The recent sham of a "budget deal" is so absurdly unfair, so grotesquely counter to the stated interests of everyday working Americans and so blatant in its favoritism to Wall Street, the rich and big business that it is hard to believe that we are not actually reading The Onion. Some people are calling it the CitiCorp bill, but it is probably most accurately described as the WTF bill. You can ascribe the usual meaning to those letters, but I'm talking about something else, what has become the absolute defining characteristic of our economy and our politics: Wealth Trumps Fairness.
With substantial consent from House and Senate Democrats and a major push from the president, the crafting and passage of this bill makes another thing clear beyond any doubt: the Democratic Party, as a political institution, has for all intents and purposes sold out working people, the poor struggling to improve their lot and the middle class. At every turn, this bill exemplifies the extreme Wealth Trumps Fairness favoritism of large international corporations over small businesses, of agribusiness giants over small farmers, of reckless Wall Street financial giants over community banks and homeowners, and of elite political donors over millions of ordinary, and increasingly inconsequential voters. And it is worth reminding ourselves that, like the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, this bill is a perfect culmination, rather than a departure from the norm. WTF is the new normal, folks, and neither party is seriously interested in changing that.
In case you missed it, here are just a few of the public obscenities about to become the law of the land in this "compromise" legislation:
• After a brief hiatus, Wall Street money firms will once again be able to trade in high-risk derivatives with the U.S. taxpayer as their guarantor. Most folks know that these financial schemes played a huge role in the financial collapse that precipitated the Great Recession, in fact forcing millions of people to lose their homes or go into bankruptcy. They may not know that these "instruments" themselves have almost no concrete value beyond the money they make for the people who buy and sell them. They are not real wealth; they don't provide investment capital to repair crumbling bridges or reinvigorate a downtown. Rather they are "derived" from other things, often speculations about people's misfortunes, like foreclosures on homes.
• For more than ten years, family farmers raising poultry, hogs and other animals under contract with agribusiness giants like Tyson struggled to level the playing field. They needed a way to challenge unfair practices, like when the big firms suddenly dropped prices, added new requirements or otherwise changed the rules midstream. They finally won some hope of fairness when USDA was given new rules about contract disputes, intended to level the playing field for these small farmers. Guess what the new "spending bill" does? It prohibits these rules from being enforced.
• Pension funds, the main source of security for millions of retired teachers, cops, fire fighters and other civil servants, have been badly hurt by Wall Street's financial shenanigans, and by the exorbitant fees they charge to administer the funds, even though they have generally under-performed. Wall Street firms are awash in money; pension plans and retirees are struggling to survive. This bill's solution is to allow these funds to cut, substantially, the pensions promised to retirees.
• Political contributions. Neatly tying together all of the above, and many other WTF giveaways is the new provision that effectively triples the amount of money that wealthy donors can contribute to campaigns. Straight from the pages of The Onion, you take a political system in which the very wealthy already have incredibly outsized influence, a system in which a recent study by Martin Gilens determined that the policy concerns of "average citizens have little or no independent influence" on politicians and public policy, and what do you do? You give the 1% even greater access and influence.
WTF policies and deal-making are now so dominant that when folks like Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown speak out against them, they are bucking their own party's leadership. They're also spitting in the wind. The Democratic Party, far from representing loyal opposition to the Republican's shameless and relentless promotion of Wealth Trumps Fairness economics and politics, no longer fights back. Quite the contrary, they are now clearly part of the problem and have sold out all but a handful of the American people. In the name of "compromise", Obama, like the Clintons, is the promoter-in-chief for this sell out.
It is long past time for progressives and others who truly believe in the U.S. as a democracy and as a commonwealth, to quit trying to reform the Democratic Party. They don't want to be. Instead we must start forming new alliances and new parties, like the Working Families Party in Oregon and New York, which truly represent ordinary people and the communities where we live. When we accept that the Democratic Party has surrendered to the doctrine of Wealth Trumps Fairness, we'll stop looking at these absurd laws, trade deals and other betrayals as a WTF? anomaly. We must recognize the truth: As far as the two major parties are concerned, we're on our own now. That's a very depressing reality, but maybe, just maybe the slap in the face we need to get going.
Anthony Flaccavento is a farmer and small business owner near Abingdon, Virginia. He was the Democratic Candidate for Virginia's 9th Congressional District in 2012. He is now completing a book.