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By Mike Andoscia

Survey Results from the Cambridge Class

As promised, here are the results from the Cambridge classes. The questions were the same.

There was greater diversity of opinion with regard to the Most Important Historical Event. However, 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama were central, with 9/11 playing a more central role with more students. The “All Others” category included the Crimean conflict, Syrian uprising, nuclear Korea/Iran, The Great Recession, the Iraq War and Sandy Hook.

Opinions about the Most Important Historical event were not gendered at all. The only significant demographic variable had to do with the importance placed on the election of President Obama. Few white students suggested this as their top choice.

The Cambridge course only covers US History from the 1840’s to 1941, so differences between AP students and Cambridge are expected. The Cambridge course places especial emphasis on the Progressive Era and the Depression, so it’s not surprising that that these two themes scored among the top. The Civil War is also an important theme. What is surprising is the fact that most students felt that the 1920’s had the greatest impact. The Cambridge course really does not emphasize the 1920’s as much as the other top scorers. Students who were most influenced by the 1920’s mostly explained that it had to do with the contributions to the arts from that time, especially dance. My high school is a center for the arts. This might explain this phenomenon.

There was more diversity of opinion about the most pressing challenges of the next 20-30 years than with the AP class. Cambridge students believed that war and conflict would play a more crucial role in their futures. As with the AP class, the economy was of concern to most students. Yet, as with the AP class, concerns about technology also scored high. What is it about this generation, the most technologically sophisticated and savvy of any previous generation, and their concerns about technology? Do they know something that the rest of us don’t? Or are they echoing the concerns expressed by their parents about the good old days when math was done in your head…la de da de da!?

Exercises like this really help me tune in to the student’s concerns and mindsets for the following year.


Some Interesting Survey Responses from My AP Students

I like to ask some survey questions on the final exam for my history classes. This year I received responses from eleventh grade Advanced Placement US History students and eleventh grade Cambridge US History students.

The questions were:

  1. What has been the most significant historical event to happen in your lifetime?
  2. Of the different historical eras studies this year, which do you feel was the most important and relevant in shaping your life and your future?
  3. What do you feel are the most pressing challenges that your generation will face in the next 20-30 years?

The results are eye-opening.

The election of Barack Obama was important, but 9/11 still looms largest over the lives of our young people by a wide margin.

In this area, there was an interesting breakdown by race. For Hispanics, the election of Barack Obama was foremost on the minds of more students than was 9/11, the only group for which this was so. Few white/other students, mentioned the election of Obama. Only one student mentioned Hillary Clinton running for president. Her response was not in reference to the 2008 election, but rather the 2016 election.

There was great diversity when it came to question two. The top three eras that students considered the most relevant were the Civil Rights Movement, the 1920’s and the Great Depression. Of which, the Civil Rights Movement was the most significant.

Again, there was a clear racial component.

When it came to the most pressing challenges, the economy was clearly the number one concern. The number two concern, however, was very surprising…

By “Technology” students expressed concern that technology would “take over.” Others believed that the ubiquity of technology in our lives would make us more complacent and lazy. Some suggested a fear that this technology could be used against us, or that it would ultimately fail us at some point.

Students were concerned about many other challenges, from health care to fossil fuel consumption to crime. Some students believed that political apathy was something to be concerned about. There were some who expressed their disdain for political corruption. However, none of the other categories stood out as being of significant concern to large numbers of kids. If passing on the national debt to our children is of importance to a significant part of the adult population, the youth are not particularly concerned. Only two students suggested that the debt was a major challenge. Nor were many students particularly concerned about the state of education.

The data above was taken from fifty-four AP students. There was little differentiation with regard to gendered opinions, so that data was not included. It cannot be assumed that the interests of AP students are representative of the school or the community as a whole. Still, I think it’s informative. Many of these students are our future leaders.

Next post will elaborate the data collected from the Cambridge students. The Cambridge curriculum is different from that of AP. It’s important to realize that having gone through these classes may motivate the students’ perceptions. For instance, I may have given greater weight to the Civil Rights Movement in my AP class than I gave to, say the 1920’s or to the Great Depression, hence their responses to question 2. However, the Civil Rights Movement is not covered in the Cambridge curriculum.


Cass Sunstein and Ezra Klein on Conspiracy Theories

Why People Embrace Conspiracy Theories

I’m of the belief that a big part of conspriacy theories is gaps in our information base, be it through secrecy or less devious means. The Kennedy Assassination comes to mind. Clearly, there is information that is missing from the history on that event. Human beings simply must try to make sense of our history, especially the most traumatic of events. When crucial information is missing, we are left to fill in the blanks. Conspiracy Theory allows for an easy way to do so.

 


Roots of Progessivism


Trayvon’s Right to Stand his Ground

there’s a key question that I really wish someone would ask with regard to the Trayvon Martin trial.did Trayvon Martin have a right to stand his ground?this isn’t just a key question fis probablyr the case, but also a clear weakness in the concept of a Stand Your Ground laws.

few conflicts are so simple as having an easily identifiable perpetrator and clearly identifiable victim. Usually both parties feel that they are justified in their actions. Zimmerman was probably sincere in his belief that Trayvon was a threat to his community. Perhaps this was motivated by race, or maybe it was motivated by the crime trends of the neighborhood as expressed by Zimmerman. He, therefore, felt justified in following Martin. When confronted by Martin, he almost certainly felt threatened.

