(This was also posted in the group "Left Wing Atheists")
I have come a long way in three years. I was so naive. I couldn't wait to vote the Republicans out of office, so I registered myself as a Democrat and woke up at 5am to go stand proudly in line to vote for Obama. Like many of us since then, I now realize what a sucker I was. I had high hopes that Obama was going to nationalize the banks when he took office and start loosening the hold the bankers have around our throats. Well, that didn't happen, and instead he went after health care. We all know what he has and has not done since, with the latter more than overwhelming the former. So I got frustrated, as most of us have, that nothing changed with Obama. I got determined to educate myself and find out what the real problems are, and what the real solutions are.
I started watching a lot of MSNBC. At first, I stuck with Hardball with Chris Matthews. While that kept me informed as to what the two political parties were up to, I was far from satisfied. Then one day I tuned in a little early and caught a little of Dylan Ratigan. His personality turned me off a little at first, but the next time I saw his show I was mesmerized. Hooked. Here was a guy who was finally speaking about the real issues, the fundamental structural problems underlying the mess we are in. If you know the show, much of what I am about to say will sound like repetition, but these are what I think the real problems in America are.
There are 6 industries which own the US government, the military-industrial complex (e.g. Lockheed Martin), health care (Big Pharma, health insurance), banking, energy (oil, Halliburton), agribusiness (think Monsanto), and telecommunications (e.g. the phone companies that rip us off). The heads of these industries use their spectacular wealth to buy politicians. In fact, 94% of our elections are now won by the candidate who raises the most money. Obama was no exception. Yes, he raised more money from small donations than anyone had before, but he also raised more money from LARGE donations than ever before. Goldman Sachs was his single biggest campaign contributor in 2008. We all know that if a candidate tries to go against any of these industries, they use their fabulous wealth to take out attack ads so that they don't stand a chance (think swiftboating). As long as our two political parties play by the rules, they can divide up the country in any other, meaningless way they want.
They have a very cozy relationship, these plutocrats. The politicians look the other way while the rich engage in insider trading. They even call up their friends on Wall St. and give them insider information as to policy changes which have financial ramifications (and then engage in a healthy amount of insider trading themselves). Then the rich spend huge amounts of money in lobbying efforts to convince the politicians as to how the laws should be written. They have managed to rig, to their vast benefit, the tax code, trade policies, and banking regulations to siphon money from the American people and into their pockets. They pay lower taxes (or none at all) than average American individuals and businesses. They trade with countries like China which can make products far cheaper than we can make it here, eliminating American jobs while flooding the markets with cheap goods (think Walmart). But the banking "industry" seems to have benefited to even more egregious levels.
Our US government has allowed a $700 trillion, completely invisible and unregulated swaps market to exist without requiring all of these transactions to take place on a visible (and regulatable) exchange. There are no capital requirements, which means they can trade without having anything of value to put up as collateral. And when their bets go bad, the Fed just sends them a check to the tune of $29.6 trillion of our tax-payer money so far since the crisis began. And I thought we had a deficit! Where are we getting all of this money from? Are we just printing it?
Meanwhile 1 in 15 Americans now live in poverty. 18% of us are unemployed (that's the "real" unemployment figures), and that's not even counting the underemployed. Incomes are falling, debt is mounting. People are left homeless while foreclosed homes sit empty. Income and wealth inequality are at their highest levels since the Great Depression. Meanwhile our elections are being put up for auction and neither political party will stand up to these powerful ruling interests. If this isn't a state of unjust affairs, then I don't know what is. These are issues that shouldn't even be restricted to the left, we are all being oppressed. But while we on the left are waking up, those on the right are drifting towards a libertarian philosophy which plays right into the hands of the rich. With no government around, who could possibly stand up to the rich?
We need to retake our government, not break it down into uselessness. And we need large-scale structural solutions to address these mounting problems. We need systematic and system-wide changes to our democracy and our government. We need to weed out waste and abuse of power at all levels. We need to eliminate subsidies for oil companies and stop sending money without strings attached to the bankers. We need to break up the banking cartels so that never again will an institution be "too big to fail". We need real regulations on the banking industry, and that begins with having capital requirements and putting the swaps market on a visible exchange. If we change the way Wall St. does business, they will make money honestly and contribute real value to America rather than being fueled by the need to create more and more debt. We need to restructure debt to help out students and homeowners. And to that end I would suggest literally bailing out the American people. If we are going to print money, why not give it directly to Americans so that they can use it to pay off their debts to the banks?
