4/20/2009

We The People: Taxation, Spending, and Big Government

By mediagonebad

Hardcore free-market Republicans often rail against “big government,” so let’s take a few minutes to figure out what the role of government should be in the United States.

What do we want from the federal government? What do we, as citizens, expect our government to be? What services do we want it to provide on our behalf?

The first thing about government is that we all want it to work for us, not against us. We do not want to be taxed excessively and we do not want to be spied upon like “big brother.” We want our elected officials to serve us honorably and we want our justice system to be fair and equal. I would venture to guess that few Americans would argue with these general points, no matter what their political beliefs.

Now, forget government for a minute. What do American citizens want America to be? Do we want the best health care and education in the world? Do we want retired citizens to have a guaranteed income? Do we want the strongest military in the world? Do we want clean energy? Do we want to do our part to end global warming? Do we want strong bridges? Do we want clean drinking water systems and good sewer systems? Do we want clean air to breathe? Do we want corporations to be able to do whatever they want without accountability or do we want them strictly regulated? Do we want corporations to have the same constitutional rights as individuals? Do we want a safe interstate system without potholes and other hazards? Do we want high-speed rail? Do we want safe food? Do we want equal rights for all, including the right to same-sex marriage? Do we want a minimum wage? Do we want a living wage? Do we want an unregulated mass media, with as few as five conglomerates controlling more than 50 percent of the news we get? Do we want more licenses for low-power radio and television stations? Do we want to permit torture techniques to be used on foreign prisoners? Do we want affordable housing? Do we want to ensure that the unemployed have an income until they find work? Do we want to bailout failing banks and large corporations?

Obviously, this list could go on and on and on, but for our purposes, we will end it here. These questions, when used to decide what role government should play, are where people part ways as Americans and become political opponents. There are those who look at a budget and scream “Pork!” when they see proposals for more unemployment insurance, a raise in the minimum wage, money to repair bridges on secondary highways, housing for the poor, more schools, local water projects, repair of inner city sewer systems, and so forth. Some people believe that the federal government should not be spending money for such things, yet they invariably support unlimited spending for war and preparations for war.

The problem with spending in general is, if we want something, someone has to pay for it. No one these days wants to take responsibility for increasing taxes, so the burden is passed on from the federal government to individual states, counties, cities, towns and villages. Revenue is created by increasing various kinds of taxes -- like fuel taxes, hotel taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, “sin” taxes, and so forth. People who call for no tax increases and limited federal government mean that they do not want to say they support taxes at the federal level. They are not putting the needs of America first, but are playing party politics. They are trying to win House and Senate seats by claiming that they support limited government and no tax increases, but these shady politicians know full well that there will be new taxes at the state and/or the municipal level. Otherwise, the United States would fall apart at the seams. Oh wait, it already is!

It is largely the Republicans who want to be known as the party that believes in limited federal spending and the Democrats who believe the federal government has a responsibility to spend money for things that most Americans want and need. Republicans want to give tax breaks to the rich and super-rich and Democrats want this exclusive group to pay more federal taxes, largely by plugging the loopholes that allow the rich to maintain overseas addresses in order to escape the responsibility of paying federal taxes at all.

The thing that all Americans who have been hoodwinked into narrow thinking by blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly need to be aware of is that taxation is a responsibility of civil society. If we want Social Security to be viable -- and it still is viable right now -- then we need to pay into the system and perhaps even increase the amount of federal withholding for Social Security. Those who call for privatization -- letting people choose to invest in the stock market instead of Social Security -- would ruin one of the best federal programs ever created. The needs of the majority of Americans outweigh the needs of a few rich bankers who would get even richer from privatization. At some point we have to say “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And we say NO to privatization just as we would say NO to bank bailouts.

That said, we also must be responsible in the way our taxes are used. No question about it. We have to prioritize and plan. We have to save for projects that may not even be completed in our lifetime. For example, America’s infrastructure is old and in need of an upgrade. Many inner city and rural water and sewer systems, subways, bridges, roadways, housing projects, and railroads need replaced as soon as possible. These are long-term projects that may take 50 years or more to complete! Obviously, completing them is in the best interest of every single American, but are a nightmare for selfish politicians who want votes now and do not want to plan for the future or allocate funds for projects that may not be completed while the politician is still alive. America is slowly crumbling away and will continue to do so until citizens find the spine to think collectively and put all politicians on notice that the real needs of America and Americans must come first.

