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Saturday, April 19, 2014

YOU Voted For It!

It's an old political adage, but it may carry more truth than we would like:  "Elections have consequences." 

The 2014 "off-year" election may be one that has consequences far beyond our wildest expectations.  Perhaps it has not occurred to those who most often vote in the presidential-election years, but this off-year election could mark a turning-point in our approach to governing, taking us back to a time when our central government was so weak it could not even mount an effort to research and destroy bacteria that caused often fatal diseases.  There was no such thing as flu shots or vaccinations, or swallowing a liquid.  Or, perhaps we shall return to the days when people carried guns and shot other people just because they argued, or disliked, or held bigoted views toward each other.  (Oh, I forgot -- we're seeing some of this already thanks to NRA influence over the Congress!).   We will certainly go back to a time when workers were exploited by big (and small) companies to the point of low wages, few benefits, long hours and continuous exposure to a toxic environment (Omigosh, we're pretty much there as well because of destructive Republican anti-Labor policies!).

The problem is, the average voter does not see the consequences inherent in a view of government that obsesses on certain themes and "principles" -- perhaps better known as "ideology."  Nor do most voters believe that political parties, once in power, will carry-through on what they espouse before being elected.  Too many voters somehow feel that politicians will always move toward the middle ground once in office.  In this case, a huge mistake!  Here are a few of the themes to which the current Republican Party is viscerally connected.  They are serious, and they are committed.  So beware of voting for a Republican (even if billed as a "moderate") because you will definitely feel the effects of the following:

1)  Weakening of the federal government by:
    *giving states more power and more responsibility for programs and governance
    *reducing the size of the central government which means fewer personnel, such as researchers, teachers, police officers, public health personnel, inspectors, agents, etc., and fewer safeguards for ordinary citizens relative to sanitary water, food, environment or safe job sites, automobiles, and schools, or lending practices
    *throwing out as many regulations as possible so that businesses can operate in an unfettered manner (meaning able to take unfair advantage of workers and consumers);
    *diminishing the role of the President and Executive branch so that Congress can exercise more control
    *gutting every social program that is now functioning under federal auspices
    -*returning programs like Medicare and Medicaid, along with administrative powers, to the states but without federal mandates or money
    -*privatizing as many governmental functions as possible, especially where people have money involved (prisons, schools, adjunct military operations, Social Security, etc.)

2)  Growing the military/industrial complex by:
    *private contracts, increased federal spending, and emphasis on foreign "threats" to our freedom
    *being always prepared to go to War as the primary response to international disagreements or aggression; they believe in bellicose action, not diplomacy, as a first response

3)  Denial of the existence of problems and of scientific method for analyzing and solving problems, so that one does not have to face them, or suggest solutions for them:
     *poverty, global warming, institutional racism, environmental hazards such as "fracking", dangers from unfettered use of fossil fuels; sexual assault in the military, gun violence; even bullying in schools
    *lack of health insurance for millions, lack of clean water,  lack of attention to safety in many areas such as home-building, dangers to people on-the-job; lack of adequate resources in schools; lack of "green" thinking in terms of industry and of the way we live

4)  The use of government power to force certain religious (and ethical) beliefs upon all the citizenry:
    *such as text books that tout "creationism", or prayer in schools and other public and private functions, banning of contraception and abortion; touting heterosexual marriage as the only allowable union;  promoting the establishment of a "Christian" nation; using Judeo-Christian heritage - such as the Ten Commandments - as the basis for legal proceedings and rulings; or passages like: "submit to your husbands" as grounds for diminishing of women's rights

5)  Certain "rights" placed on the chopping block:
    *continued curbing of voting rights for certain groups, over-turning of a civil right to marry whom you wish, the right to live where you wish, the right to health care and safety; the right to worship or not worship as you please, and the right to speak out against the government (once in power, the Tea Party will forget that the right to assemble freely and to protest were how they made their presence and their ideology known to many)

So, let's take a little closer look at what you (and your neighbors and family) will reap as a citizen from this radical Right-wing crowd and their sympathizers if they are victorious in 2014:

