Is It Time to Act Yet?


As a youngish person – perhaps defined as a “Millenial” – I don’t think one has to look much beyond the immediate circles of friends and family to conclude that the social contract has been shattered in the United States.  It is truly a contract – and it used to say something like “work hard, get an education, follow the rules, and you have a high probability of being successful in your pursuit of happiness.”  But in relative terms, I think the promises of success and happiness are no longer valid…or at least not as valid as they were for our parents and their parents before them, and members of their various generations.

Nowadays, many people my age pursue higher education and work hard.  Yet they emerge from their University, Law School, or Business School with little more than limited prospects and a massive, crushing debt that hangs like a noose around their collective necks.  They find that the deck has been stacked against them.  Among the worst of their corporate shackles are taxation and banking systems that protect the wealthy while exacting out-of-scale income taxes and interest payments from people struggling to join the middle class.

Many young Americans will soon become aware of the fact that their plight is directly linked to a broken political system that no longer represents common interests.  Instead, it is carving out special-interest protections in the tax code and regulatory frameworks.  Its efforts bleed valuable social programs and allow monied interests to subject the citizenry to wage slavery, poke Swiss cheese-like holes in the social safety net, and destroy our air, land, and water with oversight-free natural resource extraction.

Normally we look to our political representatives to protect us and pass legislation that favors our interests and contributes to the common good.  But in an environment of outsized corporate speech powered by unregulated and massive campaign contributions and lobbying akin to political anabolic steroids, this former bastion of protection for citizen interests is crippled, and unfit for being tasked with righting the ship.

Faced with conditions like this – whether in the the American Colonies, the Deep South before the Civil Rights Era, apartheid-ridden South Africa, the interior of the Iron Curtain, and, most recently, the Middle East and North Africa – people universally resort to popular action in the form of protest, civil disobedience, and popular action.  Americans, blessed with generations of prosperity and a relatively effective representative democracy, have found it unnecessary to resort to such action, for the most part.

But the inescapable conclusion is that this existence is ending or has already ended.  Left without traditional recourse, the paradigm must shift.  In the face of corporate-dominated, special interest-beholden government, the only real solution is popular demonstration and protest aimed at marginalizing corrupt elements in our institutions, once and for all.

When will this position emerge as the consensus?  I think the glaring erosion of our quality-of-life, opportunity, and overall happiness and well-being will soon tilt sleeping citizenry into popular action.  It is true that our citizens  naturally believe in our country, its democracy, and the promise of the American Dream.  That’s why they traditionally look to the political system for recourse.  But human history tells us that such beliefs are not perpetual.  Confidence in the inherent good and benevolence of our democratic institutions will gradually melt away as individual liberty and economic freedom are destroyed and replaced with corporate oligarchy and economic serfdom.

The only question we’re left with is this: exactly how much humanity are we willing to sacrifice while we hold out for relief by our neutered political representatives and agents from our largely-compromised social and cultural infrastructure?  That is anyone’s guess…but hopefully not too much, so that justice comes sooner, rather than later.

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February 16, 2012 · 9:42 pm

The Religious Right is Neither (once again)

The legal basis for arguments against the federal rule mandating Catholic institutional employers provide insurance coverage for contraception doesn’t pass muster, legally or logically…except as a wedge issue designed to rally voters to flawed GOP presidential candidates.

Statements that Obama is somehow violating religious freedom are bunk, and here’s why: despite the rising crescendo of stupidity, Catholic citizens still have the right to practice their religion.  They can still refuse to use contraception.

And no, by mandating coverage of critical health services, the federal government is not establishing one religion or discriminating against another. Denying employers the right to impose their views upon employees of Catholic schools and hospitals through denying coverage for widely available health services is not a Constitutional infraction. On the contrary, it has a strong foundation in current federal law and legal precedent.

If you don’t want an abortion or don’t want to go on The Pill, fine, but keep it to yourself, and stay out of the health decisions and private matters of your fellow citizens…especially if you’re not willing to give up the massive tax credits you receive for each expenditures on employee insurance coverage.

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Getting back on track in the U.S.

