We have seen a huge transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest one percent. In the late 1970s the top one percent accounted for 9 percent of real income in the country. Today, they account for 24 percent. The vast majority of Americans are working harder and longer, making less, and falling farther and farther behind. ~ Congressman Tim Ryan, "A Mindful Nation"
At the beginning of my mindfulness workshops, I inform students that I am willing to risk offending some of them as I try to raise consciousness by challenging some of the underlying tenets of our cultural paradigm including our notions of self ("I think therefore I am"), justice ("An eye for an eye"), romantic love ("Till death do us part"), and capitalism ("Survival of the fittest").
Then I ask the audience members to raise their hands if they live in a democracy.
"It must be nice," I quip. "I live in an oligarchy where corporations have undue influence on the electoral and legislative processes. I'll know that I live in democracy when we cast our votes by our mobile phones."
"Please raise your hands if you live under free market capitalism."
A few hands go up.
"Really? If this is a free market then why did the government bail out the banks and automotive companies? Maybe "Too big to fail" really means "Too big to be unregulated" or as Robert Reich wrote, If They're Too Big To Fail, They're Too Big Period."
America was founded as a representative democracy where the constituents have political opinions and they elect representatives to represent those political opinions in local, state, and federal governments. Those elected officials vote for or against proposed legislation on behalf of their constituents and those proposed legislations or amendments that represent the will of the people become law.
Is this how our government currently functions?
Firstly, many constituents feel disempowered, that they are not part of some supposed political elite, that their votes do not matter, that voting has become useless. Thus, in the 2012 General Elections almost 100 million eligible voters chose not to exercise their hard-earned privilege to vote. Twenty-two countries have mandatory voting with punishments for not voting. America is not one of them. Given the way recent gerrymandering has occurred, sometimes it seems as if politicians are choosing constituents rather than the other way around.
Secondly, members of congress know that they must raise $10,000 per day for their future electoral campaigns; thus, a disproportionate amount of their time purportedly representing their constituents' political views is spent with lobbyists and people who can contribute to their campaigns.
Thirdly, constituents have come to believe that our government is inherently bipartisan and that by choosing either Republicans or Democrats their general political views will be represented (for or against abortion, gun rights, entitlements, gay marriage, etc.) However, there were no political parties mentioned in our Constitution and it seems that they have not only outlived any purpose they may have once had but are causing gridlock in our legislative process.
Fourth, since the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission, Super Political Action Committees representing corporations and wealthy individuals can contribute unlimited money to political candidates without disclosing the sources of those contributions. "The supreme court effectively empowered corporations to take over the elections," states UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler regarding Citizens United.
Fifth, many Americans enjoy the social services that our state and federal governments provide - safety, protection, libraries, schools, unemployment insurance, the Food and Drug Administration, social security, roads, street lamps - but no longer wish to pay for them. As the wealthy get wealthier they seem to feel increasingly "burdened" to help maintain the infrastructure of our country and ironically no longer wish to support the freedoms and safeties that enabled them to become wealthy. When billionaire Warren Buffet pays 17.4% taxes and his secretary pays 33% it is easy to see how our current system of taxation is regressive, inequitable, and unsustainable.
Our government borrowed over a trillion dollars per year in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to pay for the freedoms and services that we benefit from. This is known as the Federal deficit and it means that our government is not collecting as much as it is spending. When I lived in Oakland, the city had to furlough 10% of the police force due to lack of tax revenue; Oakland inhabitants were informed NOT to call the police if they witnessed a list of crimes because the police no longer had sufficient officers to investigate those crimes. If our government wasn't able to borrow huge sums of money our entire country would shut down. Thus, anyone - such as Grover Norquist - who talks about a tax "burden" should either move to another country or be forced to re-take 3rd grade arithmetic.
Politically, all of the above is what congressional candidate Marianne Williamson refers to as "a system of legalized corruption and bribery;" economically this is what Ms. Williamson refers to as "predatory capitalism." Socially, this "winner takes all," "zero sum" mentality is unsustainable, analogous to a house of cards that could collapse at any moment.
Ultimately it is the electorate's fault that we have allowed corporations to hijack our government, influence politicians to deregulate their industries and then save them when they fail. In addition, the responsibility falls upon the electorate to vote against a system that enables a minority to shut down the government if they dislike what the majority is rightfully voting for.
The first steps moving us towards a more equitable and sustainable society would include:
1. Laws forcing corporations to disclose campaign contributions
2. Supreme court justices who recognize the corruption in our electoral and legislative processes
3. A constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and creates new
campaign finance laws
Thankfully there are resources such as Move to Amend, Common Cause, Bold Progressives, and Marianne Williamson for Congress whose mandates are to remove undue corporate influence from our electoral and legislative processes and put our nation back on course.
It is up to the voters to rehabilitate the U.S. government and overcome the current quagmire; this is exactly how the founders intended our system to operate. By having freedom of speech we can raise consciousness around the disparities, hypocrisies, inequalities, and corruption, persuade people to disregard entrenched, bipolar, dysfunctional, political ideologies, and vote for forward-thinking Independent representatives such as Marianne Williamson who will express the will of the people, not that of corporations.
That is, of course, until the day when Google or Apple or Microsoft or Oracle (or maybe even Facebook?) undertakes the responsibility of transforming our representative democracy into a direct democracy by enabling us to cast our votes through our mobile phones.
Until that day...