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Some financial Law and Order — and other related issues

In a post a couple of weeks ago I wondered if there might be a way for the 99% to cooperate better by bringing  together progressives and Tea Partiers (and the huge block of people with no name…to match their voiceless status).  Below are some thoughts on the matter.

Tax code. Simplifying the tax code is a very popular idea. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, and various flat tax proposals over the years get instinctive support from people across the political spectrum. The support falls off sharply because, upon further inspection, most of these plans tend to be very regressive and would have the effect of transferring massive amounts of wealth to the already-wealthy. But, a simplified tax code that tracked to the very strong majority opinion in America would be something that Tea Partiers and Progressives could both support. It could be used to reduce “special interest” loopholes that favor the rich and corporations. A Parallel Universe President Obama, PUPO™, (i.e. the one I supported a few years back!) could say, “I want to cut one loophole everyday until the tax system is fair for all Americans, and not just the ones who can afford expensive accountants.” If necessary, lower the rates 1% so the “Dems just want to raise taxes” argument can be countered with a “Dems want to lower taxes for those who play by the rules, and prevent others from cheating the system.”

Fairness at the Fed. There is some precedence for the 99% working on fair policies at the Federal Reserve. By “fair” I mean policies that do not favor big banks. Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone column on the matter spells out some of the issues. Again, current policy and practice provides massive benefits to the already wealthy. It is a question of a level playing field. If a Tea Party acquaintance rails against the involvement of the government in the market—“The government should not be picking winners and losers!”—then the immediate response might be to point out that the Fed policies do exactly that.

Unions. Now this is a stretch, and it will take some time, but bear with me. The demonization of unions has puzzled, infuriated, saddened, and then puzzled me again. Unions are one of the last bulwarks against a massive and probably irreversible destruction of the middle class. The union argument has been waged terribly from the progressive side of things. How can that be changed? By tying manufacturing to unions activity, and vice versa. The US (both left and right, for different reasons perhaps) should support only those trade deals that include substantial protections for worker’s rights. Of course, big business will try everything possible to prevent this. However, unions have been too timid in demanding some moral, political, economic, and patriotic accountability from their government/overlords. I understand that this comes off as PollyAnna-ish— which GOP, or Dem, even, member of Congress would support this?—but I think that some common cause with those who decry the death of honest, blue collar employment is possible.  But, first we have to make the case that union protections abroad are a moral, patriotic, and economic win-win-win.

Law and Order. For decades now, especially since Nixon’s paranoia, law and order was almost synonymous with beating, arresting, and incarcerating groups caught under the umbrella of moral crimes (e.g. drug use). It meant keeping the streets clean, a la Rudy Giuliani, and maintaining a certain pleasant façade. This has had two enormously deleterious effects. First, it has put individual police officers and often entire police forces beyond reproach, with the side effect of empowering some truly grotesque individuals. Look at the videos of police clearing out protesters across the country. I understand that it is difficult to deal with the heightened emotions, being yelled at, and the (largely self-imposed) sense of impending danger that officers must feel. It is only human. However, they are trained to deal with this; being able to de-escalate violence is both their job and their duty. What is disturbing is the maniacal look on some officers’ faces as they stomp on protesters and then flash their bully-ish “This will make a great story after duty” look.   You can imagine the conversation:  “Hey, Jim. You sure stomped on that one guy.” “Sure did Kenny. I could feel his fingers breaking under my boot!” “Fuckin’ hippies. Hilarious.”   Laughter all around.

When “law and order” means that police get to do whatever they want—“So what if that women has a court order in her hand, I’m still going to punch her in the face!”—then we are in serious trouble.

The second deleterious effect is that this TV version of Law and Order cultivates a certain image of crime, and of criminals. Criminals are either dirty, dimwitted, unemployed washouts (and, usually stoners or Drunks), or they are criminal masterminds, evil geniuses, or daring “the law doesn’t apply to me because I am Ubermensch” characters. Who isn’t a criminal in this paradigm (or at least a criminal worth catching)? Wall Street thieves who steal less than Madoff’s billions. (Way to set the bar so high there, Bernie!) Insider traders. Bribe-givers and bribe-takers. Cokeheads on the 50th floor. (Jeesh, the financial sector would shut down if coke were to become temporarily unavailable.) In other words, white collar criminals who don’t quite cross the “evil genius” threshold.

I think a law and order approach that stressed the criminality of individuals (rather than their financial connections) would get some wide support. This is not rocket science, since plenty of public polling suggests as much. (As I was writing this, this was posted. Timing, gotta love it!)

So, what do you think? Am I way off base? Is there somewhere else where the left and right wings of the 99% might come together?

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