1)    Obamacare repealed  - up to 14 million people lose new coverage they just gained; Insurance companies reap rewards and go back to their old ways of denying coverage; young people lose extension on their parent's policies; consumers lose protections; Medicaid loses extension and is greatly restricted; premiums rise precipitously; care at home goes by the boards as the private institution business returns - nursing homes and extended care facilities will see a building boom and Granny will see the inside of an institution run for the shareholders and administrators rather than the familiar surroundings of her own domicile; YOU will once again be put in the position of losing everything you have accumulated because one catastrophic illness will send you into bankruptcy!
2)    Social Security  will gradually be harder to get in time to provide a supported retirement, as the eligible age is raised substantially, perhaps to 72 (like working until you are 72? -- it's what you voted for when you chose a Republican!).  Ooops - there goes another bunch of your money to privatization:  remember that Republicans want to place your funds into private banks?  Sorry friend -- they want to get that entire Social Security Trust Fund out of federal hands and into private coffers so they can make money on your money!  And you thought they were just talking about young people having personal SS bank accounts!  No - they want all the money they can get from SS into private banks
3)    Medicare – oh yes: the Paul Ryan voucher system.  Aren't you lucky - now you have to wait for a governmental voucher to come to you before you can go to the doctor -- feeling ill?  you should because we will have an ill population unable to get adequate medical care and attention because they do not get enough coverage with a voucher system.  And guess what, the voucher amount isn't keeping up with inflation because the central government doesn't want to spend the money, so you keep getting less help, but have more healthcare bills!  And the elderly, well they just keep getting sicker (and dying earlier) because preventative care is no longer available! 
4)    Medicaid – devolved to states.  Guess what? -- the states don't have the money to manage it, let alone fulfill all of its present requirements and benefits, so now coverage for nursing home care is eroded; certain care-at-home provisions are gone and your state has cut back on the number of people actually administering Medicaid, so long lines are waiting for you when you try to straighten things out at the state office building Medicaid offices.  But that's not all: more and more doctors are refusing to take Medicaid patients because they can't rely on the state to pay on time, nor to pay at all at a reasonable rate.  Don't forget, there will be no federal regulations to protect you as a consumer, so you and the state have to battle out the exigencies!  You voted for it -- don't complain!  And vendors:  guess what? those delays in payment -- they just got worse!

Now here's something to consider very seriously:  if all of these programs are weakened by the Republicans you elected, what is the result?  You will not have the guarantee of a Social Security check for your retirement in your senior years; you will not have adequate health coverage that is there when you need it; you will not have the support for that end-of-life period when outside care-giving is essential.  Whatever happened to your meager savings?  It will go to fill the gaps that your Republican friends set up for you.  But - I forgot - that's what YOU voted for!

5)    Social programs will be devastated.  I hear you are looking for some money to buy food because your medical expenses are eating up your budget?  Well there used to be food stamps, but they're gone.  Try the food pantry -- Ooops! they're out of food because of the many folks depending on their services.  Maybe you could get some help at the County Social Services department.  Oh, you tried it and they can't get to you until 3 months from now because of staff cut-backs.  Sorry, I have no answer for you.  That's right - there will be no answers for special needs of people because there will be fewer services, and they will be under-funded, under-staffed, and under-cut by the Republican juggernaut!  No Head Start; no aid to single mothers and children; no more public housing available.  But there may well be some institutions run by private profiteers where you can live and pay and pay and pay!  YOU voted for this!

6)    Public education narrowed to inner cities; support for privatized (for- profit charter) schools moves quickly; public schools close; teachers laid off; curriculum becomes an example of religious sectarian garbage.  You voted for it all.  Your middle-class kids can't afford to go to any of the privately owned (charter) schools, so what now?  Can't go to a private college with a big name because of the debt that will burden you and your child for decades.  Pell grants - gone.  Borrow, borrow, borrow - and those private bankers get one more piece of you.  Community colleges, trade schools, run-down state schools, are all the choices left to you, and your child wanted to become a doctor?  Sorry - YOU voted for it!

7)    Climate change, fossil fuels,  gun violence control - things you thought would not really affect you, but now clean water is scarce and rationed; hard, hard winters and brutally hot and arid summers are taking their toll, and your car doesn't get the gas mileage it used to; gas & electricity costs are sky-rocketing; the XL pipeline is bringing nothing but heartache and cleanup costs to communities who can ill-afford to clean up the sludgy stuff from their fields and streams (and from their tap water); people with guns on the highways are killing anyone who cuts them off or goes too slow; children are no longer safe in the run-down public schools, even with armed guards present; and now, you're paying a new tax on fuel because we can't afford as a country to buy anywhere else except from countries who hike prices all the time.  And now you have emphysema because of all the air pollution from our tax-subsidized industries that have moved in.  YOU voted for it all!

