Monday, February 27, 2012

Time and Distance Provide Perspective

It’s my birthday this month.  I was born in the fifties.  I was a kid in the sixties when President John F. Kennedy was shot dead.  The news wasn’t good.  In the same decade I also witnessed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.  I lived in L.A., thus that particular incident was close to home.  Other news items I witnessed were the Watts Riots in South L.A. and others like it in cities across the nation.  I witnessed the Vietnam War protests, and the Hippie movement: “Make Love not War!”    I also saw our astronauts walk on the face of the moon.

Then came the seventies, the Disco Decade; there was Watergate and the resigning of President Richard M. Nixon from office, in disgrace.  During my youth, I remember older folks (many who were as old as I am now), forty, fifty, sixty year-olds, worrying about where this nation was heading.  As far as they were concerned, the nation was going to pot, literally speaking as well as figuratively speaking.  The seventies witnessed the first oil embargo, sky rocketing gas prices, lines of cars at the gas pumps, “No Gas” signs at local gas stations, and out of control inflation.  Yes, way back in the seventies we were already talking about the need to find alternative and renewable energy sources and the need to make more efficient cars with better gas mileage.  Even back then I remember thinking that the U.S. auto makers were missing the point, even as better-made less-expensive foreign-cars started making inroads in the U.S. auto market—with funny sounding Japanese names like Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.

In my lifetime, I have seen us engage in wars that we really should have avoided and have seen us topple foreign governments we should have left intact, and support foreign governments we should have abandoned.  And then I have seen us bewildered when we get a backlash such as when the U.S. embassy was attacked in Tehran at the end of the seventies and Americans taken hostage.  My guess is that most Americans still don’t know why the Iranians were so mad at the U.S. at the time.  We are ignorant of our own geo-political history in that area.  Speaking of history, do we remember when the then USSR invaded Afghanistan?  It didn’t go so well.  Does anyone remember that?  Apparently we don’t learn much from history or we simply ignore it altogether.

I have seen greed run rampant at the expense of the average Joe on the street; for example, I have seen industry plunder lakes, rivers, hills and valleys, leaving behind a toxic wasteland for taxpayers to clean up after them.  I have seen huge mega-companies become too big for their own good and grow arrogant, overly self-assured and confident, and then suddenly disappear.  In my humble opinion, the U.S. Auto companies should have done thirty years ago what they are finally just now beginning to do—reinventing themselves, re-tooling, re-envisioning, seeking to become cutting edge and relevant again.  As I see it, our banks and the banking industry should do the same.  They seem to also have become arrogant, overly self-assured and self-interested.  They too need to wake-up and realize that, like the U.S. Auto industry, they can’t continue to stay on the path that they’ve been on.  Good banking is not just about making money at the expense of the little guy, it is about serving the economy and its people.

So, my experience teaches me that one must learn to respect a people’s conscience, their faith convictions, their social values, and their sense of justice and fair-play.  Government must monitor, protect, and sustain a just and level playing field for all.  It must see that a varied and diverse people under its rule must enjoy the same protections so as to have equal opportunity and to experience the same justice in a court of law.  In short, it must see to it that a popular but unjust majority voice does not get its way at the expense of a small but just minority voice or, on the other hand, that a small economic powerful minority voice does not unfairly dominate and quench the rights of an economic weaker but popular majority voice.

The decisions that our leaders make will affect us for generations to come.  Thus, it is not merely a question of who wins the majority vote.  It is a question of what is good, what’s right and/or best for the nation as a whole.  It cannot and should not merely be a question of who has the money, but how that money is made, spent, collected, distributed, and accounted for.  It is a question of truth, justice, and integrity.  This is always the case.  But can our leaders see the forest for the trees?  Can they make decisions beyond political expediency and do what is right and good simply because it is right and good for all, for the nation, for humanity?  Or do special interest groups have them in their pocket—money, greed, and power?