What about Martin, however? Here was a young man being pursued by a stranger. Did he have, by virtue of Florida law, a right to stand his ground in the face of a threat? After all, the law should apply equally to Trayvon and to Zimmerman. Unfortunately, Trayvon did not survive the cinflict to make such a claim.

This is the hidden contradiction of Stand Your Ground laws. Only the survivor can make this defence. The law enshrines the dangerous ethic of “might makes right” or puts the law on the side of whoever shoots first.


Those Damned Whistleblowers

An interesting video from Lee Camp at leecamp.com

How do we justify imprisoning those who reveal crimes against humanity and abuses of power longer and more harshly than we do those who actually commit crimes against humanity and abuse power?

 


Imagine 7 Billion People all singing in harmony

United | Playing For Change from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

My new favorite website is playingforchange.com. I love the concept of people all over the world playing the same beautiful music.


A Mad Sociologist Hurricane Prediction

I hope I’m Wrong!

 

All of these states along the Eastern Seaboard, their budgets are already less than skeletal. They have nothing with which to pay for the necessary clean-up, repairs and human assistance they’ll face when the winds die down. All of these states will need, and will request, federal assistance to help. And that’s not unreasonable.

How much do you want to bet that Republicans in Congress will absolutely refuse to allocate a single dime for the relief effort unless significant cuts to government programs are enacted?

It wouldn’t be the first time conservatives were willing to use, if not create, a catastrophe to meet their sinister ends.


What if First Responders Returned in Kind the Respect They’ve Been Given This Last Year!

How sorry would that be!

At first, I was taken aback by the latest slight to our first responders nearing the ten year anniversary of 9/11. I saw a Facebook post decrying the fact that, due to space constraints, first responders were not invited to take part in the ten year memorial service for 9/11. I couldn’t believe it. Since Facebook is awash in false claims I decided to fact check the post. Of course, the best place to quell the rumor mill first is Snopes. Snopes confirmed the story. I then went to the CNN website, as identified as the source for the Snopes article. Again, I saw confirmation.

I thought, ‘Wow! This is unbelievable!’ What a slap in the face for first responders all over the country, let alone the very first responders who, despite very real space constraints, showed up on the day America suffered one of its greatest tragedies. The men and women have spent the last years carrying the scars and the burden of lost comrades with every job they perform for their communities and for their country. Now this snub from Mayor Bloomberg!

It only took a couple of minutes before I realized that this wasn’t really all that exceptional. After all, the last couple of years have attested to the disregard that politicians have for their first responders. Such disdain was apparent with the political fight over providing 9/11 first responders health care coverage when so many of them are falling victim to the fires and debris of that fateful day even ten years after the fact. It took nine years to enact legislation to provide such coverage. How long do those first minutes seem when you or a loved one are facing an emergency and you are waiting for the first responders to arrive! Imagine waiting nine years for fundamental care. For many 9/11 first responders, this legislation came too late.

Then we find out that this legislation denies coverage for cancer. Cancer! The most pressing concern of our sick heroes. So many of our first responders fell victim to al Qaeda that day ten years ago. Yet many more were further victimized by their own government.

Then we further insult our first responders by blaming their exorbitant pensions for state budget problems. So the pressure is on to make our public sector “pay its fair share” for our trying economic times. Make the first responders give up some of the overly generous largesse doled out to them at the taxpayer’s expense. But don’t you dare raise taxes on yachts and limousines. After all, those belong to the job creators (who don’t happen to be creating any jobs!). Of course, the fact that the pension scaremongering among conservative politicians is not true doesn’t stop them from demanding “shared” sacrifice from our first responders.

So we really shouldn’t be surprised that Mayor Bloomberg is snubbing his city’s first responders. He’s only demonstrating the larger disdain of the political elite. Just one more insult for our first responders to swallow as they dutifully serve their communities.

Imagine, however, if you called your police, or your fire department because of a dire emergency and they informed you that they could not respond because of space constraints!


Because Moderates Don’t Make History! That’s Why!

If President Obama wants to squander his presidency he should listen to folks like David Brooks and Evan Bayh

 

The punditocracy has been quickly at work presenting the diagnosis and cure for the current Democratic (or should I say democratic) malaise. They are almost exclusively of one voice. Overwhelmingly, they claim that Democrats over-reached by moving too far to the left and alienating otherwise moderate Americans. If Democrats want to succeed in the near future they will need to pursue a more moderate (read conservative) agenda. In essence, Democrats should be more like Republicans…uh…because Republicans have embraced a moderate agenda?

This was the advice of a tsk tsking David Brooks and of a stern rebuke from Evan Bayh admonishing Democrats to just shake off that pesky liberalism. After all, only about 20% of the population identifies as liberal. Of course, Brooks and Bayh offered the reviled Obamacare as a prime example of liberal over-reach. Democrats, according to Bayh and Brooks sneer that only extremists want things like universal health care and an effective social safety net. Democrats, stalking with Obama, should “reclaim the center.”

