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Sunday, January 25, 2015

NATION BUILDERS ONCE AGAIN

The President was talking directly to you and me in his annual State of the Union speech on Jan. 20th.  What this speech turned out to be was a People’s Speech, not simply a traditional SOTU speech to Congress with a long list of suggestions for legislation.  I say that for several reasons:

1.       It wasn’t by accident that the speech was crafted around a letter from an ordinary family in Minnesota.
2.       It wasn’t by accident that he chose the topics on which he expounded.  In addition to others, he had asked  members of his original grass roots organization, Organizing for America (now Organizing for Action), to submit topics that were of great concern.
3.       It wasn’t by accident that he talked about choices for the future, because numerous polls of late show what people are most concerned about: jobs and the economy, the middle class being squeezed, especially on wages; foreign terrorism, healthcare, education, and immigration (see www.PollingReport.com for an idea of how they are ranked).
In his SOTU speech President Obama said it’s up to us to choose who we want to be in the next 15 years, and then said that we must focus on values, like: 

§  "restoring the link between work and opportunity," which means, I think, that middle-class economics should not mean that we are penalized with austerity measures and vindictive cuts in rights and jobs and benefits, but that rewards for hard work must include things like tax credits for day care and pension protection and expansion of benefits like health care and free community college tuition. 

§  “thinking higher than one pipeline” is a notable retort to how Republicans think we can save the economy, but grasping at temporary jobs could result in great harm and no gains, as would inevitable oil spills, dependence on oil that is all going overseas, and damage to the aquifer and farm land of residents in states like Nebraska.  

§  staying “ahead of the curve” in that, for instance, by the end of the decade two out of every three jobs will require a college degree. 

§  it matters how we see the world and how the world views us.  We cannot lead with bluster and military might alone, but must combine military strength with diplomacy and broad-based coalitions of nations.  We must return to using war as “a last resort,” he declared.  
And then, the President raised perhaps the most important question that we must address in the next 15 years of this century:  “how can we better reflect America’s values?”

1.       We must realize that we are being led astray by the Tea Party crowd and their passive henchmen in the leadership and rank and file of the Republican Party.  Where are the voices of supposedly more moderate Republicans, like Congressman Richard Hanna?  Unfortunately, their silence and their capitulation to the empty but dangerous rhetoric and ranting of their Right-wing radical colleagues is appalling.  Our milquetoast of a representative doesn’t even have a voice it appears when it comes to speaking out in a forceful manner on the issues of the day!  The most we hear from him is probably written by someone else in a brochure or letter or e-mail, or in a speech before a friendly audience of like-minded businessmen, with emphasis on both “business” and “men”. 

We deserve better, and we have better potential representatives right here in our own city and county.  It’s time to get behind one of them and to support a replacement for Richard Hanna in 2016 because Mr. Hanna is not ever going to represent the broad spectrum of people and challenges in this district.  It’s doubtful that he can even articulate the five most important issues that people across our nation cite when polled by professional pollsters.  He’s out-of-touch, out of ideas, out-of-town, and out-to-lunch when it comes to planning for the future, or even for the present. 

For instance, where does he stand on middle-class economics?  He’s against it!  He voted about 50 times against healthcare reform and wants to repeal the coverage of millions of people.  He votes “Yea” on every Paul Ryan budget that lowers taxes on the rich, takes opportunities and programs away from the poor and middle class, and ignores the imminent danger of climate change while always supporting out-moded weapons and disastrous private contracts for the military. Moreover, Hanna supports lowering taxes on corporations and on capital gains, and he supports the NRA at every turn, winning their support in the last election. 

He has voted against, or ignored, a minimum wage raise, equal pay for equal work, a comprehensive immigration policy, the Obama jobs bill, and infrastructure repair, although he did vote last year for the Jobs for America Act which did everything imaginable except create jobs.  For one, it attacked health care coverage again, changing mandatory employer plan coverage for those who work 30 hours per week by raising it to 40 hours per week!  

 To his credit, he does support a woman’s right to choose, and is the only Republican to vote against his Party on anti-abortion bills for the last two years!  He has also voted against a provision supporting companies that want to refuse to offer contraception as part of their employee health plan. 

He does support farmers.  Unfortunately by voting for last year’s Farm Bill, he also supported a huge reduction in food stamps that many middle class families and veterans needed to get them through the Great Recession.  His "YES" vote thereby supported subsidies to huge farming and food manufacturing conglomerates who put dangerous additives in our food and who want to replace small farmers.  That bill also gave large subsidies to other congressmen and women who own ranches or cattle, but do not actually operate farms. 

Mr. Hanna, it seems, has great trouble sorting out these complicated issues; instead he says one thing and often does another when he votes for Ryan budgets or Farm bills or other legislation that contain conflicting provisions.  He seems unable to simply stand on principle and vote against bills that contain provisions that are harmful to many of his constituents.  In fact, Mr. Hanna does not seem to speak-out on real issues of the day in any concerted manner.  Perhaps Mr. Hanna has already retired from this job; let us be sure to make that retirement permanent in 2016.
(Just so you know: in the 2014 general election, running unopposed, Mr. Hanna still could not get a quarter of the total actual voters to cast a vote for him.  In fact, counting write-ins of other names and blank ballots for his office, Hanna had slightly over 26% of voters in his district who chose not to vote for him!  That is a substantial total from which to launch an opposing campaign!)

2.       We must become activists. We must get behind the President and truly progressive Democrats and support their agenda over the next two years and communicate about our values, our principles and the facts of the great accomplishments of this administration.