We need to eliminate superpacs and overturn the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that makes corporations people and money into protected free speech so that the rich can't talk more loudly than everyone else. We need a real energy plan, and we need to improve our energy efficiency so that we can approach a % in the 90's like other modern industrialized nations have rather than the 34% efficiency we are now sitting at. We need real environmental regulations, and we need to completely restructure our educational system so that we can keep up with the rest of the world. And we need to end privatized profit but socialized risk for the wealthy, and incentivize investment in America and it's people.
The political discussion has been framed by our politicians as being about ballooning debt. While certainly this is a huge problem, I am quite certain that if we address the real problems in America, our national debt problem will also be solved. If we stop war-mongering and being the arms-dealers to the world, we won't have huge costly wars to pay off. With an economy that puts people to work, our social programs will have plenty of funding to continue operations, keeping Americans healthy and financially supported throughout old age.
We are really running out of time. The changing environment is going to make all humanity come together, one way or another. We can come together now and make the necessary changes to our lifestyle and our society so that we can all live on this earth in peace, or the catastrophe to come will be marked by the most violence, starvation, and suffering the world has ever known. And the US needs to lead the way. When the catastrophe comes, humanity will largely blame Americans for it, and rightly so. There will be enough blame to go around, but the American people can do something about it now, while we still have time. If we do not raise our heads up out of the herd and take our country back from the oligarchs who hold us as slaves and hostages, the lion's share of the moral responsibility for the future of humanity will be ours to bear.
This is pretty much my analysis. There have been leaders behind the various social changes, but they have bubbled up from the populace instead of deciding something needed changing and then convinced everyone to go along.
Andrew, you make some good points. I started off by saying that change needs to come from the top down, but later amended that to say that if the people force the top into making the necessary changes, then that might work. If what is needed for this social revolution to work is for it to find its own version of MLK Jr., then hopefully that character will emerge and I'll get to experience the grand social changes that past generations were lucky enough to witness. It may take a while though, so we do have to be patient.
On the other hand, you also make an excellent point that the US population is under the influence of some pretty bad ideas, or not under the influence of enough good ideas, or both. I am not sure why you took such a pessimistic turn at the end of this response however. A strong leader doesn't have to convince the whole population, just the half, or thereabouts, needed to get the necessary motivations going. I am sure there were plenty of whites against equal rights for blacks, but the ones who cared enough to see it happen fought for it, there was conflict but eventually what had to happen happened. This HAS to happen. We can't be ruled by rich people and still call ourselves a democracy, and we can't stay dependent on the few and still appeal to the American Dream. If there isn't a redistribution of power soon, the masses will eventually rise up and take it for themselves. It's only a matter of time.
> I am not sure why you took such a pessimistic turn at the end of this response
MLK brought out the best in us. Let's have more of him, for sure. But while we are waiting, we are more likely to have somebody come along who brings out the worst in us. The USA is ripe for it, with Fox News and the Republican Party. In the time between Lincoln and MLK, there was Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Somosa, Castro, Pol Pot. Historically, the odds favor pessimism.
Hmm, perhaps. We had Bush, that was something to be very pessimistic about. We were perhaps close to having McCain, and are perhaps close to having a Romney or other GOP whack-job. But you know, Bush really brought us on the left together in a way that might not have been possible otherwise. It might take an anti-MLK to bring us a new-MLK, but I hope not. This country has already been brought far enough in the wrong direction. I think that should a Republican be elected this year, there would be a whole lot of people like myself who would be so aghast, so frustrated and disappointed, that that would be enough to get us together for something big. It may not be the best analogy, but I am reminded of when Scott Walker wanted to strip away bargaining rights of state employees and the democrats in the state senate left the state and wouldn't return. We might just start crossing into Canada if we got another Republican (not that Obama has been much different!).