This is exactly the advice Democrats and Obama specifically should reject. Unless Obama wants the caption under his presidential picture to read, “First black president, followed by a convoluted lists of semi-reforms he should rather embrace a bold, liberal agenda. The failures of the Democrats were failures of claims-making, not policy. Democrats never developed and owned a discourse that went beyond slogans. They presented cumbersome legislation like Health Care Reform composed of a byzantine conglomeration of half measures and regulations (many of which were worthwhile) that could not be sold to a confused public. Republicans, on the other hand, were free to respond with death panels and government take-over of health care, and the same old socialist fear-mongering that has become a conservative staple. And for the most part, Democrats let them do it. Consequently, a health care bill full of popular measures became unpopular.

Let’s do a quick thought experiment on the subject. How many great moderate ideas have made history? Name one important, moderate. Go ahead, I dare you! Yeah, some might suggest Abraham Lincoln as a moderate. Perhaps he was of moderate temperament, but his actions, those decisions that earned him a great place in history books were far from moderate. They were bold as the times called for. From choosing to hold the nation together militarily to The Emancipation Proclamation, and yes, even the more negative decisions such as rescinding habeas corpus, Lincoln made bold decisions. His moderation may have tempered the hotter tempers of the time, but Lincoln’s presidency was not one of moderation. So Lincoln’s down. Name another.

Well, like the Civil War, and the Great Depression and all of the varied crises faced by the United States throughout history, the answer is not moderation. The answer is creative, innovative, bold proposals that will get people to work and rebuild out failing nation. Democrats did not lose because they went too far left. They lost because they didn’t lean fare enough to the left, and the country suffered as a result. Liberal ideas such as a new New Deal, a moratorium on foreclosures, meaningful finance reform, a public option, even prosecuting the most flagrant of Wall Street hucksters would have paid dividends. Even if these policies did not end the Great Recession, the people would have known that at the very least their government was working for them. With the half-measures put into play by Democrats, a great deal of capital evaporated with nothing in return.

When the nation was on the verge of the second Great Depression, for instance, most economists knew that the economy needed a significant infusion of cash into the system. Democrats moderated their position for political expediency, not to mention a fair share of cowardice. They did avoid another Depression, but rather than presiding over an economic recovery, they were left holding responsibility for a stalled economy—just as predicted by economists. A candidate just cannot run on the premise that “things could have been worse.”

The health care bill began as a mandate for liberal change. Obama was elected on the promise that he would create a comprehensive health care reform that included a public option, which Americans could choose to participate in if their expensive, private insurance was inadequate. The public option enjoyed support from about 70% of Americans. Yet when the time came, the Democrats faltered, moderated their position, and tossed the public option. The final bill was a largely conservative mandate on individuals to purchase insurance from private companies. Yet conservatives accused Democrats of presiding over a government take-over of health care. Instead of demanding that conservatives prove their accusation, Democrats responded with, “did not!” The few progressive regulations and ideas that remained in the final bill will take effect…someday. This is hardly a left wing over-reach.

In just about every arena the Democrats moderated their positions in the last two years. Financial reform was watered down; don’t ask don’t tell was tied up in meaningless committees; Guantanamo was closed without actually closing; torture was soundly condemned and then off-shored; the intelligence apparatus was not only perpetuated, but legitimized. Where’s the liberalism? Yeah, there were some bright spots. Some initial investment in green technology and infrastructure, some small business loans, a streamlined process for college loans, a tax cut nobody realized was happening. Moderate. Moderate. Moderate.

And where has that left the Democrats. The liberal base has been slapped in the face to the point where it is hard to justify giving Democrats our votes. David Brooks was obviously wrong when he advised Democrats to ignore the liberal base because 99% of liberals were going to vote for Democrats anyway. Well, we didn’t. We voted for liberals. Among the Progressive Caucus in the House only four candidates lost their seats. The Blue Dog Caucus, on the other hand, was cut in half when liberal voters found no reason for burning gas to show up at the polls.

I’ll admit that I was one to condemn this inaction on the part of Democratic voters. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that the majority of registered voters preferred Democrats in general over Republican in general. Yet specific Democrats did nothing but disappoint. Consequently, those who actually showed up were the conservatives. This is not the fault of the voter. It is the fault of the Democrat. Any citizen has the right to vote with their butts, by leaving them at home if there is no viable option. If Democrats want votes, they need to earn them; they need to inspire us to show up, not try to scare us with the certainty that if we don’t vote Democratic, then the others will surely win.

Liberals, left wanting, left the Democrats wanting for votes. Without the base, Democrats cannot win. This should be obvious at this point. To suggest that moderation is the key is entirely contradicted by the results of this election. Republicans certainly did not win by promoting a moderate discourse. They won because they motivated their base. So why should advice be different for Democrats? It shouldn’t.

Yes, Democrats need to attract the moderate vote. But the moderate vote is not contingent upon a moderate message. Moderates are not motivated by their ideology as are liberals and conservatives. Moderates are asking themselves, “am I better off than I was two years ago?” If the answer is in the negative, you will not get the vote. Moderates really don’t care about the deficit, because the deficit does not immediately impact them. We’ve lived with huge deficits since the Reagan Administration. Why should new deficits be any different? Moderates care about jobs, their children going to school, the trains running on time, so to speak. Liberal policies would have accomplished this if they were not moderated by spineless Democrats. Moderates will vote Democrat if they actually get something out of it.