           ·         Act upon our convictions and principles and support our President in his fourth-quarter                     surge to put into place a foundation for change that can influence the next 15 years. 
·        This means actually making phone calls to Congress, joining an activist organization, writing letters-to-the-editor, posting on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram; it actually means joining a demonstration or an advocacy group. 
·         It means taking an active interest in issues that affect our lives and making sure that  other people also become aware of what's at stake.  It means volunteering our time and money to aid in making a difference in the direction this country takes.  Everyone can join in such an effort because it’s a matter of making choices.  Do what you can, but above all, don’t opt for doing nothing.  This time is critical.  Your future is at stake, and so is the future of our democracy and of our progressive and populous values. 
 
·         This is not just about politics; this is about everyday life: how much you pay for food and transportation; what gets covered in your health insurance; what your son or daughter is taught in school, and whether or not either of them can afford to go to college.  This is about what amount of interest you have to pay on credit cards or student loans or on a mortgage.  This is about how your elderly parent is treated in a nursing home.  It’s more about your quality of life than about the machinations of “politics” (although if those machinations are not reformed, it will affect your life).  The one thing that you can’t afford to do is to ignore the fact that the political and economic machinery – the institutions and operations of government, of business and even of non-profit enterprises – affect your life every day.  If you forfeit your right to protest their shortcomings and the right to organize to change those systems, you are giving up your ability to influence your success, your fulfillment, your happiness and your decision-making.  You will have turned over the power of decision-making and governance to the politicians and the capitalists and the non-profits and have opted to allow them to control you while possibly feathering their own existence with perks that you will never see or experience.  You are a citizen, not a pawn, and as such must stand up and be counted as the foundation of all of our values and all of our institutions.  “Activism” is not a dirty word; it is the life-blood of our democracy.

3.       Look to the future and not to the past.  Support investment in the future like research into cures for diseases, the improvements needed in our schools, the free tuition at community colleges, the rejuvenation of our infrastructure, the change to alternative fuels, the challenge of global warming, the use of war as a last resort, universal health care, universal child care, and universal access to a free internet.

4.       “It’s up to us to choose who we want to be in the next 15 years of this century.”   We must choose progressive change over regressive retreat.  We must choose inclusiveness over elitism.  We must choose investment over austerity.  We must choose the welfare of people over the comforting of the richest 1% and the promotion of the powerful.  We must choose and support leaders from the people rather than from the political machinery.  We must choose sensible regulation of our institutions for the good of most of our people and not de-regulation for the aggrandizement of corporations and wealthy industrialists or inheritors of wealth. 

We must choose the strengthening of opportunities for the poor to be lifted up to where they can see a future worth their while; we cannot support any further put-downs, push-downs, take-downs or injustices perpetrated by our own system of justice; we must tend to the wrongs of racism, sexism, ageism, xenophobia, and jingoism and eschew the violence of our culture that puts war above negotiation and gun toting above the protection of countless innocent victims. 

We must set an example for the world not alone by words, but by our deeds.  Let us choose service and sacrifice for the world’s welfare above exceptionalism or primacy or military strength and presence.  Let us be known by our willingness to strengthen people, not by our willingness to fight every battle or threat that rears its head. 

And finally, let us choose fact over fiction and untruth; let us choose balance over extremism, and let us choose the right over the expedient or the facile or the wrong.  Let us choose real reform over the insanity of doing something that has failed time and time again, like the “trickle-down theory!”  Let us make wise choices in anticipation of a bright future.

5.       “We must cherish our civil rights.”  That means we must work to protect and expand the voting franchise in this country.  We cannot allow anti-democracy zealots to take the sacred vote away from anybody.  We need election reform, wider registration and voting.  We have to expand the rights of minorities to be heard, to be present, to be elected, to be honored and to be part of the governing structure, in spite of the fact that the racial divide has been made wider by the policies, the legislation, and the bigoted language of Republicans toward this President and his Attorney General. 

We must work to reform our justice system, beginning with the thorny problem of the fact that the police in this country have no supervision and no checks upon their behavior.  That is contrary to the principles that underlie many of our Western police agencies, and it is indicative of a secretive force that is literally out-of-control.  We cannot tolerate a police force that separates itself from the community – it is an act of sheer intolerance.  Equal justice for all must be a rallying cry as we seek to lower our incarceration rate for minorities, especially young black men.  We must find cadres of indigenous leaders in the Black community especially and support them as candidates for all kinds of local, county, state and federal offices.  In every city, there must be minority coalitions who demand to be heard on community issues. 

6.       Work on ways to help middle-class families get ahead and to be secure.  The President laid out some options in his speech: a minimum wage that does not equal poverty level; tax credits to support universal day care availability; free tuition for community colleges; precision research into cures for major diseases.  But, he has previously laid out other programs that have been blocked by rabid Right-wing Republicans (and some blue-dog Democrats).  The Caregiver Initiative that would provide temporary respite care, counseling and referrals for hard-pressed families trying to care for elderly relatives, is one example.  Another is his proposal to require employers who don’t offer retirement plans to enroll workers in automatic, direct-deposit Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

We must also get behind the call to strengthen the middle class by promoting and supporting laws that give back to Labor the Right to collective action: bargaining, striking, and protest.  The Right-wing attacks upon Labor hurt middle class families as much as anything, since the Labor movement has been one of the major contributors to the inclusion and success enjoyed by working families in the last century.  It is now time to promote the welfare of working families in this 21st century.

There’s more, of course, but the important point is that we are being called to be “nation builders” once again.  Building our nation did not stop in the 1700’s.  It is an on-going process.  Every generation of Americans gets to make decisions and choices that affect our Republic.  It is most effective when more than one generation joins the cause to work together in close collaboration to bring about responsible and progressive change.  That is possible right now with Millenials, some Boomers and Post-War activists who are still around.  Remember, it’s up to us to choose who and what we want to be!  Let’s Get Busy…