want to exempt the very rich from bearing any of the burden of making our finances sustainable, are waging class war.  As background, it helps to know what has been happening to incomes over the past three decades…between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of families in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent…the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent…policy has consistently tilted to the advantage of the wealthy as opposed to the middle class… Some of the most important aspects of that tilt involved such things as the sustained attack on organized labor and financial deregulation, which created huge fortunes even as it paved the way for economic disaster. For today, however, let’s focus just on taxes. The budget office’s numbers show that the federal tax burden has fallen for all income classes, which itself runs counter to the rhetoric you hear from the usual suspects. But that burden has fallen much more, as a percentage of income, for the wealthy. Partly this reflects big cuts in top income tax rates, but, beyond that, there has been a major shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work: tax rates on corporate profits, capital gains and dividends have all fallen, while the payroll tax — the main tax paid by most workers — has gone up…According to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, one-fourth of those with incomes of more than $1 million a year pay income and payroll tax of 12.6 percent of their income or less, putting their tax burden below that of many in the middle class…Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer who is now running for the United States Senate in Massachusetts…“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social contract” that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper. Which brings us back to those cries of “class warfare.” Republicans…are insisting that the wealthy — who presumably have as much of a stake as everyone else in the nation’s future — should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat. Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you’re wondering, is what real class warfare looks like.

Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment by John Atcheson, Com­mon Dreams, June 18, 2012 — We are wit­ness­ing an epochal shift in our socio-political world.  We are de-evolving, hurtling head­long into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necro­mancy and super­sti­tion; by poli­cies based on fiat, not facts.Much of what has made the mod­ern world in gen­eral, and the United States in par­tic­u­lar, a free and pros­per­ous soci­ety comes directly from insights that arose dur­ing the Enlightenment. Too bad we’re chuck­ing it all out and return­ing to the Dark Ages. …Now, we seek to oper­ate by revealed truths, not real­ity.  Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists, self-interested cor­po­ra­tions, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as real­ity by rightwing politicians…Sec­ond, the Enlight­en­ment laid the ground­work for our form of gov­ern­ment. The Social Con­tract is the intel­lec­tual basis of all mod­ern demo­c­ra­tic republics, includ­ing ours.  John Locke and oth­ers argued that gov­ern­ments derived their author­ity from the gov­erned, not from divine right.  Gov­ern­ments could be legit­i­mate, then, only with the con­sent of the governed. Jef­fer­son acknowl­edged Locke’s influ­ence on the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence and his ideas are evi­dent in the Constitution. Here again, our founders used rea­son, empiri­cism and aca­d­e­mic schol­ar­ship to cob­ble together one of the most endur­ing and influ­en­tial doc­u­ments in human his­tory.  For all its flaws, it has steered us steadily toward a more per­fect union. Until recently…We are, indeed, at an epochal thresh­old.  We can con­tinue to dis­card the Enlight­en­ment val­ues which enabled both an untold increase in mate­r­ial wealth and a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment which turned serfs into cit­i­zens.  A sys­tem which – for all its flaws – often man­aged to pro­tect the rights of the many, against the preda­tory power of the few. Or we can con­tinue our abject sur­ren­der to myths, mag­i­cal think­ing, and self-delusion and the Medieval nation-state those forces are resurrecting. Repub­li­cans and Tea Partiers may be lead­ing this retreat from rea­son, but they are unop­posed by Democ­rats or the Press. And in the end, there is a spe­cial place in Hell for those who allow evil to pros­per by doing nothing.

Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck by Bill Moyers, May 17, 2008 , CommonDreams.orgThe reigning presumption about the American experience…is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is “better” than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.” Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power –and to the claims of empire, with its ravenous demands and stuporous distractions. …there is a class war and ordinary people are losing it…The conclusion that we are in trouble is unavoidable…statistics that show real wages lagging behind prices, the compensation of corporate barons soaring to heights unequaled anywhere among industrialized democracies...extremes of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic politics. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our Constitution…Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in the idea that “We the People” — not just a favored few — would identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that people could govern themselves wisely.

Restore the Basic Bargain By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog, November 29, 2011