Monday, February 20, 2012

It’s About Economic Injustice, NOT Income Inequality

Either Rick Santorum is missing the point or he is deliberately putting up a red herring.  To miss the point is bad enough.  But, to deliberately skirt the real issue by changing the terms—thereby redirecting the subject—is far worse.

The issue is not about “income inequality.”  Yes, there will always be a difference in people’s income.  Thus, there will always be income inequality.  Yes, we do live in a “meritocracy” where people earn more than others because they work harder or smarter than others and because they have developed better abilities and skills than others.  But that is not the point.

The point, the real issue, is economic injustice, not income inequality.  There is a big difference between the two.  For example, tax-laws that stack-the-deck against the middle class and/or the little guy, in favor of the rich and powerful, is a matter of economic injustice.  Presently there are tax-laws and economic rules and regulations that favor the wealthy over against the middleclass.  The fact that Mitt Romney paid less than 15% tax-rate on the millions of dollars that he made in the past couple of years is a prime example of this economic injustice.

Rick Santorum says that he has no problem with “income inequality.”  Neither do I and neither do most Americans.  It is a given, it’s a fact of life.  It is the way the real world works.  In other words, “income inequality” is a non-issue Mr. Santorum.  But “economic injustice” is the issue: tax-laws should not favor the rich and powerful over against the middleclass.  The rich should be given no special breaks or be handed no special privileges.

Yet, the extremely wealthy are paying a lot less of their fair share of the tax burden, while the little guy is carrying more and more of the burden that this nation carries in terms of economic debt and obligations.  That is our problem.  This is the real issue.  As we all know.  Numbers don’t lie.  It is a fact.  The rich are getting richer while the middleclass is shrinking and the poor are getting poorer.  This is a result of economic injustice, economic laws and regulations that favor the wealthy.  It is not a mere matter of differences in income or “income inequality” as Santorum puts it.

So, Mr. Santorum, what do you have to say about economic injustice?  Are you just being naĂ¯ve and missing the point altogether?  If so, this is a problem: You are not getting it!  Or, are you throwing up a red herring so as to avoid the real subject affecting our economic woes.  If this is the case, it becomes a question of motive and integrity.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Government: Good, Bad, a Necessary Evil?

As a good father or mother you govern your children.  You bring order.   You regulate the family’s finances.  You expect your children’s respect and input, their cooperation, and you even tax them: they are expected to do chores, yard work, trash out, clean their bedroom/bathroom, etc.  That’s taxing.  They too must carry their share of the household upkeep.  You set standards, establish rules, discipline them for misbehavior or reward them for good behavior.  In short, you have no problem wielding your authority, exercising your power as a parent to govern them.

Why government?  Without government we’d either have chaos or severe oppression by unscrupulous and brutal thugs.  That’s why.  Government must govern.  It must establish order, set laws, and regulate.  Government is actually a good thing, not a necessary evil as some would have us think.

Thus, it is not government, as such, that is our problem.  Yet, every election-year we hear the same mantra, crying out, “Government is bad, it’s too big, it’s too controlling,” and so-on and so-forth.  It’s like the child who says, “I hate my dad!”  Why?  “Because, he won’t let me have my way and do whatever I want.”  Really?!  That’s a good thing, isn’t it?  Imagine if everyone in any given society literally did what they wanted, had their own way, especially in the realm of money and economics.  There are a lot of sharks out there who would eat you up alive, at the drop of a dime.

Thus, government regulation is good.  It protects.  It protects the ecology.  It protects the weak and innocent.  It protects the minority and those with less-than.  It protects the powerless and helpless.  It protects the little guy.  Regulation protects us.  For example, economic and banking regulation protects our pocketbook from the unscrupulous wealthy powerful.  Food and health regulation protects us from epidemic diseases.  Auto regulation protects us from unnecessary bodily injury.  Insurance regulation protects us from fraud.  You get the picture.  Government, regulation, is helpful, protective.

