Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Undermining Democracy-- As American As Apple Pie


From the very beginning of the American experiment, conservatives have worked diligently-- and successfully-- to "temper" the urges for democracy. A "republic" is not a "democracy." And the kinds of restrictions that conservatives have always wanted-- and continue to want-- on who gets to vote and who doesn't is antithetical to the notion of democracy.

The whole idea of the way the Senate was set up-- and why-- was specifically aimed to counterbalance any notion of democracy-- which is still does... and quite effectively. The Brits were mature enough to pass the Parliament Act of 1911-- over a century ago, for the math-challenged-- which significantly restricted their version of the Senate, the House of Lords, from thwarting the will of the people.
The 1911 Act was a reaction to the clash between the Liberal government and the House of Lords, culminating in the so-called "People's Budget" of 1909. In this Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George proposed the introduction of a land tax based on the ideas of the American tax reformer Henry George. This new tax would have had a major effect on large landowners, and was opposed by the Conservative opposition, many of whom were large landowners themselves. The Conservatives believed that money should be raised through the introduction of tariffs on imports, which they claimed would help British industry. Contrary to British constitutional convention, the Conservatives used their large majority in the Lords to vote down the Budget, but for the Liberals built on the widespread unpopularity of the Lords to make reducing the power of the Lords an important issue of the January 1910 general election.

The Liberals returned in a hung parliament after the election: their call for action against the Lords had energised believers in hereditary principle to vote for the Conservatives, but had failed to generate much interest with the rest of the voting public. The Liberals formed a minority government with the support of the Labour and Irish nationalist MPs. The Lords subsequently accepted the Budget when the land tax proposal was dropped. However, as a result of the dispute over the Budget, the new government introduced resolutions (that would later form the Parliament Bill) to limit the power of the Lords. The Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, asked Edward VII to create sufficient new Liberal peers to pass the Bill if the Lords rejected it. The King refused, so Asquith went back to the polls to obtain an explicit mandate for the constitutional change.

The Lords voted this 1910 Bill down, so Asquith called a second general election in December 1910, and again formed a minority government. Edward VII had died in May 1910, but George V agreed that, if necessary, he would create hundreds of new Liberal peers to neutralise the Conservative majority in the Lords. The Conservative Lords then backed down, and on 10 August 1911, the House of Lords passed the Parliament Act by a narrow 131–114 vote, with the support of some two dozen Conservative peers and eleven of thirteen Lords Spiritual (who normally do not vote).
I've long been a fan of either abolishing the anti-democratic Senate-- anti-democratic by design (California's 38,041,430 people and Texas' 26,059,203 people get the same number of senators as Wyoming's 576,412 and Vermont's 626,011)-- or just making it ceremonial and advisory. Imagine Ted Cruz and Dianne Feinstein arguing about gun safety in white wigs and long robes. But the House, the body designed to be more democratic, has some severe problems conservative have engineered in an extra-constitutional manner, namely the gerrymander which allows politicians to pick their own voters rather than letting voters pick their own representatives. And then there's the oligarchical campaign finance structure that plagues the whole American electoral system.

Obama was just elected with a pretty hefty majority. More voters chose Democrats in both the House and Senate elections. It doesn't seem to matter. Conservatives and wealthy special interests have found ways to subvert democracy time and time again. Polls show lopsided majorities supporting a progressive agenda on everything from Choice, war, drones, the post office, immigration reform, to the embattled regulatory system, clean energy, climate change and the environment, and gun safety. Politicians are now so insulated from public opinion that it just does not matter.

You'd think that economic justice issues are pretty basic and pretty key to maintaining a Democratic Party identity. President Obama is trying to increase the minimum wage. More progressives Democrats are trying to increase it more than he is. The public agrees and appears to see though the age old conservative lies about how the minimum wage hurts the economy. So what happened in Maryland-- one of the most Democratically controlled states in America-- last week? (Keep in mind that Obama won the state 62-36% and Cardin was reelected-- in a serious 3-way contest-- 55-27-17%. Also keep in mind that the Maryland state Senate has 35 Democrats and just 12 Republicans and that the Democratic majority in the 141 member House of Delegates is overwhelming: 97 to 43.)
A bill to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour died in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. It was defeated in an 8-3 vote with several senators explaining that they opposed the legislation in spite of their sympathy for low-wage workers because the timing was not right for a wage increase.

Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton said that he has supported minimum wage hikes in the past but could not justify it in a down economy. “I think this bill would put people out of work,” said Middleton, D-Charles.

If passed, SB 683 would have gradually increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 over the next three years. For months, labor organizations and religious organizations have been lobbying for the bill’s passage, and tonight The Raise Maryland coalition will be holding a candlelight vigil as they mourn the death of the minimum wage bill. Members of the group will march through Annapolis to protest the Senate committee’s rejection of the increase.

...Sen. James Mathias Jr, D-Lower Shore, said that his experience as a businessman led him to believe that minimum wage increases would result in layoffs, since businesses are struggling to survive as it is.

“Ordinarily I go for the worker, but I tell you, if there is no place to work, the worker doesn’t get anything out of a wage increase,” he said. Small businesses were facing brutal economic conditions and were frequently unable to compete with national chains.

Baltimore County Democrat Katherine Klausmeier said that she felt an obligation to serve the interests of her district’s small businesses which are still hurting as a result of the recession.

Fellow Democrat Delores Kelley said that she knew many start-up owners that would have to close their businesses if the minimum wage hike passed.

Republicans made similar arguments. Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin summed up the view of the committee majority when he said, “If you make things more expensive, you get less of them, and we need more jobs. This bill ends up hurting the people it is intended to help.”
The well organized restaurant owners certainly got what they wanted. Ordinary voters... nah. So what will unions do about it? Back Republicans in the next election? No, that doesn't make any sense. I wonder if they know about primaries there. Oh, they do... the unions helped replace anti-working family shill Al Wynn with progressive icon Donna Edwards-- and not that many years ago.

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