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I am William S. U'ren and I am dead. I was once a big noise in Oregon politics, an activist back in the days when Republicans were called progressive and there was an actual Populist Party. The history books say I am largely responsible for things like the initiative, referendum and recall here, as well as the direct election of US Senators. I ran for governor, once, when William Howard Taft was the Republican president, and I lost. Then I retired from politics and, thirty years later, I died. And almost everything I accomplished has been turned on its head and against the very people it was meant to help. Enough is Enough in Oregon!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

et tu Democrats?

Am I dead, or are you?

I have been saying that money corrupts the political process for more than 100 years. Most often my examples to prove this is have described the Republican Party and the people who own them.

That's not fair.

Today I want to talk about how, notwithstanding propaganda and folklore and all the symbols they like to manipulate, the Democratic Party is not somewhere you can go to find representation based on your best interest. It's just as bought and paid for as the Republicans.

It's just the system: it's the money.

Let us take a field trip to the US Senate. I helped turn that body from the millionaire's club it was during the Gilded Age into...into...well, into the millionaire's club it is today. Didn't mean to do that, but I did it.

My thinking was that if we took selection of US Senators out of the hands of state legislators and had people vote directly for them, then Senators would be more likely to do what voters want. Common sense, right? Well, no. Like most of what's called "common sense" it was based on faulty premises so it did not do what my Populist and Progressive brothers and sisters and I thought it would do.

It did make the Senate like the House of Representatives which, since the Constitution was adopted, is made up of people elected by "the people." Big deal. No one there has ever really cared about what's happening to anyone except the people who bankroll them.

And it doesn't matter which party you belong to. Samey-same. I'm guessing, now, that even if we Populists had caught on (or as you would say, today, "gotten traction") the big money guys would have bought us off. Hint: the real change will come when the buyers can no longer buy.

But for two things it would strike you as ironic that a glaring example of this would play out on May 1, 2009. First, it plays out every day in Congress and every state legislature (and county commission and city council and ....) in the United States. Second, most of you don't even know why it would be ironic that the best interest of the people is thwarted by big money on May Day.

May 1, 2009--The Durbin Amendment was killed as 12 Democrats (including the newest Democrat, Arlen Specter) voted against it.

The Durbin Amendment would have given bankruptcy judges back the ability to adjust the terms of a mortgage so that people could stay in their homes and the banks would still get paid what they were owed (just not the premium wind fall profit they get through foreclosure).

The Durbin Amendment would not have instituted some new "socialist" idea--it would have rolled the law back to where it was 30 years ago. That's when bankruptcy judges lost this ability in one of a string of major legislative victories, battles won by wealth, in the current class war that has been successfully all but dismantled the American the middle class.

The Durbin Amendment would have helped 1,700,000 Americans stay in their homes rather than losing them to foreclosure.

The Durbin Amendment was supported by unions, civil rights organizations, and those representing retired persons. It was opposed by the American Bankers Association and real estate lobbyists.

I know you're not allowed to say "class warfare," in this country, but I wonder if you can you even recognized it when you see it, when it's being waged against you.

Richard Durbin said on the floor of the Senate on May Day 2009 that the American people were about to find out whether the people or the bankers owned that place.

He already knew who owns the place, and the Durbin Amendment went down with 12 Democrats voting "no."

Senator Nelson (D-Florida) has received $1,400,000 in campaign contributions from the bankers over the years and it's estimated that 3,700 homeowners he represents will lose their homes thanks to his "no."

Senator Landrieu (D-Louisiana) has received $2,000,000 from bankers and real estate types over the years and it's estimated that 12,000 homeowners she represents will lose their homes thanks to her "no."

Here's a telling epitome of how this works:

"Sen. Ted Kaufman, a Democrat from Delaware, a state nearly wholly-owned by the financial industry, voted his conscience, opposing the banks. He is not running for reelection. "I'm liberated from fund raising," said Kaufman afterwords.

"His Delaware colleague, Democrat Tom Carper, voted with the banks."

He is liberated from fund raising, the man said, and therefore allowed to vote his conscience. Remove the imperative to raise campaign contributions and integrity springs right out, like Jesus from the tomb.

And next week it's credit cards.

Next week it's the bankers and their Senators versus credit card holders (you!) who want relief from the contracts of adhesion that allow the banks, among other unfair provisions, to raise interest rates without notice, even making increases effective before providing notice to the customer, even on balances that existed before the rate increase, and without any kind of process or recourse.

Sure, the bought-and-paid-for R's are going to be there to help the banks try to knock the snot out of the people like you, even those among you who elected them. But D's will be right there with them. Doesn't matter which you voted for, this last go 'round: they turned you and the rest of the middle class over long ago to people we used to call plutocrats. Plutocrats--not you--fund political campaigns. You, not the plutocrats, get pushed away from the table where, as old law school professor of mine used to say, you can put on your tin beak and peck with rest of the chickens.

I don't mind sounding like a broken record: you are equal to the bankers--dollar for dollar you are equal. They have millions of dollars worth of equality. And you have...

In America "money is speech." That's why no one hears you--Democrat or Republican, Clinton or Bush. Big money talks more loudly than your small money. You might be better off buying whiskey or a big screen TV. Or a share in a community garden along with a good sturdy tent.

Hey--even Obama: Obama's "team" is made up of bankers who got us into this mess and who are friends with those who are getting federal money right now (and I am thinking they are going to get more next week when the "stress tests" on the banks are made public).

By the way, President Obama has made a very big deal out of credit card reform. We'll see how that works out for him--for you. I wonder why he was luke warm about the Durbin amendment.

Class warfare? The bankers and their ilk have political office holders sending your money to them to cover "their" losses. They get these office holders to do this by giving them campaign contributions and then paying lobbyists to make sure that the recipients of their largess don't forget where it came from.

That's the millions of dollars of "free speech" they use to drown out your voice--in many instances your TARP money supports their ability to do that to you.

Now, if you received a federal grant you would be required to forego lobbying--but not banks. And don't tell me they don't lobby with the TARP funds, they lobby with "other" funds. That's as stupid as saying campaign contributions don't buy a Senator's vote but only "access." Fact is that the TARP funds free up "other" funds to pay for lobbyists. It doesn't matter which pocket it comes out of, you are paying for that fountain pen and the ink that they use to rob you!

In my day we tried to do something about this dynamic. Yeah, some of our stuff backfired on us and made things worse. But we tried and some of the Populist/Progressive ideas got picked up by FDR and formed the base for the strongest middle class in history. Now that middle class, and the stability it brought to the United States, has been sucked dry and its assets trickled upward to create the most wealthy oligarchy in history.

Is the best you can come up with in the middle of this a strategy pitting one pile of money against another pile of money and thinking that one of those piles of money is going to care about anything except making itself bigger at your expense?

Really? What if the problem is the big piles of money dominating politics, in the first place?

And you think I'm dead?

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