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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Divisions are an Opportunity

What is the State of the Union, anyway?
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Certainly one way to look at it is by viewing this electoral map for the 2012 election. We are a divided country: Urban-Rural, North-South (or, East/West-South/Midwest), Red-Blue, Industrial-Not-so-industrial; Progressive-Conservative. There are other ways to parse the vote results: Men vs. Women; White ethnic vs. Minority groups; Youth vs. Aged; Immigrant states vs. Non-immigrant states; Urban vs. Suburban. But there are too many variables to draw definitive conclusions. Except perhaps to say, that the demographics of our country are changing which Republicans tried hard to ignore.

There are those who grew up in a simpler world and those who are growing up in a technological world; those who lived mostly in a one-nation world, and those growing up in a global economy; environmentalists vs. developer/profiteers; individualists vs. communitarians. There are many divisions. We have been, and still are, divided by the need for war; the standards of decency; the needs of people; the core values that must be maintained to sustain a viable society; the way we deal with law breakers; the death penalty; contraception; abortion; health care for all. And more.

It would appear that division is actually part of life! All the great and noble parts of life produce division: gender; ethnic background and culture; religion; education; how much money you make and accumulate; where you go to college; where you live; where you work; how you view the world. The question arises: is division inevitable? Is it simply something with which we must learn to live? The answer, in my opinion, is YES and NO.

Yes, we must live with the inevitability of differences of background, race, culture, religion, gender, etc. We cannot change reality. On the other hand, we do not have to abide the exploitation of differences which results in harm to people, the environment, to children especially, to those who live in poverty, to society itself, and to our Commonweal. We can, if we so choose, find common ground on which to bring peace and unity and well-being to ourselves and our neighbors.

Divisions must be seen, then, as the challenges, the catalysts, the components, the very building blocks upon which we must build actions, behaviors, groups and institutions that are meant to influence the harmony, unity and integrity of our lives together. Those who exploit differences for their own ends move society further away from wholeness, health and prosperity. Those who seek to make lemonade or delicious pie from lemons move society closer to the harmony and well-being that we all seek.

Sometimes it is necessary to challenge the exploiters of divisions, because they have become blind to their impact on the health and safety of society. I think that is what Barack Obama has been doing, and continued to do in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 12th. He reminded us that these times, and the problems we face, are actually opportunities for us to act progressively.

In my estimation, it is time for more citizens to join the fray, and to tell the exploiters of what divides us that the time has come to move forward with facing the challenges and obstacles that divisions bring upon us; that our government, our society, our nation cannot drag its feet on unity. We will never be known again as the “light upon a hill”, or a “beacon of hope” or the great forge of democracy unless we can overcome division with acts of unity.

The exploiters of difference would have us believe- against all evidence to the contrary -that there are certain “job creators” who must be given free rein to develop our economy and to produce jobs. They miss the point.

Job creators are everywhere. Thy are the poor who spend all the money they can muster on food, clothing, medicine and shelter - the very basics of life, thus boosting the profits of those who grow, process or develop products in these areas. The poor are “job creators” in that sense, and to belittle them because of the source of their income is to miss the importance of their role in our economy. Punishing the poor by relieving them of government assistance, or by putting obstacles in the path of the working poor by preventing a substantial raise of the minimum wage, is a recipe for disaster.

The broad middle class prospered enough (in the past) to purchase for itself a few extras: a house, two cars, vacations, and a college education for their children, but has been subject to lack of increase in wages for a long time. Yet the exploiters of class differences would have us believe that this group needs less and less assistance and more and more exploitation. To reduce government aid for the middle class is to automatically damage the economy, remove jobs, harm the service sector of society, and reduce the creation of jobs.

Giving money taken from the poor and the middle class to enhance the incomes of so-called “job creators” (the richest 1%) is to go against the history of their excessive spending on luxury and their dismal record of creating substantial jobs in the last decade, despite enormous profits (most still sits off-shore in foreign banks) being used, not for investments in jobs, but in personal aggrandizement.

The exploiters of differences have emphasized the individual entrepreneur versus the “takers” of help from the government: individual responsibility and endeavor vs. dependence of lazy individuals who depend on government. And what a crock that has turned out to be when we hear daily of the tax breaks and “welfare” that the richest receive through the tax structure that only they can work to their huge advantage.