The “shellacking” received by the Democrats this midterm was well deserved. By consistently turning their backs on their base, even insulting liberal supporters with legitimate demands, the Democrats demonstrated once again that they want liberals to set up the hall, but they are unwilling to invite us to the dance. Well now look at you.


Republicans Caught Lying…um…again

Really. How much longer do we have to keep going over this stuff?

 

So here’s the meme. Every time a Republican goes on the campaign stump they must use some version of the “Tax and Spend Liberal” staple of conservative politics. Democrats are all tax and spend liberals. They are going to take your money, give it and more to welfare queens who refuse to work (of course the insinuation will be “black” welfare queens).1

Everybody knows, at least everybody who watches Fox News, that taxes are skyrocketing under Democrats while spending is through the roof. We have to get these reckless Democrats out of office before they run the deficit so high it will wreck the economy.

And the bottom line is, this meme works. It’s been so drummed into our consciousness that we don’t even bother to question it any more. Well we should question it. As we know, conservatives are not necessarily bound by the evidence when they make their claims.

In fact, taxes haven’t and are not scheduled to “go through the roof” as is often the claim made by conservatives. The Obama Administration and the Democrat controlled (which does not mean liberal controlled) congress have passed a number of tax breaks since 2009. Even the much reviled stimulus included over $200 billion in tax cuts. Unfortunately, Obama and congressional Democrats receive no credit for this…because what amounts to $4o0 in tax breaks to individuals was delivered in the most cost effective way to maximize its impact on the economy, by simply eliminating it from federal withholdings. The tax cut appeared in all of our checks spread out throughout the year. This is the most meaningful way to encourage spending. This in contrast to President Bush, who spent millions in taxpayer dollars and tasked the federal bureaucracy with cutting checks for millions of Americans, much of which went to paying up credit card balances. In other words, Obama’s method was sensible, but not visible; Bush’s method was good, visible politics, but certainly insensible.

That’s not to say that there were and will be no tax increases, but we certainly can’t make the claim taxes are skyrocketing. Yes, if you make over $200,000 a year you experienced a tax increase. But then, you make $200,000 a year! Congratulations! You are financially stable and, even if your taxes doubled (which they didn’t) you would still be financially stable. And if you were a business owner, you got to take advantage of a number of tax credits from the very stimulus conservatives decry. Yes, there were some loopholes closed, but making it more difficult to squirm out of paying taxes is not a tax increase. The bottom line is that the vast majority of Americans saw their tax burdens go down.

Now, of course, there’s the debate about extending the Bush Tax Cuts. Conservatives refer to this as the greatest tax increase in history. All right. In fact, congressional Democrats and the Administration are planning on extending, even increasing, most of the Bush tax cuts…again, except for those who are in the best position to pay, rich people. For the rich, the tax increase isn’t exactly going to skyrocket. It will go back to the 2000 rates, about a 4% increase at the top marginal tax rate. This is not a new tax; it’s the old tax that is set to be reinstated as legislated by the Bush White House and a Republican congress. Remember this evil old tax? Back when the unemployment rate was around 3% and the United States had a budget surplus for the first time in over thirty years? Conservatives can’t make the claim that canceling the devastating tax cuts for the richest Americans is an economy killer.

Indeed, if conservatives wish to make the claim that our rising deficits are destroying the economy, then extending the Bush tax cuts would be devastating. Conservatives cannot be in favor of making the tax cuts permanent and claim they want to reduce the deficit unless they can find $3 trillion dollars to cut from the budget over the next ten years. Let me guess, the Defense Department isn’t worried. Conservatives have been reluctant to suggest what they would cut from the budget. I’ll give you a hint…Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Welfare, Education subsidies, college loans, unemployment insurance, enforcement of environmental and OSHA regulations, etc.

So the next case is that Federal spending is going through the roof. To make this case many conservatives use a measure of federal spending as a percentage of GDP. Well, yeah, when you look at it that way federal spending is soaring. But you have to understand that when such a comparative is made one must take two variables into account, GDP and federal spending. I’m lucky enough to be able to steal a graph from Nobel Economist Paul Krugman that effectively illustrates this case.

As you can see from the graph (click the graph to go to Paul Krugman’s Blog) federal expenditures as compared to the years 2001-2007 have changed little. Yes, a slight increase, largely representing greater demands on unemployment and programs like Medicaid. Certainly not the skyrocketing federal spending that conservatives complain about. Notice that the 2007-2010 timeframe includes the infamous Obamacare. Expenditures hardly budged. What did change was GDP—it collapsed. So yes, if you are comparing something against GDP it will look like it’s rising more than it is. As Krugman states, fractions have denominators. Perhaps conservatives skipped that day of math class. Or perhaps they’re just lying.

We also see that revenues have gone down. Now the responsible conservative would suggest that if revenues go down, then expenditures should go down. All right, that makes sense for a household, or a business. But imagine what would happen in the event the government reduced expenditures to match revenues? That’s right. Public works projects would grind to a halt, public employees would be put on the unemployment line and the overall unemployment rate would go up. Businesses that rely on such things as good roads or effective public services, or those that cater to public servant clientele like police officers or teachers (the coffee industry would certainly collapse) would founder. Then who do you think would be blamed?

