Is The GOP A Political Party? Or A Crime Syndicate?

For those of you who think the two major political parties in the US are different in name only, I would like to correct the perception. True, both parties are far too friendly with lobbyists and large corporations. Both rely on billionaires to fund their political campaigns. Both have voted to dole out billions in corporate welfare. But that’s where the comparisons end. Today’s GOP would be unrecognizable to Republicans such as Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy create rampant fear of communists around every corner resulting in false accusations and black lists that ruined the lives of political opponents and innocents alike.

We saw GOP presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon treasonously interfere in the Vietnam peace talks for political advantage. As president, he divided the nation. Then, in his re-election campaign, he created a dirty tricks squad to torment his opponents. He was forced from office when it was discovered that he ordered a break-in of Democratic offices and used his position to cover it up. His VP, his Attorney General, his White House lawyer and others went to prison. And, during the Watergate hearings, he was found to have committed tax fraud. But, thanks to a pardon by his Republican successor, he was spared prison even as his tax lawyer was convicted and sentenced.

Similarly, we learned that Ronald Reagan secretly, and treasonously, negotiated with the Iranians to prevent the release of US hostages until after the presidential election. Then, during his second term, it was discovered that he had illegally ordered the sale of arms to Iran in order to fund an illegal war in Central America. At least a dozen members of his administration were indicted while Reagan was allowed to ride off into the sunset. Yet few of the culprits served real consequences since Reagan’s GOP successor, George H.W. Bush, ordered his Attorney General (William Barr) to pardon them.

Under false pretenses, Bush later led a war against Iraq over Kuwaiti oil. And following his “victory” Bush sent the nation’s economy into a deep recession by closing dozens of military bases in the US.

Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush ignored warnings that al-Qaeda was set to attack the US resulting in 9/11. He then took us to war in Afghanistan (our longest-running war) and lied our nation into going to war in Iraq resulting in the squandering of trillions of dollars and the complete destabilization of the Middle East the consequences of which will be felt for many generations. Bush also oversaw the continued de-regulation of our financial sector leading to the collapse of our stock markets and the Great Recession.

Now we have the boss of a crime family occupying our White House – Donald J. Trump – who ascended to power as the beneficiary of substantial election interference by Russia, information stolen from Democratic databases, election fraud, illegal campaign contributions, and more than $70 million from the NRA. He has not only refused to acknowledge Russian interference, he has obstructed investigations into that interference. Only because of an inane judgment by the DOJ has he avoided charges. Meanwhile, his personal lawyer and members of his campaign committee have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted of crimes leading to prison sentences.

And that’s not even the worst of his presidency. He has led the plundering of our treasury to enrich his family, his friends and large corporations. He has gutted regulations designed to prevent another market crash and to protect our environment. He has engaged in ill-conceived trade wars. He has implemented racist policies. He has further divided our nation by empowering white nationalists. And he has undermined the truth, the press and most of our institutions.

All of this has been enabled by compliant GOP congressional representatives who are re-elected only as the result of extreme gerrymandering, union busting and a variety of voter suppression techniques designed to prevent people of color and the working poor from voting for their opponents.

By comparison, the last three Democratic administrations have been guilty of balancing the budget, rescuing our economy from financial collapse, giving millions of Americans access to affordable health care, and twenty years relatively free from scandal…except for that blow job and those emails. You know, THOSE emails.

Journalism, RIP.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming presidential race, one thing has been forever changed…journalism.

Though the competition for ratings has long influenced the news – forcing news editors to adopt the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy – the demand for ratings has relegated newscasts to stories of violent crimes, accidental deaths, and confrontations only occasionally interrupted by feel-good “human interest” stories. Instead of informing the public about issues that really matter (pending legislation, environmental destruction, corporate influence in government, foreign policy decisions, and government and corporate corruption), the philosophy governing reporting by corporate-owned news media seems to be to keep the public perpetually frightened and stupid.

Newscasts have become little more than infotainment.

How else do you explain Donald Trump’s ability to manipulate the media into providing his campaign with roughly $3 billion of free news coverage – many times that of his competitors? How else do you explain the lack of coverage for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, even though he has drawn larger crowds than Trump at every stop? How else do explain the media’s reporting of the latest accusations about Hillary Clinton’s emails without facts or context?

When I earned my journalism degree, every story was expected to contain the basics of who, what, where, when, why and how. Rumors and accusations were not, in themselves, considered news. No story could be printed or aired if it didn’t include those basic elements. What’s more, the story had to be verified by two independent sources – more if the story was deemed to be exceptionally controversial.

Journalists like me were inspired by giants: Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. News gathering operations like CBS had news bureaus and reporters located around the globe based on the concept that it was not enough to tell the story, it was important to provide context and real understanding. It was considered more important for reporters to be right than to be first. Opinion was clearly labeled as such and not permitted to contaminate a news story. And there was an impenetrable firewall between the business side of the media and the news department, except in the not-so-rare instances where the owner of the media was also a journalist.

Such news departments exposed the viciousness of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s reporting brought down the criminal enterprise otherwise known as the Nixon administration. Seymour Hersh’s reporting laid bare the horrors of the My Lai Massacre. Cronkite’s reporting was credited with ending the Vietnam War.