The unity-seekers are much more oriented toward a fair system of taxation and distribution of government aid. They want to provide a fair deal for all; equal opportunity for all; a fair shot at success for all. The exploiters of divisions have always been the ones who seek unfair advantage at great cost to the society at large. By not providing fairness, equality and justice for all, the exploiters of differences lose people and their possibilities along the way: artists, inventors, dreamers, healers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, war heroes, etc. because those people they target never got the chance to be what they could have been. The opportunity, the assistance, the education, the mentors, the challenge -- they were all absent.

And so, the people they see as the “takers” are really the exploited, the invisible and the absent. It is from their ranks that, had the opportunities been provided, could have come many of those named above. Instead, they have been lost to our society because of the lack of universal health care, of universal pre-school, of schools that are in good repair and good repute (the students have instead been allowed to be in falling-down crowded buildings with lack of the best teachers and administrators). If someone forges ahead on their own against the odds, then they have to fight to get into top-notch schools because what they can afford without the help of grants and scholarships (that have been cut back) is still not what others of privilege get to afford.
 
In the last four years, we have seen the dividers simply obstruct any legislation that would improve the lives of many as opposed to the few. Let us briefly remind ourselves of some of the legislation meant to provide equal opportunity for the 99% who are not rich. There are so many examples that one has to limit the list. Some legislation was blocked early on and then passed in a new version later, but most just simply has not made it to the President’s desk.

[By Suzi LeVeaux - Posted on 23 September 2010]
* Benefits for Homeless Veterans- Would have expanded benefits to homeless veterans and homeless veterans with children. Republicans blocked this.
* Affordable Health Care- Republicans blocked this for months before it finally passed, then they tried several times to repeal it until the Supreme Court declared it constitutional * Health Care for the 9/11 First Responders who got sick from being at Ground Zero. Republicans blocked this.
* Fair Pay Act of 2009- Also called the Lily Ledbetter bill. Requires that women receive equal compensation to men for doing the same work. Republicans attempted to block this. Did finally pass and was signed into law.
* Paycheck Fairness Act – While the Lily Ledbetter Act was a good start, this bill would have mandated pay fairness and prohibited pay discrimination based on sex. In other words, would have created fair workplace system with regard to pay. Republicans voted in favor of paying women less money for the same job.
* Senator Franken’s Anti-Rape Amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill - Makes it so that women raped overseas while working for foreign contractors have the right to have their case heard in an American court instead of having their case mediated by the company they work for. Republican men voted against this, but it passed.
* The Jobs Bill- Offsets the payroll tax for 1 year for companies that hire new employees, or people receiving unemployment insurance. Also gives other tax incentives to companies hiring new employees. Republicans attempted to block this. On another website (policymic.com) we learn that Republicans in the Senate have a record of blocking 19 jobs bill that have been presented.
* Small business lending bill- would give LOCAL, community banks access to billions of dollars to loan to small businesses. Republicans blocked this.
* Financial reform- Puts stricter regulations on the banks, preventing them from becoming "too big to fail". Curbs reckless spending practices that caused the banking crisis. Republicans attempted to block this.
* Stimulus Bill- Pumped billions of dollars into state and local Governments to prevent us from sinking into a second Great Depression. Republicans opposed this but now want to take credit for the parts of it that we know are successful.
* Oil Spill Liability- Raises the liability on what companies can be made to pay to clean up after an oil spill. Republicans blocked this.
* Immigration- Republicans suggested comprehensive immigration reform until Obama supported it. Now they're rabidly opposed to it and even voted against their own legislation.
* Unemployment Extension- Would provide additional aid to the millions of Americans still on unemployment who are just trying to support themselves and their families. Republicans blocked this bill for 8 weeks before it finally passed.
* Elder Abuse Victims Act – This bill would address legal issues regarding the elderly, and establish policies and procedures designed to minimize the negative effects of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
*Wounded Veteran Job Security Act – This bill would actually provide job security for veterans who are receiving medical treatment for injuries suffered while fighting in defense of their country. It would prohibit employers from terminating employees who miss work while receiving treatment for a service-related disability
* Vision Care for Kids Act – this would provide eyesight screening for children who do not have insurance that covers this, and help provide them with glasses.
*Water Quality Investment Act – This bill would not only invest needed funds into improving water quality in areas where it’s needed, but it would also create jobs for those who work in that industry, so this is a double whammy. Apparently, Republicans don’t care if some folks have to drink contaminated water, and they certainly don’t want your tax money going to make your life better, do they?
*Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009 – Here’s another bill in support of those who have fought for their country
* Stop AIDS in Prison Act – This bill would provide testing of all prisoners during intake, provide for annual testing of inmates, testing of pregnant inmates, and provide for AIDS education for inmates. It would also direct prisons to develop policies for dealing with HIV.
An updated list appeared on political wrinkles.com on 3/12/2012:
* Tax on Companies that ship jobs overseas- A bill that would have eliminated a tax break that companies get when they ship jobs overseas. Republicans blocked this, allowing companies to keep the tax break they receive when they ship jobs to other countries.
* Political Ad disclosure bill- Would have required all donors to political campaigns to reveal themselves. Republicans blocked this, not once but twice.
*The DREAM Act- Gives immigrant youth who were brought here as children a path to citizenship by earning a college degree or serving the military for 2 years. Republicans blocked this.