You don’t have to look very far for an answer. The administration received a great deal of grief for the unemployment statistics last month. That’s not to say the administration didn’t deserve this grief, but all of the increase in unemployment was in the public sector.

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of how the Obama administration and the Democrats have handled this inherited economic crisis. It is obvious that maintaining the status quo of an elite, corporate aristocracy was paramount to the Obama agenda (which is the opposite of the socialist agenda he is accused of perpetuating). More money could have been invested in the demand side, the part of the economy composed of working Americans rather than blowing wads of funds on corporate bribery without a return on that investment. The Obama administration fell for the same old yarn that enough funds pushed into the hands of the wealthy will translate into jobs for the working class. This has instilled anger, even in erstwhile liberal supporters as we see corporate profits rise and jobs stagnate. Democrats could have been more forceful with a progressive jobs program. Yes, there are all kinds of things we can criticize the Democrats for.

But we should not accept the old canard of the “tax and spend” liberal. When we hear this we must understand that those who make such claims are either being dishonest, or they are delusional. Either way, we should not vote for them.


 


A Comprehensive National Jobs Program

Until Americans are back to work there is no honor to restore. If corporations won’t do it, then the government should.

 

That’s right, I said it. The government should get into the business of hiring. For generations we’ve been socialized to believe that it is the economic sector, dominated by corporations that provide the jobs. The role of the government is to create the atmosphere by which businesses will continue to hire, namely low taxes, lax regulation and nothing to say about wages and benefits. Let the invisible hand of the free market take care of all that stuff and all will be right with the world.

So for thirty years policies have been reshaped to maximize the potential of the free market to provide jobs and minimize the influence of government on the corporate elite, except in matters that enrich said elite, such as lucrative no-bid contracts, low interest loans, government subsidies to satisfy social needs and, who can forget, bailouts when everything goes horribly wrong.

Consequently…we have the highest sustained unemployment rate since the Depression. Currently, corporations from Wall Street to IT to supermarkets are raking in the profits. Great! We have been told time and again that corporate profits mean jobs. All corporations need is more money in their pockets, tax breaks especially. Then the hiring will begin. Indeed, it’s our high taxes that stifle hiring. So now we have rising profits and one of the lowest tax rates in history; so the hiring should begin any time now. Right? Unless, of course, this theory is balderdash.

With all of this money going into the pockets of the corporate elite, where are the jobs? After all, they are spending their money on advertising. Who are they advertising to? It turns out they are turning their attention to consumers in other nations. They really don’t need American consumers any more. Therefore, there’s no incentive to provide jobs for Americans. The bottom line is that corporations are not going to start hiring any time soon, especially when they can go anywhere in the world and hire people for pennies on the dollar that Americans require and provide no benefits.

In fact, we can make the argument that hiring Americans has never been the function for corporations. For a span of just over a hundred years American industry prospered by virtue of the availability of coal and oil and dynamic urban centers with growing populations. Eventually, labor was able to assert some power over the industrialists and reverse many of the Industrial Revolution’s greatest injustices. There was a time when an American worker could live the American dream with naught but a factory job. So long as the factors of production remained dependent upon local resources and labor and easy access to capital they were best served staying put and negotiating a balance of power with unions. But we must understand that this choice was in the historically specific best interests of the corporate elite, and the primary function of any institution is to perpetuate itself, nothing more.

Yet in the seventies and eighties corporations began to sever their ties to the local resources on which it thrived. The rapid advances in information technology, transportation and surveillance have opened the door to an industry no longer shackled to a localized identity. The multinational has been around in some form or another since the East India Companies. Today we can speak of a global economy and the opening of world markets. One company can purchase raw materials in one country, process those materials in another, assemble them in yet another then bring them to market in even another all the while the upper management can be directing these commodity chains from a laptop in Tahiti. The geo-presence of the corporation has become transitory.

There’s no reason to believe that this is going to change any time soon. Corporations have no inherent responsibility to hire anyone or to build anything in any one particular place. They are not patriotic when patriotism negatively affects the bottom line. This is what the economic landscape is going to look like from now on. Until the next great technological revolution there is no reason to believe that this landscape will level out for working Americans any time soon. And that next great technological revolution may not be one held in the working man’s favor. As it stands, we can no longer assume that corporations will have any part in building the American dream. Indeed, it’s more likely that we will have to build on this dream in spite of corporate interests.

Yet there is considerable work to be done. From the desire for green technologies to infrastructure, from the environment to education, America is falling apart at the seams. Instead of investing in high-speed rail Americans are actually tearing apart paved roads and laying gravel! Come on! This was the nation that built the transcontinental railroad and laid the trans-Atlantic cable (both with large government subsidies, I might add). Now China outpaces us in high speed rail and even wind energy!

So here’s the situation. We have work to do, and workers who want to do it. Yet corporations are sitting on their money. Well, it is their money to sit on (despite getting billions from the taxpayers. Possession is 9/10ths of the law). So what are we to do? Should we as a nation simply accept this atrophy because corporations are not willing to invest? Should we as a nation allow our human resources to languish idle with waiting hands? Of course not! No nation has ever thrived unless some governing authority was willing to invest in the potential of its citizens. At this point we already know that corporations are not willing to do that. So what are we waiting for?

Let’s let our representative government do its job and actually represent the citizens…all of the citizens, not just the rich ones. Here’s how we do it.

