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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Headed Toward second-Class Status?

Have you signed-up to be a "Counter-Revolutionary" yet?  Yes, I know -- it's not easy.  Perhaps we need to think a bit more about where this country is headed under the elite Plutocracy it has become. 

I read one article recently by a naturalized American citizen, living currently outside the United States, who was musing over some of our social problems that seem out-of-control.  Her lament was that the U.S. is likely to become a second-rate power in the next 50 years if we don't straighten out most of these problems.  She senses the probability that those who do not take a longer and wider perspective from another point of view, may end up being the very reason we fail to see where we are headed.  Or, to be truer to the author's perspective:  if Americans keep burying their heads in the sands of our homeland, pretending that we are the country we have always been, then we will be passed over, left behind and relegated to a second-grade status, as countries of Asia, for instance, gain momentum.

The author lists ten reasons for an impending fall into second-grade status.  Since I agree fully with  fewer than that, I will concentrate on just five.

1)    Our Health system is the most expensive in the world.  In terms of the cost of procedures and machines, the cost of insurance plans, and the costs borne by the insured for the burdens placed on the system by the uninsured, I think she's absolutely right.  It is expensive, and we haven't done much about it until recently when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.  Granted the Law is not perfect, but it is aimed in the right direction attempting to bring down overall costs, to change the insurance system's flaws, and to bolster the benefits available to every citizen.  That's something we have needed for a good long time.  Despite the irrational opposition of the Right-wing, it is beginning to accomplish many of the things it set out to accomplish, and now that radically conservative crowd is saddled with over 6 million people who are glad they have what Obamacare provides, since they never could afford it before! 
   
    However, there is a further point to be made.  We are still shy of a system that does what so many do: cover health care as a right and not a privilege.  The rest of the industrialized world understands this; we do not.  We must eventually find our way to a single-payer system that covers health care costs for everyone who is born or naturalized into citizenship in this country.  "Medicare for all" is more than a slogan.  It is a system waiting to be be implemented.   Employer-based health insurance is totally unworkable; private-payer insurance has always left out a significant portion of our population, and when that happens, we all end up paying higher cost for everything - equipment, hospitals, tests, insurance, emergency medicine, public health -- you name it.  It is past time to get over the "socialist" epithets and join the rest of the industrialized world in providing free health care to our citizenry - so that every new citizen - born or naturalized - is given at that particular defining moment, a social security card, and a health care card so that both retirement and healthcare are insured for life.
 
2)
    The U.S. Education system falls short of the rest of the developed world.  Perhaps a bit over-stated but not far from the truth when certain items like grade-level competency testing, math & science competition, drop out rates, graduation rates, college entrance and college graduation rates, plus costs of maintaining an out-moded 19th century system are figured-in.  All one has to do is look at some international rankings in these categories to understand that the United States' education system is not number One  in the world.  Nevertheless, most of our citizens probably believe otherwise (head-in-sand response), having bought the nefarious argument that everybody is trying to get here to go to our colleges!  Not any more... 
    I like what Senator Bernie Sanders says in response to the human ostriches: "From child-care and pre-school education, to elementary school, high school and college, we need major reform.  There was a time, not so many years ago, when the United States was the best-educated nation on earth.  Not today.  Now, we lag far behind many other countries in areas ranging from quality child care to the percentage of people graduating from college.  Every person in this country is entitled to high quality education, regardless of income.  In a highly competitive global economy, it is insane that we are wasting the intellectual capabilities of millions of our people." 
    If the Tea Party, and their henchmen like the Koch brothers, have their way, we will have private-for-profit schools for the rich and those who can afford  it, and left-over run-down public schools for those who can't.  We are headed there right now, and the Koch-heads are leading the charge.

3)    The American attitude of "exceptionalism" leads to arrogance, ignorance, and war.  Although not said in exactly those words, the author does excoriate the United States for it's attitudes toward foreign countries.  She asserts that the world is less safe because the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She reminds us that war debt is a big part of our deficit problem that is affecting more economies than ours, and she points out our lack of  diplomacy and friendliness with other countries.  She blames us for not learning the lessons of history in Korea and Viet Nam. She claims that the US is a bully, telling everyone how to behave, and forcing its will on other countries.  Her conclusion: "the world is now truly global, and if the US can't play well with others, it will be the one suffering the consequences."
    It might be well to consider the author's concern about "believing that everything American is always better."  She says: "Over 80% of Americans don't even own a passport, so most of them have never left the country.  If they had, they would see that many other countries are far-advanced beyond the US in many areas -- healthcare, technology, living standards, social services, public transportation, environmental issues", etc.