What a record!  And it doesn’t begin to tell the full story about blocking of important legislation regarding infrastructure, education and the environment. Our great nation’s history is over-loaded with lost opportunity and lost people because certain leaders or groups or institutions could not see the advantage in promoting unity instead of division.
We shall never be able to calculate with any accuracy the losses to society we as a nation have sustained because of the stains of Indian Wars, slavery and segregation of the races, or because of enmity toward allowing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. We lose as a nation every time we exploit differences instead of promoting unity.

Lincoln knew that truth after the Civil War; Mandela knew that truth after his party gained control in South Africa. Gandhi knew that truth when he sought independence for his country; Martin Luther King Jr. knew that all races must reach the “promised land” together. The great uniters have always been those who have understood and seen for themselves what exploitation of difference can do to people, and then acted upon the premise that bringing people together in peace is far better for society than exploiting the hurt and harm caused by division and segregation.

What we have before us is a great opportunity: to put enmity and division behind us and to go through a recovery, not only of the economy but of the national soul, by working toward opportunity, reform, equality, and fairness. The politicians in Washington continue to exploit differences.

We, the People, want unity, not enmity. The people want politicians to bring about changes that will move us forward toward a better nation, not toward more divisiveness. The people want greater opportunity, they want less violence, they want decent jobs, and they want better schools and the opportunity for higher education. They want to work and prosper and succeed. At the end of the day, they are not interested in party ideology. They are interested in results. They are not interested in the fine points of debate; they are interested in the finer points of living their lives with a sense of purpose, of dignity, of accomplishment, of tranquility. But they are not willing to be exploited for someone else’s gain.

They are not generally a people drawn to controversy. They are not a people tolerant of intolerance when they see what that does to people, even to those vastly different than who they are. Americans are not generally a people who want to put prejudice or injustice into practice. They basically believe in individual responsibility, but do not like it when long-term successful government programs of help are attacked.

Americans are generally a people who favor unity. They like to work together for a cause or a common goal. They are a people who rally to help others in emergencies. They are a people who will stand up to authority when it is exploitive. They are a people who basically don’t like their own prejudices, and will often change their own opinions about certain groups or individuals based on better knowledge or contact or facts. They are friendly, they are fair-minded (not always fair), they are people who care about family, friends and neighbors, and they care about children (even though they sometimes fail to see what is harming them).

They like to have a sense that they are individualists, but they are also joiners: they form committees and associations, unions and teams, card groups and game groups at the drop of a hat. Why? Because they do not feel whole unless they can join together with other citizens in causes; helping, abating, or sharing their willingness to promote the shared responsibility we all have for a democratic and interactive society. So, let us come down to basics.

We can no longer tolerate the intolerable. We cannot stomach lost opportunity. We don’t like division, and we sure don’t like exploitation or being taken advantage of in a way that harms our well-being or that of others.

So let the message be clear to our elected legislators and public officials: no more exploitation of differences; no more pitting of class against class; no more attacks upon women and labor and children; no more blockage of legislation that promotes the Commonweal; no more picking on the poor or the disadvantaged; no more political gamesmanship; no more dirty tricks to diminish the electorate; no more prejudice against people of color; no more ’NO’ because the President must not ’win’ on anything.

We the people are the big losers when politicians act as exploiters of differences. The time has come to end the charade. We want action and we want it NOW!