Democratic Underground  

The Coming Toil
July 25, 2002
By punpirate

Whoever is lucky enough to unseat Dubya, they'll wish they hadn't. What's ahead of any new officeholder, in Congress, in the White House, in the State Houses around the country, is a daunting task: undoing the damage done by politicians favoring deregulation and minimized oversight by government.

Many of the current problems of our nation can be attributed to a twenty-year-long assault by the right and by business interests on the regulatory process, the public's right to know and the overarching emphasis of business interests in foreign policy.

And it's not going to be easy to undo that legislation. The tendency of almost every legislative body is to make minor amendments to existing legislation, rather than to make the decision to take the worst legislation by the stalk and yank it out by the roots, and remove it forever.

More than a little of the law enacted in the last twenty years deserves to be removed wholesale, so that pre-existing law gains precedence. Most of the complaints about the dominance of the corporate media could be resolved if there were legislative will to return to the 1934 Communications Act and start again from there--eliminate all related legislation made in the last twenty years, and then start over.

Deregulation has had its concomitant effects on government oversight. One of the plangent stories I remember from the Reagan years of deregulation was the interview of a lowly mining inspector in Kentucky. Kentucky has had a long-standing problem with illegal mines--thieves would regularly come in on a weekend and open up an illegal mine on property they did not own and on which they had no mineral rights, dig out the coal they could, and then disappear--before Reagan, there were fifty mining inspectors for the state. After Reagan's installation, there were two--one for the eastern half of the state (encompassing the infamous Harlan County, where many of the illegal activities occurred) and one for the western part of the state.

Now, extrapolate that deregulation and lack of oversight to the banks and the savings & loans, and one has the makings of the savings & loans disasters of the late `80s and the early `90s. Without watchdogs to prevent a problem before it becomes one, the problems proceed unabated until there's no choice but for legislators to have the taxpayers pick up the pieces and pay for the mess.

Then, extrapolate that deregulation made under the disingenuous title of Gingrich's "Contract with America," which many have come to see, in hindsight, as Gingrich's "Contract on America." Many of the problems with the market, with investment houses, with banks, with large multinational corporations, originate in that persistent legislative effort to return America to the days of the robber barons, in the persistent Republican/right-wing/big-business effort to undo everything Franklin Roosevelt did in New Deal legislation to reign them in.

It seems that the biggest effort ahead of any new legislator is that of undoing law which has done damage to investors, and to the public at large. It's not accidental that the huge increases in compensation to CEOs has also come at the same time that America's workers are losing their jobs to overseas competitors and that American investors have been deceived by the corporations they support by investment. The law, largely written by lobbyists and enacted by legislators beholden to corporation donations to their campaigns, is largely a reflection of those special interests rather than the interests of and well-being of the general public. No wonder there are problems with investment monies.

So, simply, what new legislators need to do is get us, one way or another, back to a regulatory and legal baseline from which ordinary Americans can not only derive some intangible trust, but will also put teeth into government regulation meant to prevent problems rather than hide them until the inevitable is apparent--meltdown.

Large American business has consistently whined about regulation inhibiting its ability to operate in the marketplace. We're now seeing the effect of that deregulation and its concomitant lack of oversight. Corporations will always do the wrong thing if it puts money in the pocket of the CEO. Who, for example, proposed legislation, which was eventually enacted, which paid corporations, out of tax receipts, to move manufacturing facilities offshore? That's part of the tax code, but most ordinary Americans don't have a clue about its existence, or who promoted such legislation, or why.

The simple truth is, when legislators whine that the tax code is too complex, they actually mean the truly, incredibly, complex tangle of loopholes, arranged through legislation, for the benefit of individual corporations, rather than the tax code as it applies to the ordinary worker. Much of the tax code, and its regulatory result, is written for corporations, not individuals.

Where does "of the people, by the people, for the people" figure into this? The 1888 Marshall court decision which declared that corporations had the status of individuals, that's where. Once they were people, they were people with a lot more money than the rest of us. They've driven legislative influence ever since.

Most ordinary people in this country don't understand that recent Congresses and Presidents have worked hard to make NAFTA a part of the legislative landscape (Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires that all treaties agreed upon by Congress become the supreme law of the land). Chapter 11 of NAFTA gives corporations sovereignty over local, state or federal law in the name of profit. No sovereign nation, including ours, should have ever given a corporation, foreign or domestic, the right to legally trump law intended to protect the citizens of the country, and yet, this is not only permissible by law, it is mandated by our own Constitution, if our legislators agree to international law such as NAFTA and the WTO and FTAA, with suspect clauses which put corporate interests ahead of the interests of the people.

What has been lost, over these years since the turn of the last century, is the notion that the people, you, me, your neighbors, run this country. The truth is, simply, that the country is being run by corporations, through local, state and national politicians. International treaties conform to their wishes, rather than yours. Local, state and national legislation is much more influenced by corporate lobbyists and the money they bring to the candidates your local and state political parties present to you.

As long as local, state and federal representation depends upon the money provided by corporate interests, there will be no one in government willing to get back to the necessary basics--ripping bad legislation out by its roots.

Sure, there are the assholes interfering with the political process--Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and their like, who dominate the radio spectrum--the people who make money on the government staying as it is, who will do all they can to keep right-thinking people from dominatiing legislatures everywhere, rather than having right-wing-thinking people in control.

As long as the Democratic Party attempts to emulate the fundraising tactics of the Republican Party, it will continue to be the ass-kisser of business rather than the supporter of the ordinary people. There's tremendous support available from the ordinary people, if the Democratic Party will only address their interests, instead of those of corporate interests.

Corporations, run by megalomaniacal CEOs interested solely in their own bank accounts, should not be the ideal citizen for which legislation is written. Rather, they should be seen as interferers in the democratic process, rather than enablers (which they have been for their own interests).

The legislators of the near future have some obligations, all of them tough and difficult to explain to ordinary constituents, but are, ultimately, simple. There is a need to explain to ordinary constituents that corporations have defined the law, the economy and the direction of progress of our notion of civilization for a couple of decades, and have failed, and that these greedy corporations have done all of us harm. Period. Real campaign financing reform may help in that transition from cronyism to populism, but that's harder to do than getting rid of the bad legislation made in the last twenty years.

The respected and successful politician in the next hundred years will be the one who is not only willing to speak the truth, but is also willing to undo the legislative damage done by his predecessors. Speaking the truth may be a lot easier....

 
Punpirate is a writer living in New Mexico who knows how its legislature really works.

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