Co-authored with Jonathan Stone
In the past few years we have gone from the Deficit Commission to the "fiscal cliff" to the Sequester, one manufactured crisis after another that has thrown the country into a state of panic and fear, thanks to an extremist GOP that has been infiltrated by a fanatical Tea Party run by -- and for -- a handful of multi-billionaires. Keeping the People and our nation on edge and confused is their strategy, aided and abetted by the relatively small band of their minions in Congress who do their bidding.
Imagine, just a handful of the über-rich are now controlling our country and destroying our democracy. A weakened government with minimal oversight and rock-bottom tax rates for the rich is their decades-old quest -- a quest they are close to completing. Any compromise on raising taxes on the wealthy would betray their cause, so their only answer to these so-called "crises" is to slash our safety nets -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- and hike taxes for the disappearing middle class, making the American dream little more than a distant memory for many and unachievable for the rest of us in our current political and economic climate.
$85 billion is on the chopping block in this round of austerity cuts, which could not only cost 750,000 jobs, but will also affect our national security, border security, Head Start programs for 600,000 children and food stamps for young mothers and their children, at a time when we already have around 50 million going hungry on a daily basis in our country, one in four being children. How can these young minds attend school, concentrate and achieve on an empty stomach? Air controllers, teachers and healthcare providers will also feel the pain, and some states will be impacted more than others, starting in about six weeks from now.
Of course, this can all be avoided if we pass HR 900, a House bill just introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that is called the "Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013." Passage of this bill would put an end to this draconian measure, and a petition has been circulating from SignOn.org to vote on HR 900 that needs our support.
Austerity measures similar to the Sequester have been abject failures in Europe, particularly in Greece. We must not travel the same dark road as them. In the 1930's, Franklin Roosevelt met with wealthy Americans to convince them to support his efforts to pull America out of the Great Depression. Because of their willingness to be a part of the solution, the Social Security Act was passed, which included provisions for old age, welfare and unemployment insurance. The year was 1935, and this decisive action helped to stabilize the economy and alleviate some of the hardships caused by the job losses of the previous six years. The wealthy of that decade understood that all boats must be lifted together. Sadly, today those boats are sinking again, yet few among the privileged class even seem to care.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is highlighting another major economic issue these days -- tax evasion by corporations and banks, as reported on February 7th in an article in PoliticsUSA.com by Jason Easley on tax havens in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere where $128 billion from 31 corporations and banks was shipped offshore last year to avoid paying taxes. As if that weren't egregious enough, those banks and corporations received $6.5 billion in tax refunds last year, not to mention $2.5 trillion in-tax payer bailouts. Senator Sanders and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) are currently drafting legislation to address this affront to the American people.
Bernie further points a finger at the Business Roundtable -- which represents Fortune 500 companies -- that has proposed raising the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare to 70, cutting Social Security and Veterans benefits, and raising taxes on working families. Bernie's legislation represents the beginning of what we can only hope will be a crackdown on the loss of tens of billions of dollars in tax revenue yearly from Wall Street and corporate tax evaders. It's time the IRS was given the power to go after these corporate cheats. This money alone would have aided in cutting the deficit -- which the so-called "deficit hawks" continue to squawk about, when the issue should be on building our economy. Other commonsense, shared-responsibility proposals abound. Raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes would go a long way in pulling our nation out of the hell in which we find ourselves.
So with gridlock and malicious behavior paralyzing our government, it is now up to we, the People, to become more visible and vocal, to show Congress what needs to be done. We must build on the recent successes we have had, such as stopping Shell from drilling in the Arctic in 2013 -- no doubt a temporary, but still significant, development -- and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, passing with the Senate's version that includes protections for the LGBT community and Native Americans. Let us also not forget the 40,000 of us that gathered on the National Mall the weekend after the State of the Union to voice our concerns on climate change and pushing the president to move this issue to the front burner. Our voices were heard -- as they were when we made sure Mitt Romney was not elected our president in 2012.
Clearly the role of all Americans must change as we work to retake our democracy and end the reign of corporate and special interest influence over our government. This truly is a war of good against evil, and the good must prevail if we want to keep ourselves from becoming an enslaved people. Here are some thoughts and ideas on where we need to go from here, and how we can become involved:
1. We must increase efforts to amend the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and go to public funding of campaigns, which would go along way in cleaning up our politics.
2. Become personally involved and active in election campaigns at all levels of government, particularly at the state level, where so many critical decisions that affect the health and welfare of our communities are made.
3. Partner with your Representative and get to know him/her. Visit their district office and get to know their office staff as well. Discuss their efforts on legislation and their positions on the issues. If you disagree, tell them why. Suggest that town hall get-togethers take place a few times a year to inform the community on what is going on in D.C. Such Q&A's are invaluable to helping constituents feel like they are engaged participants in our democracy. And ask how you can help. I have been visiting my Representative's district office for almost 12 years, and have a great relationship with his Chief of Staff and all of his staff at both his district and DC offices. I know if I call my Representative in D.C., he will answer the phone. Friendships have developed over the years, and this is an unbeatable way of seeing results. Believe it or not, your Representative wants your involvement.
4. Join -- or at least support -- an advocacy organization or two that you feel is working on issues you care about, and if they demonstrate in the streets, go out there with them and carry a sign. And donate a few dollars to support their agenda. Some of the outstanding organizations that do great work and deserve your support include Public Citizen, MoveToAmend, Credo Action, Progressive Democrats of America, Progressive Congress, Physicians for a National Health Program, Sierra Club, and former Senator Russ Feingold's Progressives United.
5. Coalition building is needed to move more Progressive candidates into Congress and run against tepid "Blue Dog" Dems and the Tea Party. We need to clean House. I, personally, would like to see this done on a huge scale, where identifying, mentoring and supporting such candidates can be done to help get them elected.
6. Sign petitions and also write to the White House. In the past two months, I have received three letters from VP Joe Biden and a letter from First Lady Michele Obama in response to sending copies of my posts to them. Of course, I am still waiting to receive an invite to the White House for a beer in the Rose Garden and chat with the president. Someone is always tracking the mail in the White House, so express your concerns, too.
Let us take inspiration from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead who said decades ago: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
It's now up to us. Let's raise the volume.