4)    Racial problems.  She asserts that the US has always been a racist country and continues to be so (in spite of electing a black President).  She reminds us that studies show that by 2015, the majority of people living in major cities will be non-white, and wonders what kinds of reactions and responses this will bring, and fears more social problems will arise. 
    We are reminded that we have made some progress in race relations, but that does not release this country from an obligation to seek civil justice and equal rights for all, including women, gays and minorities.  This is a never-ending quest, because until we get it right, we cannot claim to have an exceptional nation.  The working out of a flawed beginning, with a constitution that protected slavery and demeaned as unworthy certain groups within our society, we are still on a journey to the "Promised Land."  We have not yet arrived, and we won't if certain elitist elements of our society have their way in the next few elections.  All they want is the power to reverse civil rights, to reverse governmental social programs, to reverse the extension of the right to vote and the right to non-discrimination, and the right to marry someone of the same sex, and the right to attend a quality school for education and advancement.
    We are on the brink, or at a crossroads (take your pick).  Either way, a step in the wrong direction and we will reap a whirlwind of regressive change, going back to the days of voting tests and poll taxes and intimidation.  We will revert to a nation that discriminates in every way it can.  But, at the same time, we will reap the condemnation and the disgust of much of the rest of the world for our hypocrisy and our false ideals.    We will then be the very essence of a second-rate power, unable to bring a moral foundation of justice and equality and freedom to the table of nations. We will have reduced ourselves from the beacon-on-a-hill to a dim reflection of past glory.  Racial enmity and injustice and discrimination has been our lodestone for ages.  It will finally drag us under the waves if we cannot throw it off and realize the Dream of equality and justice for ALL.

5)    Violence in our society.  In Thailand, she says, they have only had one school shooting, EVER, and that was part of a terrorist separatist movement in southern Thailand.  They don't fear gun violence.  In fact, as a country, we have made it clear in poll after poll that we don't like gun violence and we want expansion of background checks, and less ammunition in gun clips, and some attention to our mental health system.  Nonetheless, the violence goes on because a recalcitrant Congress will not act; a powerful gun lobby opposes any control of guns and ammunition, and our mental health system simply protects the confidentiality of patient records. 
    Of course, it has been said quite often that the issue of violence in our society goes far beyond the unrestricted ownership and use of guns.  It is something ingrained in the American psyche, say some.  Perhaps.  We know about the Wild West; we know we are one of the most bellicose nations on this planet; we glorify war as a means toward achieving peace and freedom, but we under-value diplomacy as being of equal value.  We have often tolerated bullying and hazing and police brutality. We can't make up our minds about other forms of violence, like sexual harassment and domestic violence or sexual assault within our armed forces.  We like to overlook more subtle forms like "act like a man" or "you're just an emotional woman" or flagrant discipline of children or the demeaning of a "Nancy boy."  We don't like to admit that violence plays a big role in our national life or in our home life.  (There's that ostrich again - head in the sand).  But others see it, and they re-coil; some have even eschewed the opportunity to come to this country because they are afraid of the violence.

     But most of all, perhaps, we have failed to understand the violence that is being done right now to our children and our grandchildren by the lack of care and attention given by our governmental entities to all of the things of which we have just spoken, and more. Their chance at a better life, a better society, a better future is fading fast under the vicious assault of the radical right-wing that has taken over the Republican Party.  This is not a game we are playing.  This is a country's heart and soul at stake.  Our American citizen author in Thailand has one last thing to say:

    "America should start to learn from other countries, where the standard of living is better, where people have more of their money left over after taxes, and where the government provides a social services net for those who are less fortunate.  Not everything about America is better.  Believe me. Instead of learning from what other countries are doing better, the U.S. continues to pretend they're not.  An attitude like that, the proverbial sticking your head in the sand, is a recipe for disaster, but Americans don't see it.  Sad."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

COUNTER-REVOLUTION: turning things upside down and inside out!

Just what is a revolution?  Well, in the realm of government or politics, it has to do with the overthrow of a government, or of a social system, usually by forceful means and by the governed, with another government or system taking its place.  That’s the prime dictionary definition, of course.  And, it must be said, this is the one definition that probably scares people more than any other.  But other definitions have to do with a turning or rotation; a cycle.  Then, of course, there is an element of radical change.  It is not my purpose today to talk about a violent revolution.  I am more concerned with a "turning" or "rotation".  A turning of things upside down and inside out is more to the point.

We spoke last time of the flaws written into our Constitution.  Briefly,  our Founders managed to protect slave owners‘ property, protect a big business - the slave trade, protect obligations made under private contracts, and at the same time, deny the vote to most people who were not property owners, dehumanize American Indians and Blacks, while denying a Bill of Rights to the citizens of the new nation.  Quite a record!  And, even though many of the offensive flaws have been removed or amended, we are left with a legacy of elitism, and the concept of rule by a plutocracy, that continues to corrupt our whole system of governing.  