8)    Jobs, infrastructure, unemployment, minimum wage - and you can't find a decent job?  How long have you been unemployed?  10 years?  Have you tried the unemployment office?  Of course you have.  How about McDonald's or Wal-Mart?  Nothing?  I hear that those chains are cutting back on employees anyway, and going after part-time help.  And the wages - still can't earn enough to get out of poverty, but now it goes for more expensive stuff everywhere so it's worth even less.  Wow - we sure could use that Jobs and Infrastructure bill that Presidents like Obama and Clinton have proposed, but Republicans keep defeating!  but remember, YOU voted for it!

9)    We're at War with Iran, and in another Cold War with Russia.  Remember rationing... well, it's not convenient or satisfying!  Because of Republican cut-backs, we all have to go along with rationing of food, fuel, tires, even cosmetics because the war efforts require sacrifices to keep our troops equipped and fed, and YOU voted for this?

10)    The elite are given everything; the poor and middle class get nothing much.   Corporations, the richest 1%, CEOs, investors, professionals are protected and aggrandized through the tax system and through special laws, while government help for the rest of us is vilified and repealed.  Turns out - YOU voted against yourself!
 
Now, I realize that the election of 2014 is a ways away.  But it is not too early to begin thinking about it and its possible consequences.  In fact, in preparation for that election, you may want to consider what YOU can do right now to change the course of being subject to a Right-wing governing elite and Congress.  It's not too early to begin protesting every move they make.  Use your phone, use email, use the social media -- all can be used to protest and to enlist others.  Join a progressive organization that is currently opposed to Right-wing ideology like Public Citizen or MoveOn.org, or the National Action Network, Democracy for America, People for the American Way, Organizing for Action, Citizens United, League of Women Voters, NAACP, etc.  There are plenty out there and they need your support and your commitment (see www.sourcewatch.org for a comprehensive list and even some contact information).  Locally (around Oneida County and Utica, NY), contact Democratic Action Network, CNY Citizens United, NAACP,  OccupyUtica.org, Working Families Party, Latino Association, Refugee Center, For The Good, Inc., and others ( see www.TaxExemptWorld.com for listings and contact information). 

Do you really want to return to a time when this nation had slums everywhere, dark and dreary institutions, few social services, low wages, few consumer protections, and a disparity between rich and poor (or the middle class) that did not seem possible.  Do you like long lines at every help-centered agency, and nowhere to turn except to private profiteers, who gouge you at every chance?  Do you like higher and higher state taxes in order to conduct the services that will be state-run? 

Do you really want to vote for those who have little interest in YOU, and much more of a stake in industry, low taxes for the rich, tax breaks for the wealthy (that come from your taxes), privileges for themselves but not for others (like being able to deduct part of the cost of a private jet).  Do you really want a society with more shootings, slums, run-down schools, and rental housing than we now have?  Do you really want healthcare to become more expensive, more unaffordable, more consumer-unfriendly in order to further enrich the medical industry moguls? 

Elections have Consequences!  2014 is shaping up to be a challenge to our Democracy because Republican radicals want to change the way government functions and the way services are delivered.  They want to privatize everything so you end up having to buy from them, having to store your money with them, and having to dance to their tunes, not only of religious belief, but of capitalistic greed as well.  Now is the time to push back against the forces of Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelman; against the commentators like Limbaugh, the Republican Super-PACs and their Heritage-like foundations and "think tanks,” and all their distortions of reality and of Truth!  They want to control your life and your money, but YOU hold the future in your hands; don't let it slip into the abyss of Right-wing know-nothingness and do-nothingness.  Don't give in...!  Vote for Progressives and Reformers!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

SAVE the CHILDREN

Sometimes, it is terribly important to speak very plainly.  The United States government, many state governments, and local governments - and the representatives who are supposed to be representing us -- are simply guilty of abusing and neglecting children.  It just simply can't get any plainer than that!  Well, yes it can, and here's how.

Poor children, in particular, are being neglected and abused by a myriad of government failings and actions.  Let us first cite some important statistics from a Children's Defense Fund (CDF) Report on "The State of America's Children 2014", in order to set the stage for what must be said and done to alleviate such conditions and circumstances:

--Every fifth child (16.1 million) is poor, and every tenth child (7.1 million) is extremely poor.  Children are the poorest age group, and the younger they are, the poorer they are!
--Every fourth infant, toddler and pre-school child (5 million) is poor; 1 in 8 is extremely poor.
--At this point, a majority of our one and two year olds are children of color.  Within five years, children of color, who are disproportionately poor (nearly 1 in 3) will be a majority of all children in America, and in our future workforce, military, and as consumers. 
--Millions of these children are unready for school, poorly educated, and unprepared to face the future
--Nearly 60 per cent of all our children, and more than 80% of our Black and 75% of our Latino children cannot read or compute at grade level in 4th and 8th grades and so many drop-out of school before graduating.