Now, I ask again, what do we want from our federal government? What do we want government to provide on our behalf? Does anyone not see how important the federal government is in our lives? We joke about it all the time -- taxes to study the mating habits of the South American swamp rat, for example -- but it all comes back to needs and priorities. No one wants to pay taxes for useless things and the working class are already taxed to the maximum, so the corporate rich and super-rich need to pay a greater share for the greater overall benefit of society. It is not the size of the federal government that matters, even if the federal government becomes the top employer in the nation and provides new public works jobs to tens of millions. What matters is that OUR federal government serve WE THE PEOPLE. That OUR federal government meets OUR needs -- not the short-term, selfish needs of politicians, political parties, war profiteers, and unscrupulous media commentators.

4/19/2009

Why newspapers are relevant

By mediagonebad

It seems that every new day brings another newspaper failure. So many people are getting their news from television and online sources that newspapers cannot compete. So they reduce the size of the paper, create online content, lay off and furlough employees -- anything to start operating in the black.

In the mid-1970s I was a student at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colo. Every day at the bus stop I would pick up a copy of the Rocky Mountain News (RMN). Its tabloid format was perfect for spreading out on a table in the student lounge; I even had room on the table for my coffee cup and a snack. The Denver Post, however, was a full-size paper that you had to open up and hold to read, which was more convenient for reading in a doctor’s office or sitting on the toilet.

I would often read the RMN from back to front, paying particular attention to stories buried on the inside. I found that the RMN had the Denver Post beat for the sheer diversity of the news. I found more national and international news in the RMN than I did in the Post and the features were always well-written and well-edited. I was particularly sad when the RMN went under in 2009 and I felt as though a piece of myself went under as well.

What is that attachment to newspapers? Why are readers sad when a paper goes belly up? After all, we pay for the paper, either through subscription or newsstand purchase. Advertising revenue is what keeps papers afloat and subscription and newsstand prices greatly undercut the true cost of the paper. I don’t know the figures, but my 50 cents would likely be $10 a day or more without advertising revenue figured in. How many readers would be willing to spend so much on a newspaper that will just be recycled at the end of the day? Probably none.

What news stories have the editors given us today? Part of the attachment to newspapers is the randomness, the surprise that awaits us as we turn each page. On the front page of the paper, there may be a quick index to the sections, but nothing to tell me what story I might find on page 32. There is nothing to click on and be transported instantly to that particular story. Every turn of the page is a surprise. I did not even know I would find a story about a new labor strike until I turned the page and found that the story impacted my life in some way. “Oh, I know people in that union,” I may have thought. So I read the story. I then contacted a friend and found out more information. An editor of a different paper may have decided not to run this story. The best papers print a diversity of stories simply because they are news. The editors believe in the public’s right to know and do not omit stories just because management or a prominent advertiser may disagree with it politically.

What will happen to news without newspapers, I wonder? Will the newspaper wire services, which still provide stories to all news outlets, still exist? If not, where will the news come from? Who will write it? Will they strive for impartiality or will they let the politics of their employer dictate what they write?

My Rocky Mountain News is gone and I am sad. I am sad not only because of the personal loss I feel, but also because of the loss that we should all feel -- the loss of news diversity. Somehow the void will be filled, but it will not be the same. As you read the packaged news on your Kindle, picking from a list which story you want to read, take a few moments to think about what you have given up for the sake of convenience. Your Kindle gives you content -- and room for your coffee cup -- but fifty cents or a dollar for a newspaper would have given you a surprise on every page. You would have learned something that you did not even realize you wanted to know about. And you can’t put a price on knowledge.

4/17/2009

Obama has missed an opportunity to do the right thing on Cuba

By mediagonebad

Obama’s much anticipated changes to U.S.-Cuba policy have turned out to be much ado about nothing. While changes in family remittances, unlimited travel to and from the island to visit relatives, and increased telecommunications are positive steps, the economic blockade remains intact. The “wet foot/dry foot” policy of instant citizenship for those who make the treacherous 90-mile trip to U.S. soil remains in place, as does the cruel, inhuman policy of using food and medicine as political weapons. So, too, remains the policy of interfering with the right of other nations to do business with Cuba.