Therefore, let us not lose sight of the fact that the fatal flaws written into the Constitution are essentially alive and well during most Right-wing moments of resurgence.  Such moments always move us backward in time and philosophy to elitism and protection of the aristocracy plus the tendency to exclude certain groups from participation.  The built-in flawed legacy of the constitution reared its head in the 1970s with Nixon and somewhat with Ford; then again in the 1980s with the “Reagan Revolution,” and finally with George W. Bush in the 2000s and the Tea Party of the 2010s.  We have a situation on our hands politically with the Tea Party that simply does not lend itself to gradual change, to legislative reform, or even to leadership by a President who is dedicated to change.  Those same flaws originally built-in to our Constitution continue to affect and disrupt our system of government, all masked by a set of checks and balances that do not prevent the protected plutocracy from exploiting the unprotected.

Let us take a closer look at the “Reagan Revolution” as the prototype for all that we are seeing now in the Tea Party's game plan, utilizing facts and figures from a lecture at Colorado University on this very subject, an article from The Nation, and another on AlterNet.com.

1.   Protecting the Plutocracy:
    --cut taxes on the rich from 70% to 28%
    --created so many millionaires in the 1980s that the term became almost meaningless; by 1988, it was estimated there were over 100,000 deca-millionaires
    --in 1981 there were 10 billionaires in the U.S.; by 1988 there were 52.
    --the top 10% of households controlled over 68% of the wealth in the U.S
    --the elite of America reveled in their good fortune and the Reagan Revolution also made good on another fatal flaw: they de-regulated certain industries, thus giving them more control over their destinies; the S&L bank scandal was the result because government oversight was absent and fraud was rampant    
    --at the same time, Reagan began a tax break for companies that moved overseas and jobs quickly began to disappear

2.    Attacking the Underprivileged and Keeping Them in "Their Place”:
    --eliminate the remnants of the Great Society at which he partially succeeded, especially by cutting federal expenditures on education, training, social services, public works, civilian research and development -- all plunged by 40%
    --wages stagnated; income fell; credit debt was encouraged, labor unions were seriously undermined, not only by the traffic controller strike outcome but by the emergence of temporary labor replacing full-time jobs
    --By 1988, a majority of Americans could not afford to buy their own house
    --The US became the largest debtor nation, after having been the world's largest creditor nation
    --the income of white males fell in the 1980s; minimum wage was frozen at $3.35 an hour while prices rose;  number living below poverty rose from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988
    --the 1980s saw pervasive racial discrimination by banks, real estate agents and landlords
    --Reagan's indifference to urban problems was legendary: assistance to local governments was slashed by 60%; he cut jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally-funded legal services for the poor, and cut the antipoverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit.  In 1980 federal dollars accounted for an average of 22% of big city budgets; by 1988 federal aid was down to 6%.  Many of our cities still haven't recovered from the "Reagan Revolution."

3.    Support for States' Rights:
    --One of his more famous lines: “Government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem” could probably be said to be at the base of the ideology matching that of today’s elite – “you’re on your own!” It set the stage for "States' Rights"
    --Reagan got middle Americans fixated on the federal government as pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant, pro-welfare and pro-rights of criminals.  Many whites believed that Reagan tax cuts delivered them from big government and big spending and from the special interests which came to mean blacks, the poor and women.
    --The Deep South was Reagan country where he could be heard to say: "I believe in States' Rights.  I believe that we've distorted the balance of our government by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to the federal government."
    --Although pretty much unspoken, there was anticipation that Reagan would return the country to pre-civil rights days when blacks, women and minorities knew their place.  It was never any secret to those around him that race played a significant part in all of this: he refused to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus; he attempted to reduce the power of the Civil Rights Commission, and he opposed the extension of the Civil Rights Act. 
    --Probably our most important domestic legacy from the Reagan years is the government’s weakened ability to actually protect families, consumers, workers, the handicapped and the environment.  There was a lasting impact when programs from the Great Society that attacked the causes of poverty became the “safety net” of disconnected, often conflicting, pieces of a puzzle aimed at nothing more than short-term relief.

So why do we need a counter-revolution?  By now, that should be obvious.  Every time a Republican Congress or President comes on-board, there is a resurgence of the flaws that undermine the best tenets of our representative democracy.

