Democracy is in short supply


Commentary by Andy Ray

When I opened the opinion section of the Star the other day (Yes, I do get my news from sources other than the Current), I was startled (although sadly not surprised) by the headline, “Blame Government, Not Globalization,” in reference to Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing. As a progressive living in the Heartland, I certainly disagree with the content of many articles, but this one struck me as not only wrong, but 100-percent wrong! What’s the truth? Simply reverse the headline to read, “Blame Globalization, Not Government.”

Yes folks, it’s really that simple. Along with most Americans, I was convinced Ross Perot was a nutjob when he debated then-Vice-President Al Gore on the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement. But you know what? He was right! No, I didn’t actually hear an audible whoooooshing sound when American jobs disappeared, but they did disappear. Corporate interests used NAFTA to move basic manufacturing jobs to Mexico and overseas. Consequently, American labor unions were flushed down the figurative National Toilet, and with them went the American Middle Class.

And this is exactly what Corporate America (and their lapdogs, the Republican Party) wants. They’ve never liked unions. Nor Social Security and Medicare. Nor any of the so-called “social safety net” programs established by Franklin Roosevelt. They have no intention of guaranteeing anyone a good job, affordable housing, health care, a quality education, or a secure retirement. (We still have to pay for them ourselves, just not with our taxes.)  Nope. All Corporate America cares about is the bottom line. And that’s normal. That’s the crux of capitalism. Fortunately, we have historically tempered capitalism with something called democracy. Unfortunately, democracy is currently in short supply.

Consider Detroit’s situation. Michigan lost more jobs than any other state from the implementation of NAFTA. But the conservative state government has blamed Detroit’s budget difficulties exclusively on the retirement benefits of the “greedy” employees – even though public pension funds have been underfunded for years. The funds raided from those pensions have been used for, you guessed it, tax cuts for the wealthy, and corporate welfare programs. (Stop me when this starts to sound like Indiana.)  Right-wing governor Rick Snyder recently enacted a new $1.7-billion corporate tax cut, which promises to exacerbate the state’s deficit. Do you have any idea what kind of pension retired Michigan workers receive?  $19,000!  Nineteen-thou!  Barely above the poverty line!  And they’re supposed to be the greedy ones?

In 1975, Michigan officials spent $55-million of taxpayer funds for a new football stadium. More recently, they sold off that stadium for a half-million dollars (less than one percent of its original cost), and built a new one for $300-million. Now they plan to spend $283-million to build a new hockey stadium. Ice hockey?  Heck, it barely counts as one of the four “major” sports. Yet, they will spend 14,895 times more money to build it than they will spend on one year of any given municipal worker’s pension.

And Michigan is not alone. Kentucky recently raided public pension funds to finance $1.4-billion a year in new tax subsidies. The resulting crisis “forced” Kentucky officials to slash pension benefits. Do you see where this country is heading?  The New York Times reports that, “states, counties, and cities are giving up more than $80-billion per year to companies” in the form of tax loopholes and subsidies.

Don’t believe the myth. High taxes did not drive people from Detroit. Greedy unions did not force city leaders to make fiscally irresponsible pension promises. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity are, as usual, wrong. And the supposedly “liberal” media has done very little to challenge the right-wing

labor-busting myth of the collapse of Detroit. Of course, today’s media is not necessarily liberal or conservative – it is “corporate.”  The media is owned by the corporations receiving the tax subsidies, so don’t expect any Woodward & Bernstein to emerge and take on this current sorry state of municipal affairs. I expect more American cities to go broke. And I hate to say it, but I expect the lower and middle classes to be blamed. Again.