Thus far in his presidency, Obama has proven to be a status quo politician interested in propping up capitalist banking and corporate interests while working people take a back seat. On Cuba policy, he is playing south Florida politics very effectively and will likely win some supporters in the next election cycle, but his slogan of “Change We Can Believe In” has been forgotten in regard to Cuba. Supporters of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba must continue to encourage Congress to do what Barack Obama has failed to do. Sadly, Obama has missed an opportunity to do something positive and right for human relations in the world. I remain optimistic that Obama will come around. After all, he said we would not stand idly by while injustice happens in the world, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. For now.

4/16/2009

Special Prosecutor needed after release of "torture memos'

By mediagonebad

The Obama administration did the right thing in releasing the "torture memos" from the Bush administration and they should be applauded for it. However, the Department of Justice failed to call for an independent special prosecutor to investigate the memos. Learning the truth is one thing, but failing to hold individuals responsible for wrong-doing is quite another matter. How do we justify letting public officials off the hook for possible crimes when common citizens are expected to either follow the “rule of law” or risk going to prison. Public officials should not be above the law or given immunity for crimes. In the coming days and weeks, we will learn more about these torture memos and how public officials violated the Geneva Conventions and International Law.

4/11/2009

Dear Mr. President: You are 0-2. What's it gonna be?

By mediagonebad

OK, Mr. Obama, you have my heartfelt congratulations! A Chicago grassroots organizer is now president of the United States. That is a major accomplishment in and of itself. It is early in your presidency and I am pleased that you have dealt with some of the worst offenses of the Bush administration through executive orders, but I must say that your larger policies concern me greatly. GREATLY.

First, there is the matter of privacy vs. warrantless wiretapping and electronic spying on Americans. Your Department of Justice, Mr. President, not only supports but goes beyond the Bush administration in preventing government accountability for willful violations of the law regarding COINTELPRO-style electronic eavesdropping. Your DOJ recently argued that the U.S. possesses “sovereign immunity” from misconduct lawsuits. Yet you pledged government accountability during the campaign. Strike one.

Then there is the matter of giving away billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to the same capitalist bankers that helped loot the public treasury in the first place. They must be laughing all the way out of the bank while our money goes to offshore accounts just as fast as they get their grubby hands on it. I got news for you: giving money to the banks is not going to stop the coming depression.

It seems to me that someone with ties to the Chicago grassroots community would bail out the unemployed and working poor first so that people do not lose their homes to the Wall Street thieves; to make sure that everyone has adequate food and access to health care whether they have a job with benefits or not. As you know, companies are laying off employees, eliminating health benefits, cutting back on retirement, and reducing hours in order to save money. What are people supposed to do? Starve? Turn to crime? Strike two.

Now I hear that you are asking Congress for more than $83 billion for continuing the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember very clearly what you said during the campaign and I even made a ringtone out of it so everyone I am around is reminded as well: “When I am elected president I am going to end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home.” (Crowd cheers.) $83 billion will bring the total amount of money wasted on war up to $1 trillion.

One Trillion Dollars. That is One Thousand Billion Dollars! Or One Million Million Dollars! And there is no end in sight because you cannot fight a cowardly hit-and-run tactic like terrorism no matter how many people you kill and no matter how much money you spend in trying. Of course, the money enriches the military contractors who constantly lobby for more money. But the American people suffer; the Iraqi people suffer; and the Afghani people suffer. Osama bin Laden could have been captured years ago if Bush would have asked for the world’s help rather than insisting that the United States did not need help -- and then talking crazy about smoking evil-doers out of their holes. Bush was like a bad cartoon.

One Thousand Billion Dollars wasted while states scramble to find money to pay state employees, pay unemployment benefits, and pay for educating our children while teachers have to meet the unfunded burden of No Child Left Behind. States like Ohio are even looking at gambling to bring us out of of debt, as if the Wall Street gamblers have not done enough damage. Now the rich and super-rich casino operators will be holding us by the ankles and shaking us to make sure they get all of our money.