--75% of young people, ages 17-24, cannot get into the military because of poor literacy, health, or prior incarceration.

--Nearly 1.2 million public school students were homeless in 2011-2012, 73% more than before the Great Recession
--Less than half of 3- and 4-year olds were enrolled in preschool in 2009-2011.  Early Head Start funding served only 4% of the 2.9 million eligible poor infants and toddlers  on any given day in FY 2012, and Head Start funding served only 41% of the 2 million eligible poor 3- and 4-year olds.
--More than 1 in 9 children lacked access to adequate food in 2012, 23% higher than before the Great Recession.  89% of children who relied on free or reduced price lunch during the school year did not receive meals through the Summer Food Service Program in 2012.
--In an average month in FY2011, 1.2 million households with children had no cash income and depended only on the SNAP program to stave off hunger
--Without government tax credits, food, housing and energy benefits, extreme child poverty would have been 240% higher!  In other words, Government safety net programs actually lifted 9 million children from poverty in 2012, including 5.4 million through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, and 2.2 million through SNAP.

--In no state could an individual working full-time at minimum wage afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom rental unit and still have enough for food, utilities and other necessities in 2013.
--A child - most likely an infant or toddler - is abused or neglected every 47 seconds
--Nearly 40% who are abused or neglected receive no post-investigation services or fewer services than they need
--In 2012, 101,719 children in foster care were waiting to be adopted
--4,028 children are arrested each day -- one every 21 seconds, and 1,790 children are serving sentences in adult prisons.
--U.S. children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in 25 other high-income countries. 
--Gun violence disproportionately affects children of color.  In 2010, Black children and teens were nearly five times, and Hispanic children and teens were more than three times, more likely to be killed by guns than White children and teens.
--40% of children who needed mental health services did not receive them in 2011-2012.
--Family health care costs pushed more than 2 million children into poverty in 2012.

"The greatest threat to America's economic, military and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high-income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education and sound development of all of our young".  So states Marian Wright-Edelman, CEO of the Children's Defense Fund, in her Preface to this Report.  Pope Francis has backed up her thoughts with one of his own: "A population that does not take care of the elderly and the children and the young has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise." 

Is that where we as a nation have placed ourselves: on the brink of destruction of our stature, our country and our shining light of representative democracy?  One would hope not, but the facts and the statistics seem to indicate otherwise.  The Radical Republicans who have taken over (and begun to destroy) a strong central government with programs that have worked to alleviate some of these conditions, are hell-bent on making everyone in our society lift themselves up on their own accord, or fall by the wayside and get out of the way.  It appears to me that they have forgotten some very important axioms.

1)    children constitute the future of this country
2)    investment in the future i.e. the children, is a necessity
3)    the cost of neglecting this task is enormous
4)    current costs of inaction are increasing

Unfortunately, I think I know part of the reason that the Radical Right thinks it is on the right track:

1)    they believe our future does not lie in the funding of programs for the uneducated, the un-rich, and the under-class because they regard all of "them" as unworthy and thus unproductive.
2)    but they do believe (wrongly I think) that all this country needs for leadership, and innovation, and entrepreneurship, and prosperity are the sons and daughters of a rich plutocracy that can afford the best of everything, and thus produce the best of everything.  They think an elite private education, combined with well-invested resources and an innate sense of business acumen will lead the nation to a pre-eminent position once again in world politics.

Yes.  The Plutocracy, the new aristocracy, the elite -- call them what you will -- believe firmly that the destiny of this nation rests in their hands, not the hands of any other group or class.  They simply do not buy the axiom that "growing the middle class" is the way to prosperity.  The cost to this nation because of just such an attitude will be enormous as we begin to fade from our coveted number one spot to something more in the range of 10th or 12th.  Ask Britain -- they know how it feels to fall far in terms of top performance.