We are ripe for the picking by fascists.
Wanderer, I don't see any leaders rising out of the fog. The best at speaking the truth and the obvious are Alan Grayson and Van Jones. Wellstone is dead but his legacy lives on in his foundation.
"Wellstone Action is a national center for training and leadership development in the progressive movement. Founded in January 2003, Wellstone Action's mission is ignite leadership in people and power in communities to win change in the progressive tradition of Paul and Sheila Wellstone."
In the old days (1960s) we turned to Highlander Research and Education Center, the training place of Rosa Parks and a lot of other powerhouses. They made a real difference in our planning and design for voter registration and developing our goals.
Rosa Parks at Highland
I agree with your assessment, Andrew, and the way we are going is not to prosperity but to failure. Hold on, the ride will be bumpy.
Mariana, yes things are different today than in the last Great Depression.
I hold a different view, however on this time being "unfortunate". When I was a wee child, people stayed close to home. The immigration across the country of the late 1890s was caused by the 1893 depression that was just terrible. The robber barons had a sense of entitlement, of manifest destiny, that this continent was put on this earth for them to "develop" not realizing there had been a masterfully fine development by native tribes who learned how to live off the land by following seasonal food sources. That ended with land ownership and barbed wire fences.
In the 1930, at least in my little town of 1500, people settled there after the last depression, didn't travel very far because all they had were horses for bearing loads. My grandparents rode on a wagon from a little town of Ritzville to Tekoa and they had to stop overnight along the way to rest themselves and horses. Now the drive is about an hour.
There were no telephones; I can remember the first phone, and putting electric light inside the house, and filling in the "outhouse" and installing a toilet on a side porch.
With the computer, I can communicate with a friend in the jungle of Brazil, another on the shore of Bering Sea, friend in China, another in India and the most time it takes is 3 seconds for sending or receiving a signal.
We talk about economics, politics, religion, and the weather. There are some restrictions and censoring, but the point is we have access to other people of other races and nationalities and religions and we compare, contrast and debate. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a very poor little girl in India, living in very harsh conditions, and she can go to the community internet station and call me? She has exposure to ideas, can formulate dreams, look around at her condition and maybe have a little desire to make changes in her community. Maybe she will get a small loan and start a little business as she get older, and builds a reputation of honesty and service that will grow as she matures.
Oh yes! the possibilities are incredible ... not that we want others to be like us, but that we want others to explore their own individual talents and find ways to make life easier and healthier and happier and more just and more peaceful.
We live in a powerful time. We see gigantic changes taking place all around us. We hear ideas that have never wafted across our ears before, we see what others have done and wonder if we can do them too, we smell the air and follow opportunity, we taste water that is safe and refreshing and we try to find ways for all people to have access to such a treasure, we feel with our body the cool fresh breeze of a shade tree or the warmth of a protected place. We feel with our hearts great compassion of the people of the world and desire that all should be able to grow and develop and become all that they are created to be.
Joan, somehow I completely missed your response here..sorry. What I was saying was that I now feel very fortunate to have parents who grew up during two pretty important times in the twentieth century. My mom would tell me stories of rubber and aluminum drives..how the kids would go out and gather these materials for the war effort..the point is Americans really came together for truly important causes back then. Now, we have every advantage, can talk to people everywhere..and instead of using these resources to make the world a better place, to achieve a better mankind, it is all about what we have here and now, and how it is someone else's fault we don't have more than we do. I know part of the problem is that I have had the wrong sorts of people as friends in my life, and i am doing my best to change that, starting here!! But the wealth of knowledge we have at our fingertips SHOULD make efforts to truly make a change in the world alot easier, but not enough people have passion about it.
> Is there a way to get off this merry-go-round?
It's called non-materialism, or maybe voluntary simplicity. You may have heard of it - it was a fad in the 1970's. Now it's just bad for the economy.
Seriously, my daughter and her friends make a day out of the monthly Free Market in the nearest town. So there is hope for the future.
Yeah. I tend to avoid the voluntary simplicity people. They tend to be rabidly low-tech and I just can't get behind it. They also tend to be new-agey and I don't care for that.