The 2012 Republican Primary is the latest evidence of the complete domination of the nation’s political system by elite interests and a putrid and unholy corporate-government alliance.  

The prominent feature of this sham is the spectacle of wealthy donors showering millions on shady, fly-by-night entities called Super PACs.  These groups are dedicated to destroying candidates with slick advertising pieces of dubious veracity.  Instead of policy, votes are decided by the ability to garner support from the wealthy and the creativity of hacks specializing in political communications.

Back in Washington, Congress has difficulty backing wildly popular and beneficial things like extensions of unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts.  But these same corporate-backed legislators shower cuts in capital gains and income taxes on wealthy campaign donors.

Feigned concern about spending is broadly contradicted by support for trillion-dollar defense spending bill and billions in tax aid to oil companies.  The passage of laws allowing the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial and the wanton restriction of free speech on the Internet show a false concern for the Bill of Rights.

Now that we know the system is broken, what does the future hold?  For one thing, the continued awakening of the American populace to the nation’s appalling levels of inequality of wealth, opportunity, and political influence is cause for optimism.

The tramplers of the Constitution have not yet stripped the non-wealthy of all voting rights, so an awakened populace retains the power to change the national conversation at the ballot box.  Their support should go to politicians who will provide funding for social programs, education, and infrastructure.  the repeal of obscene tax cuts for the wealthy and investor class would also be a good start, among many other agenda items.

Outside of Washington, it is often forgotten how much power our towns, cities, and states have to change lives through ordinances and statutes and creative uses of funds.  Larger cities can achieve progressive policy goals unattainable, thus far, on the national level.  One example is the creation of municipal health plans to achieve universal health care within their borders, slashing healthcare costs and muzzling greedy health insurance companies.  Others have successfully decriminalized marijuana possession, saving millions in wasteful spending on failed drug interdiction and unnecessary prosecution and imprisonment of U.S. citizens.

The point of all of this is that, as many say, “all politics is local.”  Despite crushing evidence of the corruption of Washington, D.C. institutions, citizens can and must take action on the local level to ensure their interests are represented in their local and state governments.  

Strong representation on the local and state levels will eventually reach critical mass.  

At that point, it will make itself felt in the nation’s capital, in the form of policies and legislation that benefit the many, instead of the few.

 

 

 

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Doublespeak from a Doppelgänger

Gov. Mitt Romney wants to have his cake and eat it, too. At least that’s how I see his attempts to fend off meaningful discussion of our nation’s growing inequality gap.

When asked about whether or not he thought the issue was worth talking about during the 2012 Presidential election, Gov. Flip-Flop cast the topic as mere political posturing from Pres. Obama’s camp. It’s class warfare and divisiveness from the Left, Mitt claims, while simultaneously assailing Obama for positions like fair taxation and a (nonexistent) hatred of capitalism.

Displaying his penchant for unscripted gaffes, Mitt has taken to saying tax policy and other issues are best decided “behind closed doors.”

Once again, we see the Wall Street elitist within the likely GOP candidate, someone who “likes being able to fire people” and feels major policy decisions are best left to smoky rooms full of bought-and-paid-for Washington pols.

God help us, in the event of a Romney Administration!

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Priority Number One

North Philadelphia is the hood. As someone who has worked and lived here for two years, I can tell you that things are not well in this part of the world.

There are almost no jobs, schools are horrible, and in many areas violent crime is pervasive. So I have one question to ask supporters of the Bush tax cuts: when are the rich coming here to shower us with their tax windfalls by opening businesses, investing in the local economy, and allowing their growing wealth (or urine?) to trickle down upon us?

What I’m saying is that it doesn’t take an economist to realize that cutting taxes for the rich does not result in widespread economic benefit. Instead, it is outright fraud.

Things are bad around here, and they have only gotten worse since the right-wing turned the tax code into a perverse social-engineering experiment. To those who say the fate of North Philly was sealed by American deindustrialization, I point to the formerly middle class and rapidly stagnating neighborhoods of Northeast Philadelphia and the inner-rig suburbs on both sides of the Delaware.

There, home values are flatlining or in outright decline, solid middle class families are sliding into poverty, and income is disappearing. There, we see the true implications of starving government programs and handing tax cuts to the wealthy.