First, we recognize that meaningful work is a right. It is not a privilege administered by the elite members of our society to those fortunate enough to be so bestowed with meaningful work. Every citizen, every human being, has something to contribute to his community, his nation, and the world in general. And every citizen should be allowed to do so if he or she wants to. If corporations are unwilling to embrace the value of human potential then why should we try to bribe them with tax cuts and subsidies to do just that, especially when we already know that they are willing to take the money and run? If a man or a woman wants to work, then all means should be available to allow them to do so.

Secondly, we establish a comprehensive national jobs program in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC or WPA. Only we expand this program to be all inclusive. Universal employment! If we want green technology then let’s invest in it by investing in the human potential to build it. Better roads? There are men and women out there who want to do it. High speed rail? Let’s start building it now.

What’s more, these jobs should pay a living wage. There is no reason why a working man and woman should have to live in poverty, and certainly no reason why their children should be so condemned. If we want people to work then work should be worth doing. The common sense paradigm is wrong. Welfare does not discourage people from working, low wages and no benefits discourage people from working. Why should I work if working doesn’t actually raise me out of poverty? Meaningful work involves meaningful compensation, including pay that allows for a quality standard of living, funds set aside for a comfortable retirement, access to health care, education and other life chances for the family. This is what human beings work for; not for pay, but for a secure and prosperous future.

Yet the conservatives are correct in suggesting that such a program creates dependence on the government, and that is dangerous. They are correct. Meaningful work should also involve opportunities to learn new trades and skills and develop new potential in the individual. Trades, skills and potential are something that the individual can take with her anywhere she goes. With increased knowledge and competence one is never dependent. It is those very qualities that vouch independence.

Yes, but Mike, how are we going to pay for this? Such a program would be ruinously costly to our nation. After all, we can’t keep building deficits. Well, true. There is most likely going to be an initial deficit for such a program. This deficit won’t last long, however. First, we will no longer be paying welfare or Medicaid or any such entitlement. If people are working and making a living wage there will be no such need (and I’ll address universal health care later). Increased pay in the hands of working Americans means there will be demand for consumer goods, as well as a growing tax base. There will be no reason to raise taxes on working Americans.

However, we will have to raise taxes on that sector of the population that has turned its back on America. And I see no problem with that. We can start with a steep import tariff on all consumer goods. If you are a corporation which wants to sell its products in the United States, but you are unwilling to actually hire Americans, then you should have to pay for access, call it an impact fee. Companies that hire a percentage of resident American workers should have that percentage taken from their import fees, after all, those are workers who are not on the government payroll. We can even use tax incentives to encourage American companies to provide the same compensation and working standards as will the government program. If a company does not want to pay these taxes and tariffs all they have to do is open shop in the US and follow basic rules for respecting labor.

One could argue that these taxes and tariffs would simply drive up the costs of consumer goods, and ultimately nullify the effects of higher wages. Yes, raising taxes can be shifted to the consumer, but only so much. Remember your high school economics class? Raising costs lowers demand. At some point the business cannot raise costs because consumers will refuse to purchase their products. At the same time, other producers will find cheaper means by which to produce these products, such as manufacturing them in the United States. Three cheers for the free market in action!

Of course this idea would be hard fought in our government as it stands now. You will hear fear mongering about socialism and Stalinist tyranny and other nonsense. Understand that the real reasons corporations don’t want to see this kind of program has nothing to do with tyranny. Corporations are more than happy doing business with tyrants if it works in their favor. No. The problem is that such a program would empower American workers. It would create an alternative to working for a deadbeat corporation providing starvation wages and no benefits. Talk about dependency, conservatives have no problem with working Americans being dependent on the corporate elite while they decry dependence on government. A universal jobs program would break that cycle of corporate dependency; one that more often than not dispossesses working Americans.

Opposition to this policy has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with power. A strong demand base should be a goal for the corporate elite, because such a population will become solid consumers of corporate goods and services. Yet corporations refuse to build such a demand base. It’s about power, keeping the vast majority of Americans desperate and in their place…yes, dependent.

There is no reason why a government should not invest in its own human resources to accomplish its goals. There’s no reason to depend on a capricious corporate elite to fulfill this function. Let’s accept that conservatives are correct, that corporations owe no loyalty to America and are not responsible for improving the lives of working Americans. So we should, through our elected representatives, take matters into our own hands.

A universal jobs program.

 


 


Restoring American Honor

Requires Purging Dishonorable Corporations from our Political Process

 

I’m not afraid to admit it. I was inspired by the “Restoring Honor” Glenn Beck rally. In fact, I agree with Beck that The United States has fallen into disrepute not only in our international relations, but with our own citizens as well. The reality is that our government does not represent the citizens any more than it stands for the best interests of individual rights and freedom all over the world. The United States is looked at as a colossus driven by corporate greed. Whereas I do not agree with Beck’s proposed solutions for restoring honor, there is no question that honor must be and can be restored. I will dedicate a number of observations toward the goal of restoring American honor and its rightful place as the world’s greatest proponent of human freedom, achievement and potential.

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The first step to restoring honor is to establish a political system that is up for the job. I’ve always said that we have the best government that money can buy…and it has been bought, paid for, sealed and delivered to the corporate elite. It has gotten to the point where I, among others, have abandoned reference to the United States as a democracy for a truer description of the nation as a corporatocracy.

