Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Long-Term Fiscal Strategy And Community Built Recovery or Enough Of This Bullshit Already!

The talking heads are alive. Stories about the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” are being recycled so often on the 24 hour news networks that you would think it was an emergency or something, but no one is talking about solutions. They are so distracted by the political capital being spent on the “Grand Compromise” that they are failing to address the questions that would solve the crisis in the first place.

The two big initiatives are tax increases on the rich (finally) and “entitlement reform.” The two political parties are so polarized that Congress is treating the security of veterans, the elderly, and the poor like a game of Monopoly. All that those fat cats on Capitol Hill care about is getting their way… and why not? Corporations and the rich have spent billions of dollars investing in their interests via lobbying and campaign contributions, but I think we can do better. I think we can envision a future that does not take the status quo and treat it as heritage, but critically evaluates the present reality of living in America and puts its resources to solving problems. That is how you grow an economy, build national security, and create a populocentric political climate.

As I mentioned earlier one of the key issues in the debate is the fate of the Bush tax cuts. This is a no brainer. The wealthy have had their unfettered fun for decades. It is time that the era of deregulation and “setting the bull loose” came to an end. The 2012 landslide win for President Obama does not indicative the rising of the northern star, but it does show pretty clearly that the culture of America has changed. Voters want a more egalitarian society where everyone has an equal shot and equal rights. Politicians must come to grips with the reality that the values of the voter block have outgrown the archaic ideas of conservative dogma. The People want everyone to have equal access to a world-class education, healthcare (which I will return to in a moment), and public support.

We must invest in America. Poor children in North Philadelphia should not shoulder the weight of declining schools so that the rich can put more money into their corporate investments. We need to invest in people. There is no reason we cannot build high-speed rail lines between major regional hubs. What would happen to the economy if people from Philadelphia could commute to New York and vice versa in 30 minutes?  There is no reason we cannot employ enough teachers to have smaller more flexible classrooms. How much better would our kids compete on an global level if the math and science teachers only had 10 kids to a class? How much would the private sector benefit if healthcare costs were absorbed by government investments (such as high-speed rail lines and subsequent taxes) so families had an extra couple of thousand dollars a year to spend? They could buy new American made electric cars to shuttle their kids back and forth to the basketball games that mom and dad can afford to take the time off work to take them to.  But how do we pay for it?

The successful have a moral duty to invest in the people the way the people have invested in them. The expiration of the Bush tax cuts are a step in this direction. In the end American history will read that the rich were brave enough to put their wealth back into their country. The question is whether it will happen willingly.

In return for these revenues the Republicans want “entitlement reform.” Their basic premise is still political. They want to privatize Medicare to put more money in the hands of people who have been stealing from the meek since modern medicine was invented. Additionally, they want changes in Obamacare—why? That bill in itself is already a huge giveaway to insurance companies. It’s the most conservative piece of legislation Obama has passed! True healthcare reform would grant equal access to the greatest care in the world to everyone regardless of money. The conversation about Obamacare is nothing more than old timey political maneuvering to gain leverage for party politics. The people didn’t vote for your agenda! They voted for equally allocated access to the promises of America. Obamacare should have included universal access to a public option. There is no reason to change this bill. I think throw it out too, but replace it with real transformational revolutionary change.

The third avenue that the talking heads are bobbling up and down about is the military budget. Unless this grand compromise is reached there is a $500B cut to the military budget. Both parties treat this question as if Osama Bin Laden is watching TV and waiting for the military budget to be cut, so that he can launch an all out offensive of the US. I need to say this pretty bluntly: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other so-called terrorists organizations are farmers who are attacking western troops because they want them to leave their home. Pull out of the Middle East and they will settle back into their every day lives. How are they going to attack America if we aren’t there? Are they going to fly here in the airplanes they don’t have? If not how are they going to attack? We have the most invasive security measures since 1984. Try to get into a US airport with any sort of weapon. Good luck with that. The terrorists can’t get here. Enough said. Stop with the Middle East wars.

If those wars are cut out of the budget then you don’t need that extra $500B. The deficit goes down, Americans are safer, and we can turn the greatest military force the world has ever known toward conflicts that actually need it. The conservatives can have their huge military. I will compromise on that. We do not need to spend the fortunes that we do now, but even without that 500B we would still would have the most dominant and intimidating military force the world has ever known. I, myself, am a pacifist, but I also recognize that the military-industrial complex cannot be disintegrated in one fell swoop. Still there are conflicts in the world that could use our help: Syria, the DRC, and Uganda, for example. If you must maintain your military at least have it do some good, but it definitely does not need to grow. Our military is bigger than the next 25 biggest combined (and all of those are allies!). It is a fantasy to think that farmers in Afghanistan pose a threat to the US. Right now they pose a threat because we are on their soil. When that stops you will notice the threat level decrease significantly.