Sure, there is bad government too.  But having no government at all or reducing it to nothing more than a rubber-stamper to special powerful interest groups is even worse.  Good government is a just and equitable government.  Good government protects and watches out for all its citizens not just a chosen few.  Good government neither exploits nor wastes in the name of profit.  Good government neither favors the few wealthy and powerful, nor crushes the poor and needy.  Good government regulates with the aim of creating a fair and just society so as to provide fair and just opportunities to all its citizens.  Good government builds, strengthens, and expands its middleclass, thereby empowering the majority of its citizens.

Thus, I am wary of those who run for election based on a platform that says government is bad or too large or too controlling or is too much.  Why then are they running to occupy the very office that will hand them the very same governing powers they seem to be attacking?  Once in office they never say, now I want less power.  They simply take that same power that comes with the office and wield it in their favor, forgetting that, in a democracy, those in office are to serve the people—all the people, in the best interest of the nation/state/community as a whole.

So what should we-the-people want from our government?  We should want protection from abuse.  We should want justice and fairness with respect to money and business, health and medical care, environmental protection, employment and educational opportunities, and fair and just access to precious resources, be it food, water, gas and heating oil, communications & transportation systems etc.

Look at the way the Banking Industry has handled the housing crises.  That alone should teach us that, without government, we will be taken-advantage of, by big powerful and wealthy self-interest.  So let’s vote for good government not just for a less-government mantra that really serves only to support the special self-interest government of the wealthy and powerful few.

Monday, February 6, 2012

We need NO MORE New Prisons

Pennsylvania taxpayers are paying well over thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) per year, per inmate that are housed within our State Correctional Institutions.  While Governor Corbett has cut nearly 1 Billion dollars from our education system and has made massive cuts to other important state services and programs, Corbett seeks to expand nine existing prisons and build three brand new ones.  SCI Graterford, here in our Skippack/Schwenksville neighborhood is slotted for a new addition/add-on.  During this era of fiscal austerity, Pennsylvania really cannot afford to spend $685 Million to house more people behind bars.

Our simplistic Get Tough on Crime policies have failed us.  This knee-jerk, lock-them-up and throw-away-the-key reaction of ours has neither reduced crime nor made us safer nor eliminated the cause of crime.  If it worked, we’d be building less not more prisons, housing less not more inmates.  We are wasting good tax-payer money on a new Prison Industrial Complex, a prison industry that thrives on our overeager belief that, if we automatically lock up everyone who breaks the law, we will reduce crime and make our streets safer.  NOT!

The state of Pennsylvania is a national leader in incarceration.  Yet this same state falls behind in education, employment, and environmental protection services.  We are moving in the wrong direction.  We have a bloated prison system, which is only getting worse.  For we have virtually had thirty years of limitless spending on our prison system.  Enough is enough.  If other states are able to reduce their prison system, saving billions of tax-payer money, and at the same time keep their streets safe from crime, so can Pennsylvania.

Our state’s mass incarceration policy is destroying families and communities.  It disproportionately affects the poor and, more pointedly, people of color.  It also means fewer jobs in more appropriate areas of public services such as education, public health, environmental protection services, and job training and development.  Expanding our prison population and building more prisons is actually making things worse, making us less safe and more vulnerable.  I urge you therefore to consider giving your support to a grass roots organization called DECARCERATE PA.

DECARCERATE/PA is a coalition of organizations and individuals who seek to end mass incarceration and the harms it brings to our communities.  DECACERATE/PA seeks mechanisms to establish and maintain whole, healthy communities and believes that our overuse of imprisonment as an answer to crime only exacerbates the problems we face.

DECARCERATE/PA therefore seeks an immediate and lasting moratorium on all new prisons: no new prisons, no new county or city jails, no prison expansions, no new beds in county jails, no immigrant detention facilities, no private prisons.

DECARCERATE/PA is also working to pass legislation to move people out of prison—rehab, reform, and reintegrate—taking steps necessary to secure socially responsible, personally secure, and economically viable communities in our state.

DECARCERATE PA meets every 2nd and 4th Monday at the Institute for Community Justice (21 S 12th Street, 7th floor; 267/217-3372).  See their website at “decarceratepa.info” or write to “decarceratePA@gmail.com.”