The truth of this statement is increasingly obvious. The government of the United States at almost every level, from local city councils, county commissions, through state legislatures and executives to the US Congress and the White House acts as an arm of the myriad and interconnected corporate boardrooms. The “government” of our nation, once the vanguard for representative government throughout the world, the brainchild of the founders, the result of sacrifice and blood-shed among soldiers and activists and dissidents, has been sold off piecemeal to the least deserving among us. We no longer have a representative government, at least not a government that represents the interests of common Americans. Indeed, we really don’t have a government to call our own. The United States government represents only those who can pay for it in cash. Hence the concept of American democracy is a laughing stock throughout the world.

If there is any hope in restoring American honor then the first step must be to restore the one institution that is the backbone of that honor. We must end the predominance of corporate influence in our government.

It is in this area that we have lost the most ground. The Supreme Court has ruled that, in essence, money is speech. This is, of course, insane. Money is not the same as speech. Money is an extrinsic, quantifiable object. If money is by its very virtue a “right” then those who have the most money have, quantitatively, more rights. But by virtue of our most revered canon, The Declaration of Independence, rights are endowed by “a” creator and are inalienable. Money, to my knowledge, is neither divinely endowed nor inalienable (I have personal experience with being “alienated” from my money). Indeed, as far as corporations are concerned, money is “endowed” by unwitting and unwilling taxpayers at their own expense. This taxpayer funded corporate welfare frees up vast coffers of campaign contributions (read “bribes”) to our so called representatives to vote against our own best interest. This is the system our Supreme Court has legitimized, and I can’t conceive of a less legitimate system for perpetuating a democracy. Money politics has bypassed working Americans.

Restoring honor means restoring accountability of our representatives to the people whom they are supposed to represent.

The first order of business is to purge the system of mammon. We can start by simply making it illegal for corporations to donate to candidates or to campaigns. This is not a denial of free speech. Listen carefully. ONLY PEOPLE HAVE rights. Corporations are not people; therefore they do not have rights. Corporations exist at the whim of the government and the public in which they exist. Indeed, they often exist at the expense of the government and said public.

The suggestion that a corporation is a collection of individuals with rights and, therefore, has rights as such is ludicrous. Human beings have no more rights as a collective than as individuals. What they have more of is power, and power should never be confused for rights. No individual is being denied their right to speak when a corporation can’t spend its money. Each individual within the corporation can express himself or herself as freely as anyone else, by writing letters, editorials, participating in interest groups, assembling with like minded people, etc. One’s corporate status does not affect that.

A corporation does not have a family, will not get sick and require health care. A corporation will never lose its job. Most dramatically, a corporation will never lose its life on a battlefield for the sake of freedom. To equate a corporation with human qualities is a slap in the face of every working American, every sacrificing activist, every soldier who ever deployed knowing he may never return to his family. Rights belong to those who have something to lose.

Of course, there’s the option for a corporation to invest in political advertising or political motivated programming that would be difficult to regulate. This really can’t be restricted in any fair way. However, it can be taxed—heavily—with regard to corporations. Serious consequences can be put in place to discourage corporate financing of elections, candidates or the propaganda that goes with it. Indeed, many innovative ideas have been proposed.

Also, disclosure must be enforced under such circumstances. Full disclosure. Americans should know immediately who is funding their candidates. They shouldn’t have to dig through byzantine jumbles of FEC reports to know if their politician is beholden to coal companies. A coal company shouldn’t be able to hide behind a “Clean Energy” PAC that they created and present that as the funder for an advertisement extolling the virtues of mountain-top removal. Full disclosure should require parent companies and affiliates to take responsibility for their own ads in the ads themselves. This also keeps politicians from hiding behind a benign sounding PAC. If a politician wants to be endorsed by BP, he or she should be forced to run on that decision. Similar legislation has been proposed, but it is vigorously opposed by corporate lobbyists. I wonder what corporations have against disclosure.

Publicly Financed Elections

Many states have created public financing programs for their elections. They have, since, been under attack by corporate lobbyists. After all, it’s understood that seats in offices should be reserved for the wealthy or for those beholden to the wealthy. A robust public financing, however, allows teachers and activists and common, working people to run for office. All they have to do is show they are legitimate candidates by securing signatures and/or a significant amout of small contributions. Such programs have demonstrated that they can increase competitiveness in legislative races.

Publicly funded elections can also allow opportunities for third party candidates to come into the race. Imagine a politics with a diverse discursive context—radical ideas, innovative ideas and mainstream thought battling it out for legitimacy rather than the same milquetoast, warmed-over sound bites that pass for political debate today.

Strict limits can be placed on the amount of money individuals can spend on candidates. Perhaps a tax can be placed on all political financing over $2000, the money to be placed in the public financing coffer. Again, this is not restricting speech. Wealthy individuals can speak exactly the same way poor people do, letters to the editor, phone calls, blogs, etc. Being able to call a candidate and threaten to pull your funding if he doesn’t vote your way should not qualify as speech. It should be considered exactly what it is—extortion. When a candidate can draw on a neutral funding source, she can vote her conscience rather than be burdened with potential campaign shortfalls in her next election.

