2011-12-23 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

High unemployment, austerity cuts that damage the poor and working middle class, increasing costs for health care, food, education, and energy, poor prospects for the future for the young people, and a nation that appears to be on the decline while billions of people overseas are financing our increasing debt do not make an auspicious prospect for success for an incumbent president in the White House. Next year, 2012, is an election year and all of us will be bombarded with political messages that will appeal to our sense of the role of government and business in American society. Most Americans have forgotten the threat of terrorism and the many military expeditions of our recent past and are worried about economic problems and social inequity. America has already debated these issues during the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal compromises made a social contract that Americans of both parties agreed to for nearly 50 years.

Our present president, Barrack Obama, since his inauguration has attempted to change the economic crisis by saving the General Motors corporation, saving jobs of teachers, police and fire departments, and other civil service positions with a stimulus program, and establishing a possible alternative to an increasingly costly health care delivery system and health care protection for all Americans. His achievements are considerable, especially considering the fierce opposition of the Tea Party and Republican right wing. The president did not take on the financial sector that caused the economic collapse. We were told the New Deal regulations were no longer needed and that we need a new social contract that allows the marketplace to conduct business without regulation. Can you imagine what would have occurred in 2008 without insured bank accounts? Federal Deposit Insurance saved us from a complete financial collapse. Social Security and unemployment insurance compensation also buoyed the economy. We owe a great deal to the fights and debates of the Great Depression and need to reopen the debate.

During the Great Depression there was an investigation of the procedures and policies of the financial sector that gave an insight to the reasons for the economic hardships caused by the titans of finance. Since 2008 there has not been any complete and comprehensive investigation of the chicanery, malfeasance, and misfeasance of the Wall Street wizards who believe Heads they win and Tails we lose. Their concept of free markets appears to be a crony, casino, state supported capitalism where the elite enjoys all the rewards of the market while the majority pay an increasing share of taxes and pain. It is outrageous that Republican candidates complain of the poor who do not pay income taxes because of the limitations of their meager income.

These same people pay sales taxes, increasing tolls, transportation costs to get to work that are regressive; have poor child care choices, increasing medical care costs and the daily humiliations of the poor. Some of them may pay real estate taxes on property they were fortunate to have with often unbearable sacrifice from themselves and their loved ancestors.

The burdens they have are not enough for some of Republican leaders – now they should bear more sacrifices so that the men and women of Wall Street who managed the financial sector of our economy can use their Lear jets, yachts, and chauffeur driven Mercedes as they line up at the coffers of our deficit ridden treasury. At the same time, the costs of war and the use of military hardware to resolve international disputes are rarely mentioned.

Our president appears to be concerned with pleasing the financial elite then investigating the probable criminal behavior of campaign fundraisers. Governor Cuomo is also unwilling to have the wealthy pay increased taxes at a time he is willing to have the pay of state decreased with furlough days as they are required to pay considerably increased health care costs.

Our mayor and City Council president are not willing to have a living wage bill passed that will make employers who receive city contracts pay a living wage to their employees. Recently an organization of the United Nations, the International Labor Organization (ILO), cited this nation as a violator of a treaty our nation signed because the leaders of unions that strike are often imprisoned.

Two years ago the leaders of the Transit Workers Union were imprisoned because of a strike. Are our city and state laws regarding strikes by civil service workers a violation of human rights? Many across the globe believe this is the true face of an unabashed strong capitalist system that forgets that without labor no true wealth develops. Too many people in our society do not believe the social contract of a free market society that respects the needs and hopes of the majority now exists. This causes the increasing disparity between the financial elite and the majority. Occupy Wall Street is a manifestation of this.

As 2012 arrives, the Republican Party is now deciding who will be their candidate for the White House. One candidate wants our Congress to work part time. Another candidate made his fortune by stripping viable American companies of their assets and sending jobs overseas. In other words, he is a job destroyer. Many of the loyal opposition’s candidates invite an increased possibil- ity for more violence in the Near East by speaking aggressively regarding military action in Iran. Military spending cannot be decreased while the unemployed of this country must endure cuts in unemployment compensation. Another candidate is the source of workplace hostility rumors. Regressive taxation proposals are the norm of the Republican candidates. Nine Nine Nine is one mantra. One candidate is the CEO of a company that denigrates a prominent ethnic group by selling pizza using Mafia imagery. Inhumane treatment of undocumented workers appears to be a major part of the Republican platform. Killing the Affordable Health Care Act is an objective of all Republicans. All Republican candidates dismiss Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and other occupy movements as anti-capitalistic. They tell OWS activists to take showers and return home and get a job.

My prediction is that OWS may not be a focal point of the presidential campaign but the OWS movement cannot be ignored or marginalized. OWS brought out that the increasing social and economic inequity is a danger to the free market system.

Many historians argue the social contract that the New Deal created saved capitalism. OWS makes it that this social contract needs to be rewritten if capitalism is to flourish. OWS may actually save capitalists from committing suicide. Without a social order that guarantees economic security for all we cannot secure a growth economy and a prosperous future. Criminal behavior in the marketplace cannot be accepted. Rewarding inadequate results with bonuses makes accountability a joke. Putting the burden of financial austerity on the poor and working class will cause social unrest and chaos. Not respecting the need for labor unions and worker dignity will cause international disrepute in the more civilized and wealthy nations. Ignoring the creation of a more humane inclusive social contract that ensures dignity and an adequate standard of living will cause disruption and may destroy our way of life.

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