What about “entitlement reform”? The conservatives have been banging this drum since they have been a party. “Lazy people are mooching off the government,” one may say; “Socialism!” another may hand down from the mountain. The problem is that no one has stopped to evaluate the cause of the solvency issue when it comes to Medicare and Social Security. How many times have you heard about the insolvency of the safety net until recently? Relatively few I would presume. During the prosperity of the Clinton years (which had a myriad problems all of its own) no one was protesting the legitimacy of the social safety net. The poor were still struggling and the rich were still eating filets on gold plates. It wasn’t an issue. For decades folks had been paying into the very safety net that they themselves wanted to be able to benefit from in their time of need. It is only recently that party polarization—mostly fueled by the mass-media-industrial-complex—has divided the country on ideological lines.

Both parties want to paint themselves as the champions of their respective positions. For Democrats they are looking out for the middle class; The conservatives want a smaller government. What about the poor? What about the long-term community building it is going to take to rebuild sections of New York and New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy? Congress is engaged in one big circle jerk of who can compromise the least, cum last, and still come out on top. 

The problem with “entitlements” is not their solvency or deontological value: it is the government’s ineptitude when it comes to responding to crisis, whether it be Hurricane relief or relief from the disaster of capitalism. There is no reason why the government cannot involve itself in internal affairs. If there is an 8% unemployment rate why are you leaving private sector fat cats to pick up the slack? From the unfettered capitalism of the Reagan years to the abolition of Glass-Steagall, the rich and powerful have set themselves up to win no matter what. If they gamble away the pensions of public employees it is simply a matter of collateral damage, but when they go broke whom do they come running to? The people. We do not have to fall back to the policies of the 50’s. If you are a free market capitalist when the banks fail you let those motherfuckers die, then you pick up the pieces and rebuild, but that’s not what happened.

The banks shrugged off their losses as the acceptable consequence of fate while people’s paychecks were emptied into the coffers of the greedy… and we still operate this way! The problem is not the social safety net; the problem is what the big banks and government are doing with the money from the social safety nets. There is nothing holy to these people. They will gamble away billions on a hedge bet while speculating on oil commodities while the EMT’s pension is being raided in the loss. What?! Why are pensions not guaranteed with government bonds? Why aren’t high-speed rail profits feeding directly into that pension? Because Washington and Wall St and too busy, sped on up on Coke and hookers to care about the people’s business.

If the power structure cared about the people this would not be a problem. However, we have propagated a culture of have and have-nots that people are ok with. “Sure, there will be some on the bottom, but that is the cost of capitalism,” they say. Why is that good enough? We live in the richest empire in the history of humankind. Should we not envision a world where everyone is equal and has equal access to education, healthcare, and employment? This is how you grow an economy and a nation: invest in people, not institutions.

Occupy Sandy has provided the framework for such a great task. While we have been focusing our attention on the folks who have been directly affected by the storm, we have been planning for the long term to help people start worker-owned cooperatives, connect resources to needs, and provide the people a real supportive network that is neither government, nor corporate owned and operated. This project is people conceived and people powered. The government could take a lesson from Occupy Sandy. You do not have to operate in a “daddy-knows-best” top down hierarchical mechanism. Let the communities themselves decide how to rebuild (or not) their communities. We have the tools and resources to match them people with resources and we give it to them. What about you government?

Let the people decide about taxes on the rich, “entitlements”, and the military. I have an inkling that they are not going to come down in such a red and blue manner like Capitol Hill wants. We are much more concerned about our communities and cities. Until the politicians realize this reality, they will continue spending our hard earned tax dollars on unjust wars and teenage-like political bantering. It is time we demanded our rights and a society that works for everyone, not just the rich.

The “Grand Compromise” is pretty simple: President Obama, stop catering to the childish whims of the political elite. Platforms and agenda should not be built upon legos up in D.C. land. Talk to the people in the Rockaways, North Philly, and Detroit. They will tell you the same thing I am—You need to invest in people, not military or financial; institutions. Our country works best when we work together. We have that capacity, but partisan bickering is hurling us deeper into the pit of discord. We need a Congress who will stand—in word and deed—for the people.

Senators and congressmen please heed the call. Don’t stand in the doorways; don’t block up the halls. For he who gets hurt will be he who has stalled. There is a battle outside raging that will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin’. Please get out of the new world if you can’t lend your hand, because the people have come a-calling and we are not going to settle for childish bickering anymore. Either promote a people’s agenda or get out of the way for someone who can… for they times they are a-changin’.