Think about it:
·    Who is in charge of Congress? Not Republicans and Democrats, but millionaires and their corporate cronies who call the shots – the wealthy
·    For that matter, who can afford to run for Congress? – those who have money because elitism is built-in
·    Who takes home certain privileges that are unavailable to anyone else? the Congress, the rich, and the powerful
·    Who gets not to suffer during a huge recession? the richest among us whose income has gone up - the 1% gained an average of $597,241 each year.
·    Who gets the biggest portion of extracted money from the federal tax code?  The biggest corporations
·    Who is protected from the usual punishments given to criminals?  The rich and powerful like the bankers and financiers on Wall Street who were never punished for their crimes.  They probably never will be.
·    Who, on the other hand, has to carry the burden of all of this, plus be unprotected in the main from exploitations of the rich and powerful?  The middle and poorer classes, of course
·    And who, after all, has to remain in “their place” as dictated by the rich and powerful: minorities, immigrants, the poor, women and the disabled or handicapped and the ill.
·    Who is setting the rules by which the rest of us must live our lives?  Not us, that’s for sure.
·    Who has lost representation?  You know who...

The Counter Revolution Begins when:
*Citizens gather together to demonstrate against their exploitation
* Voters decide to turn out in big numbers even for off-year elections
* Consumers demand protection and consideration
* Consumers boycott the products, stores or services of those who do not play by the rules, who extract privileges from the public coffers, or who exploit the vulnerability of the average consumer
* Lower and middle bracket taxpayers demand fair and judicious spending of their tax dollars by their governments
* Ordinary citizens demand a government that represents them by exerting their right to be a part of government
* All special privileges for Congressmen, the Executive and the Judiciary are removed

The Counter Revolution gets serious when:
Sunan amendment is passed to allow for direct citizen petitioning for a constitutional convention which must be called by Congress if petitions are signed by one-third of eligible voters in one-half of the states
Suna constitutional amendment ends Citizens United recognition of political speech as free speech and corporations as individuals, and requires free and fair elections, including public financing
Sunany sort of gift  (or "emolument") given to office holders and their staff or family is prohibited and subject to punishment and disbarment
Suna constitutional amendment re-defines and clarifies the second amendment in terms of limits on gun ownership and utilization and prohibits a  gun lobby from profiting from a constitutional right in any way
Suna constitutional amendment (or legislation) is offered on elections that prevents unknown 3rd party advertising and that sets guidelines for documented facts in political speech, ads, and literature, with penalties for violation
Sunan amendment sets limits on Congress and its members in terms of rule-making, earmarks, exemptions from laws, and that closes the revolving door into lucrative positions because of insider knowledge, and broadens that concept to prevent insider knowledge being used for personal aggrandizement
Sunan amendment demands accounting for use of tax money in any form; requires public accounting yearly, allows for private citizen auditing of government spending; calls for private citizen involvement in required advisory boards in every office of Congress and in Inspector General offices in the Executive Branch, as well as in the Attorney General's Office, and in the Office of the Head Justice of the SCOTUS; with a portion of those committee seats reserved for representatives of minorities or of those living in poverty; and for young people as well
Sunan amendment requires the drawing of congressional districts by non-partisan Commissions made up of ordinary citizens
Sunan amendment on Voting rights spells out clearly a complete intolerance for any legislation that attempts to limit voter rights and privileges; in other words, voter suppression of any kind will be outlawed

The Counter Revolution is Successful when:

Thumbs upCongressmen do not spend most of their time raising money to run for office
Thumbs upOffice-holders seek advice from ordinary citizens on a regular basis, and follow that advice most of the time
Thumbs upOfficeholders bring new ideas and policies to their limited terms
Thumbs upCongressional districts are no longer drawn according to vote-getting, but strictly according to census numbers
Thumbs upThe President is elected by direct ballot and there is no longer a possibility of manipulating the electoral vote
Thumbs upLobbyists, and corporate agents, are relegated to the dung heap of history by laws and regulations that prevent their gifts and their power from unbalanced influence over laws and regulations
Thumbs upRegular citizens in positions of some authority begin to advise, evaluate and audit the budgets, offices, programs, habits and expenditures of all tax-spending bureaucrats and their counterparts in the private-sector world of government contracts
Thumbs upThose in minority communities, and those living in or near poverty levels, as well as women, young people and those with disabilities begin to feel that they have advocates in high places; that someone is representing their views and their needs and their dreams, and corresponding laws are passed to present real possibilities for those at risk to advance themselves to the highest levels of achievement that they desire.

The Counter Revolution is not a Dream or an Ideal!  It is a reality and a necessity, for nothing short of a movement that seeks to turn the status quo inside out and upside down will suffice to fashion this society into a truly representative democracy.  The problem is that anything short of a revolution will do little in the end to change much because the flaws written into the Constitution favor the rule of the few over the many.  If you refuse to become a counter-revolutionary, you and yours will remain the dupes of the wealthy and their agents.  The Counter Revolution is not "Class Warfare"; it is the road to survival of democracy, the dignity of equality and the ascendancy of the People!