July 25, 2002
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
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,
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
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
Punpirate is a writer living in New Mexico who knows how its
legislature really works.