In more recent times, based on the woeful state of modern journalism, the corporate news media made it possible for the Bush administration to lead our nation to war in Iraq based on propaganda and lies. And they didn’t just report Trump’s ascendency to the GOP presidential nomination. In search of ratings and ever-larger profits, they actually created the Trump we see today.

Each day, the “news” is dominated by Trump. The media rarely fact-check his rants, provide context for his claims, point out inconsistencies in his statements, or broadcast alternative views. Unlike opposing candidates, he doesn’t need to waste campaign funds on airtime. In fact, he has actually made money by using campaign funds to pay his own companies for transportation, lodging and more.

In the heyday of broadcast journalism, reporters and news anchors tried to create a signature to be used to end a broadcast. For Murrow, it was “Good night, and good luck.” For Cronkite, it was “And that’s the way it is.” Now that the media are no longer willing to hold their newscasts to the standards of journalism, I’d suggest a slightly different slogan – “Another day, another dollar.”

That’s all the corporate media seems to care about.

The Conservative War Against Labor.

In the years following the Great Depression, labor unions were popular and thriving. The Wagner Act of 1935, also known as the National Labor Relations Act, guaranteed workers the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. As a result, union workers, particularly those in mining and manufacturing, experienced dramatic gains in salaries and benefits, along with safer working conditions.

Corporations didn’t give up these things without a fight. But public sentiment was temporarily on the side of workers and World War II demanded unity between corporations and unions.

The end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War gave corporations a new opportunity to undermine unions with the rise of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) and his House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC). Likely emboldened by President Truman’s loyalty program intended to discredit Democratic rival Henry Wallace (former V.P. to FDR, nuclear disarmament advocate and pro-labor candidate) prior to the 1948 presidential election, McCarthy launched a witch hunt in search of communist sympathizers. News of the Soviet Union’s growing nuclear capability spawned a national paranoia that allowed McCarthy to portray labor unions as a communist front .

By the time McCarthy’s lies and un-Constitutional tactics were exposed, hundreds of Americans had been imprisoned, thousands more had lost their jobs and tens of thousands had been investigated. The victims included those who had supported Wallace, civil rights leaders, union leaders…even the unions’ rank and file.

The unraveling of the HUAC may have posed another setback for corporations and the wealthy, but McCarthy’s accusations left many suspicious of organized labor, even as labor unions continued to help build the middle class. Finally, in the 1980’s, anti-union forces suceeded in electing a president sympathetic to their cause – Ronald Reagan. When the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, violating a law banning strikes by government workers, Reagan fired all 11,345 members who failed to return to work.

Reflecting on the event, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan commented, “His [Reagan’s] action gave weight to the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to use their own discretion to both hire and discharge workers.”

The war against unions resumed in earnest.

Corporations began sending jobs offshore in search of labor willing to work for low wages and without benefits such as health insurance, disability insurance and unemployment insurance. The export of jobs also eliminated the need for worker pensions. (In the years since Reagan’s election, more than 85,000 defined benefit pension funds have been eliminated.) Many of the jobs that can’t be exported, like those at Walmart and McDonald’s, now pay so little that their employees require public assistance. And with fewer workers eligible to pay dues, many labor unions have been weakened.

Meanwhile, management compensation has soared. The savings on labor costs has resulted in million dollar annual salaries and bonuses for executives.

With money comes influence allowing corporations and industries to successfully lobby Congress for subsidies, tax write-offs and lower tax rates. In addition, many corporations have been allowed to avoid taxes by creating Post Office box “headquarters” in off-shore tax havens. The resulting drop in tax revenue led to increased deficits and greater debt. But, rather than rewrite the corporate tax code and raise taxes on those who could afford it, conservatives have seized the opportunity to cut social programs. They not only cut food stamps. They have targeted Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, as well.

Not surprisingly, conservatives have also taken aim at the labor unions which represent government workers, such as teachers, firefighters and police. In particular, they want to eliminate government pensions. The argument is that, if private workers don’t have pensions and benefits, why should government workers? If successful, conservatives will have turned the clock back to the gilded age; the days prior to labor unions; the days of extreme wealth and extreme poverty.

Some say that we already have two Americas. I would argue three.

One is the America of the one percent; those who make lots of money and pay little to no income tax; those who can buy influence by donating to political campaigns and build new businesses with government subsidies financed with the taxes paid by others.

The second is the America of hard work, limited upward mobility and shrinking investments. In this America, you work ever longer hours in order to meet the corporate demands of increased productivity. Each year, you are forced to do more with less. For you, retirement may be little more than a dream. And for your children, college will become a financial burden they may never be able to repay.

The third America is one in which people work for so little money they can’t afford many of the necessities of life. According to the Working Poor Families Project, one in three American families are now among the working poor. One in six Americans and one in four children don’t know where the next meal is coming from, or even if there will be a next meal. In this America, more than 630,000 are chronically homeless and 3.5 million will experience homelessness in a given year. For many of these people, there is little hope that their circumstances will change. They not only lack political influence, many face new laws and obstacles intended to discourage them from voting.

Both President Obama and Pope Francis have recently called economic inequality the biggest problem we face. But President Obama can’t reduce inequality in America by himself. We will need a Congress that represents all Americans. We will need a sympathetic and unified citizenry. And we will need organized labor.

(As a footnote, I should make it clear that, having become part of middle management almost immediately following college graduation, I was ineligible for union membership. But, like most Americans, I was able to take advantage of the improved working conditions, salaries and benefits negotiated by labor unions.)