The law can be written that all candidates must take public funding and private contributions cannot surpass the amount received through public funding. Or it can be mandated that in all campaign appearances or advertisements it be made clear that the candidate has refused public financing.

As a corollary to public financing, time should be set aside in electronic media to express a platform. All such media function through exploitation of the Electro-Magnetic Spectrum. The EMS is a natural resource, no different than air or water. The public often has to pay for information that travels through this medium as private companies require market incentive to provide this service. That’s fine. But the EMS still belongs to the citizens. Mandated time should be set aside for the public good, including access to mainstream, prime-time media for all viable candidates.

Debates

All candidates on the ballot should participate in televised debates. This is something that the Republicans and Democrats fear more than anything. The last thing in the world that these two anemic entities want to do is contend with a vibrant, new challenger with real ideas. They made that mistake in 1992 when they opened the debates to a third party candidate, the pugnacious and extremely wealthy Ross Perot. His campaign was a deciding factor in the election, most likely lifting Bill Clinton to the presidency.

Since then, both parties have been complicit in locking the debates to all but Republicans and Democrats. Presidential candidate Ralph Nader was not only blocked from participating in the debates, but wasn’t even allowed to be in the audience despite the fact that he had a ticket to attend. He was barred from debate hall by police officers. American voters were never allowed to discern how Nader’s platform held up to the lame the offerings of Al Gore and George Bush.

If a candidate can get on the ballot in a majority of states he or she should be allowed to debate and put their platform against the limp planks of Republicans and Democrats. Candidates who are on a minority of state ballots should be allowed advertising time during the debates to help increase their exposure. If the United States really is a democracy and a marketplace for ideas, then why should we be limited to just two options? This should be a mainstay of conservative thought.

The corporate funded, Republicrat monopoly on the electoral system and over the marketplace of ideas must end. Currently our representatives include 237 millionaires. The median worth of senators is about $1.8 million while in the house it’s over $600,000. Over 400 of our legislators are lawyers or businessmen while over 250 refer to themselves as, in essence, as professional politicians. So what part of this representative government actually represents us, ordinary Americans? When a group representative of less than 2% of the population, millionaires, takes up over 40% of the seats in the legislative body can we really call that body “representative?” It’s certainly not representative of the people, rather than certain very wealthy people.

Gerrymandering

Probably the most profound conflict of interest in modern politics is in the drawing of political boundaries. How do we justify giving politicians the power to define their own districts? The consequence of this indiscretion is called gerrymandering, the creation of absurd districts that follow the course of party distribution rather than reasonable population variables.

Congressional districts should be drawn by professional demographers based on legitimate and reasonable democratic concerns, not the best interest of a particular party or politician. Population factors such as ethnicity, socio-economic status, age cohorts, even predominant industries or occupations should influence the drawing of contiguous boundaries around districts. The goal should be to maximize representation. When a district looks ridiculous, as does Illinois’ 4th, then it probably is ridiculous. Such districts can be minimized through the same peer review process that any scientific study must undergo.

Term Limits: An Idea We Should Reject

Over the years I’ve entertained the possibility of term limits for legislators. I saw it as a way to get the entrenched, professional politician out of the chambers of government in favor of new and more sincere, even idealistic blood. After all, almost half of our legislature self identifies as professional politicians, or “public servants.”

I would love to limit my own so called representative, Connie Mack, to two terms. I lament the fact that he will most certainly be re-elected until he dies. However, after considerable thought on this subject I must admit that I have changed my mind. I no longer believe in term limits as a viable solution to our political malaise.

I simply don’t see a reason to assume that a politician limited to, say two terms, will be replaced by someone of a higher quality once his terms are over. The system, as it is established, is designed to assure the assumption of elite groups to the echelons of power. Unless that system is changed, it is unrealistic to assume term limits would be effective. The process by which we elect someone like Connie Mack, or some kook, idiot, con-man, etc is exactly the same as the process of re-electing Connie Mack or some kook, idiot, con-man. The possibility of being duped by professional politicians and spin doctors exists in every election, whether it involves an incumbent or not. In the event that one is lucky enough to have a representative who is actually effectual and honest, why limit that person’s terms in office?

Also, there’s the philosophical argument against term limits. In a democracy, should the people decide who they elect? Why should the people be limited in their choices when they have a representative whom they wish to re-elect? As much as I dislike Connie Mack, he’s very popular in this district. The people of this district should be allowed to vote for him, even if I don’t understand the appeal. If a candidate I liked, a Dennis Kucinich or a Russ Feingold, were elected in my district (shortly before hell freezes over), I would want to support them indefinitely. After all, that’s what a democracy is about…for better or for worse.

 

Restoring honor to the United States will be a long, arduous, political process. It won’t come from a faith in God or a strict adherence to the Constitution and the supposed will of the Founders. Restoring honor means addressing the very real, tangible, problems that tarnish the national pride. As will be elaborated in this series of commentaries, most of this tarnish can be traced to the demands of elite interests. A politics beholden to the moneyed classes is inherently undemocratic and ultimately dishonorable. Take a look at the track record of corporate America. How can we assume that these people, serving only their own greed, will finance a reputable and honorable system that represents anypone other than their shareholders.

If we want our democracy back we must defeat the corporatocracy that stifles it. Then we can begin to restore honor.