If our attitudes toward poor and minority children don't improve drastically, we shall continue to lose potential leaders, potential entrepreneurs, potential teachers and other professionals, great economists and inventors and researchers, as well as scientists.  Every time a child fails because he or she is poor, or Black, or Hispanic,  homeless or malnourished, we have lost a resource for this country.  Moreover, I hate to think of all the potential we have already lost because our system does not recognize this potential, but eschews its very existence.  Not only are we scrapping human resources and potential, but we are costing ourselves enormous sums in terms of achievement and productivity by the simple denial of the fact that government help and aid and resources can undo some of the effects of poverty and produce winners and leaders in more than one limited class.  

Let me just lay before you some of the preventable costs that the CDF Report says are already plaguing us as a nation

*    child poverty costs the nation at least $500 billion each year just in extra education, health and justice costs, and in lost productivity
*     child abuse and neglect cases cost the U.S. $80.3 billion each year in direct costs and lost productivity
*    gun deaths and injuries cost the U.S. $174.1 billion each year, or 1.15% of our total Gross domestic product
*    the high school students who dropped out of the class of 2011 will cost the nation's economy an estimated $154 billion in lost income over the course of their lifetimes
*     the achievement gap between American students and those in top-performing countries like Finland and Korea cost this nation $1.3 to $2.3 trillion in 2008

As the CDF Report indicates, "We can afford to do better."  In terms of counter-revolution of which we spoke in our last posting, we can turn some things upside down and inside out.  Here are a few of the suggestions in the Report.

  • the amount the U.S. spends per minute on corporate tax breaks would pay the salary of 16 child caseworkers, and expanding childcare increases the work participation of poor working mothers.  More than 220,000 children are currently on waiting lists for childcare assistance.
  • three days' worth of the amount spent on corporate tax breaks would provide a whole year's worth of SNAP food assistance for the estimated 737,000 children who don't have enough food.
  • the amount the U.S. spends per year on corporate tax breaks for private jets would pay the salaries of 6,400 high school teachers
  • all poor infants and toddlers could have been served by Early Head Start if the government had simply diverted 18 days of defense spending,.  Currently, only about 4% of eligible children reap the benefits of this high quality early learning experience
  • more than 17,500 low-income children could enroll in Head Start for a year for the cost of just one F-35 fighter jet among the nearly 2.500 the DoD is scheduled to buy.

The justification for the austerity, the penury, and the cutting of social programs is often simply that we cannot afford them; that our deficit is already excessively even dangerously high.  This amazing rhetoric seems to miss a very decisive point: we cannot afford not to invest in our children because the consequences will be much worse than a strained budget.  Edelman says this: "If the foundation of your house is crumbling you must fix it.  Education is a lot cheaper than ignorance.  Preschool education is a bargain compared to prison."  Apparently, the Radical Republicans just don't get it, and they persist in putting forth for passage a budget that favors the rich and over-burdens the poor, in almost every aspect imaginable, instead of the other way round.  The Paul Ryan budget for FY2015 is the pre-eminent example.  You cannot continually protect and embellish a small group of rich people and expect that will make up for the harm done to our most precious resource: our children.

Where is the spirit of investment that usually characterizes the Plutocrats?  You would think, above all, that they would recognize the potential return on investment that this country would garner.  Nobel-prize winning economist, James Heckman, estimates a lifelong economic rate of return of 7-10% each year for every dollar invested in quality early childhood programs.    Are the Radical Republicans simply touting an ideology for its own sake instead of endorsing the most advantageous direction for the country, namely the investment in the general welfare and success of the poor, the working poor, and the middle class?  I suspect we have it about right!

Marion Wright Edelman ends her Preface to the CDF Report by telling a story about a young 12 year-old black boy in Washington, DC, who she encountered in a classroom where she was speaking to students about the riots and looting that took place in American cities when Dr. King was assassinated, and telling them not to jeopardize their futures by such actions.  The boy looked her in the eye and said, "Lady, what future?  I ain't got no future.  I ain't got nothing to lose." 

She concludes: "The Children's Defense Fund has spent the last 40 years trying to prove that boy's truth wrong in our economically and militarily powerful and spiritually poor nation.  And we will never stop until we succeed.  It's time to give him and the 16.1 million poor children like him today a fair chance to succeed and to keep Dr. King's dream - for him and the millions like him - alive."

I agree that's what we need to do, but how?  How do we turn the system inside out so that planes and tax subsidies and tax cuts for the rich become lesser priorities than the education, training, health, wages and quality of life for all children whatever their ethnic origin or their racial makeup?  Stay tuned....