Casinos to pay for educating our children? What kind of craziness is this? Does this make sense to a Chicago grassroots organizer? Is this the way the United States should be operating? Isn’t there a more fair and equitable -- indeed, a more reasonable -- economic system that we could work toward? Shouldn’t we be making 5, 10, and 20-year plans in order to ensure that human beings are able to have a job, decent housing, health, dental and eye care, safe food, and clean air and drinking water? What has happened to our priorities in a nation that espouses freedom and democracy, yet leaves its citizens’ dreams at the mercy of the market?

Socialism may seem like a dirty word to the Wall Street bankers, casino operators, military contractors, FOX News anchors, and other assorted con men and thieves who now thrive in the every-man-for-himself jungle of international capitalism. But a nation can have both personal freedom and genuine democracy and take care of citizen needs. It’s not that hard. You nationalize the banks, utilities, oil companies, health care conglomerates and other major industries then run them in the public interest, not for private profit. You eliminate the profit-taking at the top and reinvest at the bottom. Imagine a wellness-based single payer health care system free of insurance tycoons who now have the audacity to step in and change a doctor’s orders because it would interfere with their profits? No more of that nonsense.

This does not mean that the United States become the Soviet Union. No one wants that. We make our own brand of socialism based upon our long-held belief in liberty and justice for all. We do not restrict personal freedom; we expand it. We welcome those immigrants now living and working in our nation by giving them the opportunity for citizenship. We pay everyone a living wage, provide expanded Medicare for all citizens, make sure that schools are fully funded, and we invest in green technologies to provide millions of jobs and get away from fossil fuels. We invest in rebuilding our dilapidated water and sewer systems, our bridges, our railroads, our inner cities. We develop high-speed rail. We use science to find new ways to improve our lives through research and development. We change outdated laws that now keep many non-violent offenders in prison and we use community policing and community corrections to focus on genuine rehabilitation rather than prison warehousing. We get government out of citizens’ bedrooms by permitting marriage unions between same sex couples.

Which road should a Chicago grassroots organizer choose? A road to individual prosperity and full-employment or the same old road where the rich man plays while the little man pays? We can rebuild our infrastructure or watch it crumble as roving gangs go from neighborhood to neighborhood stealing whatever they can. We can rethink our priorities on taking care of ourselves as citizens or we can watch our prisons become the number one industry in the nation. We can develop new green transportation now or do nothing as gas prices skyrocket to $10 or more per gallon.

Strike three? Let’s be real before you swing at the next pitch. The United States is a mess and there are no easy solutions or quick fixes. This ain’t McDonald’s. Social and economic change takes time and a willingness to sacrifice now so that future generations will not have to. Rebuilding infrastructure takes time, perhaps even more than one generation. Can we accept a way of life in which we may not see the benefits in our lifetime? It takes time to convert from a “me” society that leads the world in the consumption of fossil fuels to a “we” society that has a low carbon footprint. Until we can produce millions of electric commuter cars, we may even have to ration gas at some point, making sure that fuel goes to farmers and distribution outlets before personal use in automobiles.

Many sacrifices, some of which are unpredictable now, must be made so that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can live in a humane nation that prioritizes its needs and produces to meet those needs. If we fail to act soon, our children will be living in a fascist dictatorship where nothing is provided or guaranteed by government, including Social Security; where fuel is unavailable and food is not affordable for most people; where brown-outs and blackouts are commonplace as the electric grid fails from the lack of upkeep; where clean drinking water is unavailable because polluters have lobbied against regulations that impede their profit-taking; where few people can afford health insurance and those without the ability to pay up front are turned away by armed hospital guards. This is not science fiction. This is a glimpse at the future unless we, collectively, as citizens, demand of our leaders that we take a different road now.

Which road should a former grassroots organizer choose? The count is 0-2.

4/03/2009

Moratorium on GE foods

By mediagonebad

[Stop Monsanto's draconian bill now in Congress. HR875 is disguised as a food safety bill but it would give AG companies the power to virtually control agriculture. http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum959.php ]

Genetically Engineered foods, also known as GEOs (genetically engineered organisms) and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says are essentially equivalent to conventional foods and therefore do not require mandatory labeling or pre-market testing, can now be found in 60 to 75 percent of all non-organic supermarket foods.