And, even in be midst of the destruction of the middle class, which is the very thing that makes the US great, renegade GOP operatives and complacent Democrats focus on austerity and belt-tightening. Make no mistake – this only threatens to drive the economy further into the toilet.

As the poorly devised Super Committee fades into history, it is time for all people who do not make substantial income from capital gains to tell their federal legislators and President Obama that the number-one priority is defeating any push to make the high-income Bush tax cuts permanent.

Defeating this perverse legislation will ensure much-needed revenue for important government programs, infrastructure investment, and making a down payment on the national debt.

This must be the top priority if the US is ever to recover from the nightmarish right-wing alternate reality that began in 2001. Otherwise, America as we know it, is finished.

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A Glimmer of Hope

(Philadelphia, PA) – The debate over our national debt has dominated Washington, D.C. for months.  In doing so, it has put a strong magnifying glass on the dysfunctional nature of our government.

Congressmen, Senators, and Obama Administration officials simply cannot come together to compromise on anything, even issues on which there is great consensus among Americans.

One after the other, stories of failed legislation, gridlock, and toxic public discourse have done little to engender confidence in the work of the Congressional Super Committee.

This bi-partisan group of 12 Senators and U.S. Representatives is tasked with proposing some sort of plan for deficit reduction to the full membership of each chamber by Nov. 23rd.

If they fail to develop a plan containing a combination of cuts, reforms, and revenues of at least $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, then massive, across-the-board cuts will hit the federal budget.

My own lack of confidence in this process and our government has lifted slightly over the past few days, mainly because of the work of the Simpson-Bowles group, which produced a comprehensive, bi-partisan deficit reduction plan at this time last year.

While neither Pres. Barack Obama nor GOP House Leadership embraced the $4 trillion plan during the summer debt-ceiling debate, I believe portions of their framework are attractive and could form the basis of a “Grand Compromise” between Republicans and Democrats.

Some of the most attractive proposals include: tax reform that would eliminate $1.1 trillion in loopholes and tax giveaways to corporations and individuals; Medicare reform that saves the program via means-testing, coverage reform & simplification, and continued research into moving away from the faulty fee-for-service system; a broader, fairer, progressive tax system; and tax hikes on the super-rich.

Simply put, the members of Bowles-Simpson and other bi-partisan groups have received very positive receptions during presentations to Super Committee members, who seem genuinely open to many of these suggestions.  This gives me a small feeling of hope that the Committee might get their act together and hand down some real reforms.

Besides blind hope, there’s another reason to believe that these people may finally get a handle on this country’s existential debt problem — the very fate of our nation.

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Incompetent Leadership

(Philadelphia, PA) –  Watching from Philadelphia, I cannot help but conclude that the continued plunge of Trenton’s Tony Mack administration seems to be taking on additional downward velocity.

A lawsuit filed this week by esteemed former city attorney George Dougherty alleges behavior that may very well be criminal.   A city employee who refused to circumvent public bidding law, hire preferred Mack cronies, and funnel money to the same, was terminated, according to the documents filed in Mercer County Superior Court.

It’s amazing, but as someone who dealt with Trenton’s previous Palmer Administration, I think I can honestly say that if I were living in Trenton I would rather live under the arrogant Douglas H. Palmer than the arrogant AND incompetent Tony Mack.

It’s important to note the problematic fact that city voters followed up their support of the five-term Palmer administration, which oversaw a continued 20-year decline of the city, by supporting the amazingly incompetent and calamitous Tony Mack.

This should give pause to anyone who has confidence in the ability of the Trenton political system to elect the kind of leader needed to turn the city around and actually make progress against its many problems.

Trenton cannot hope to make any progress on crime, poor schools, inadequate employment opportunities, and all the other symptoms of urban blight without an innovative and competent mayor.

The question is this: will the power brokers, as well as the electorate of the city, ever be able to select someone other than a candidate who is seen as the heir apparent or most likely to pony up city contracts and taxpayer money to campaign contributors?

Maybe the Tony Mack disaster will help provide a positive answer to this important question during the next election.

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