Concern over the use of GE products, however, goes beyond the need for safety testing and product labeling. The concern to all of us should be directed toward the corporate scientists creating these products for AG employers such as Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Aventis Crop Science, BASF, BIO, Zeneca Ag Products and Novartis. While most of us generally view technology as beneficial to humankind, we must always keep in mind that there is no scientific ethic in place that tempers the application of science only to those areas that may benefit humankind.

Companies that produce and use GE products spend millions of dollars on advertising campaigns trying to convince consumers that their products will benefit humankind. They say that GE products are needed so we can end world hunger, improve public health, create sustainable agriculture and improve crop yields and crop hardiness, but the possible devastating consequences of using GE products are not mentioned in their ads.

We all want to end world hunger, but in so doing, we also want our products to be safe for human consumption. Therefore, we must allow scientists to test these new creations before the AG companies rush them out into the marketplace. This is just common sense, something the AG companies do not have these days. They see dollar signs and that is their motivation.

The companies engaging in GE alter the genes of living plants, animals, humans and microorganisms, patent the new life forms, then sell the resulting food, seed or product for profit. When gene-altered crops are introduced into the natural world, however, they may wreak havoc upon traditional crops by creating genetic contamination of non-GE crops.

It is impossible to predict how these new life forms will reproduce, migrate and mutate, so it is also impossible to predict what the end results will be for the food supply. According to FDA logic, if it looks like a tomato, smells like a tomato and tastes like a tomato, then it must be a tomato. But how will a tomato altered with a fish gene effect non-GE tomatoes in 10 years? In a hundred years? In a thousand years? In a million years? Will GE tomatoes begin to develop eyes and brains? No one knows. As wind, bees, birds and insect pollinators begin carrying GE tomato pollen to other species, what results will occur? No one knows. What effect will GE tomato pollen have on beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, ladybugs and soil microorganisms? No one knows. What new toxins, allergens, viruses, pathogens and antibiotic-resistant infections will be created accidentally? No one knows. If this sounds like science fiction, then perhaps it is, because no one knows what effects GE will have upon the natural world. No one knows what long-term consequences GE may have upon the food supply and the environment because these products are being created recklessly and rushed into the marketplace without benefit of proper safeguards, testing and controls.

Readers should keep in mind that GE technology is not the same thing as traditional cross-breeding or hybridization, which mixes only the genes of the same or closely-related species. Genetic engineering mixes the genes of unrelated species -- such as fish and tomatoes, bacteria and soybeans, and humans and pigs -- that would likely never be intermingled in the natural world. Genetic engineering produces new life forms and these new life forms are now in our food supply.

And what's worse, these life forms have gotten into our food supply without scientific evidence that they are indeed "safe." Valid scientific procedure is a rigorous process of examination and re-examination using experimental control groups, but this process is conveniently omitted by the AG companies The only evidence that these new life forms in our food supply are "safe" is the claim by GE producers that no one has ever gotten sick or died from using them, but there is no way to verify this claim because there is no labeling required for these products and therefore no follow-up.

GE products can now be found in infant formula, soda, pizza, chips, cookies, cereal, candy, vitamins, ice cream, pasta, sauces, breads, oils, juice, sweeteners, animal products, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, butter, detergents, salad dressings, frozen dinners, milk, and many other products made from genetically engineered soybeans, corn, canola, papaya, potatoes, tomatoes, flax, sugar beets, yellow crookneck squash, radicchio, cotton, zucchini, rBGH dairy products, processing aids and enzymes. Without product labeling, consumers have no way of knowing which products contain GMOs and, as a result, consumers are denied the opportunity to make informed choices about the food they eat. The GE producers are against any labeling because they argue that GE is "safe."

Unless AG companies are stopped in their tracks by an international moratorium on GE products, they may soon become the new landlords of life on Earth by monopolizing the global market for seeds, food and medical products. GE companies are lying to consumers about the safety of these products and they are lying to farmers about their necessity.

Maybe it's time we did something about it. For starters, we can write or call our congressional representatives and ask that our tax dollars not be used to fund GE research at universities. We can also start buying products that are made from certified organic ingredients. Just because we humans have the technical ability to create new life forms and to clone existing ones does not mean we should be using these technologies except with great caution and with proper scientific controls. Our human greed for capital gain in the present should be stifled by a greater desire to make our impact on this planet as minimal as possible. Besides, we haven't even learned how to get along peacefully with our own species, so why should we be creating more?