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Protecting the Wealthy at the Expense of the Middle Class

In a recent column in the Daily Item, Ramesh Ponnuru wrote about Paul Ryan’s and his fellow right wing ideologue’s plans to reduce taxes. Whatever their final proposals, you can be sure that they will be designed to help rich individuals and powerful corporations at the expense of middle and working class Americans. One of the key proposals is a lowering of the top income tax rate. The right wing almost has a religious fetish about the top tax rate.

One result we can be sure of if top rates are lowered again is that more of the wealth of this country will flow into the pockets of those at the very top. A process put into high gear with President Regan and his “supply side” economics. The theory suggests that if we give more to the rich more crumbs will fall to those down the economic ladder. Well, the rich have gotten richer and those below have gotten even less. Lowering the top tax rate on the wealthy does not create more jobs.
Ideologues don’t let simple things like the facts get in the way of their beliefs. In the 1950’s, a time of great economic growth, top tax rates were above 90 %. Through the 1970’s they did not fall below 70%. President Reagan cut the top rate almost in half and the real income of those in the middle grew very slowly or not at all and the well-off started reaping more and more of the country’s wealth. President Clinton who is by no stretch a progressive, raised the top rate to the predictions of doom from the right. Funny thing is that a great period of economic growth followed.

Cutting income seems a strange way to cut the deficit. What the right really wants is increased deficits and debt so that they can rationalize their attack on programs that help those in our society who need help the most. They want to help their corporate sponsors increase profits while they remove the ability of government agencies to protect us from the abuses of the corporations. While they preach the dangers of big government, one of the greatest dangers we now face is the increasing control of our government by the big corporations. The corporation’s only concern is their bottom line and are not constrained by moral, ethical or patriotic concerns. Who will protect us from their abuses if the government is unable?

If you believe that more of the wealth of this country should go to those at the top, then I suppose you will vote for people like Tom Marino. If you want corporations to poison the air and the water he certainly is your man along with his “fellow travelers.” It is very easy to fall for the magic potion that the call for tax cuts presents, but too often the cost of those cuts is passed down the economic ladder from those who have the most to those who struggle to pay the bills. Jesus said about doing for the least among us, but the political right including the so-called Christian right believes in doing for those who have the most among us.

Excess is Not Progress

My mom was born in 1929..my dad in 1937. Despite the 8-year age difference, they  shared a common generational characteristic…they were raised during hard times. My mom was born almost exactly one month before Black Monday – the start of the Great Depression.  My dad was born during the Recession of 1937, considered one of the worst recessions of the 20th century. They grew up during WWII, a devastating era which left those on the home front fearing for loved ones overseas, taking on new roles and responsibilities never imagined and experiencing major rationing of, what was once, everyday goods.

During WWII in particular, conservation was not just considered a necessity, it was considered patriotic. Conserving energy, and food, and recycling and salvaging scraps became a way of life since so many materials were scarce due to our nation’s desperate efforts to prepare for war. The government issued ration cards which dictated how much a household could purchase and consume in a given period of time.

With limited supplies of labor and fuel, harvesting and transporting food to market became extremely difficult.  The government encouraged Americans to plant Victory Gardens to help feed their families and others in the community. Nearly 20 million Americans took shovel to dirt and produced 9-10 million tons of fresh vegetables.

Businesses were not precluded from war time efforts. From 1942-1945, Ford Motor Company was required to dedicate all of its resources to building up America’s war arsenal. In these years, Ford built war planes, tanks, jeeps, aircraft engines and needed parts…and no domestic cars.

Growing up, I remember my parents were forever conserving and re-using.  It was ingrained in their minds that waste was not only inefficient and costly, it was unpatriotic and stupid.

My brothers, sisters and I were brought up to turn off lights when we left the room, eat leftovers, eat more leftovers, waste nothing, and learn to love hand-me-downs.  I still remember my mom folding and breaking down non-recyclable materials so that they took up less room in the trash can. I don’t remember her throwing out anything and yard sales were great opportunities to purchase used goods that could be put to good use.

My parents weren’t cheap.  Well, they were what I would call frugal. They weren’t necessarily environmentalists either though I do recall my mom’s concerns over the destruction of the Rain Forests. My parents were just taught in childhood that waste was wrong.

So fast forward to today when waste is actually encouraged. Not only do we not conserve energy, we actively waste it. We needlessly expend it by purchasing large inefficient vehicles; building exorbitantly large houses; buying tons of worthless stuff.  We waste food, we waste energy and we waste raw resources.

In the relatively short time between my parents’ childhood and the modern childhood, waste has become a way of life.  Consumers are the new hero. We are told that consumption is what keeps our economy moving, growing…we are told that consumption is patriotic.

So we consume and we consume some more. If we can’t afford something, we  buy it with credit. Instant gratification and continued consumption.

So at what point do we conserve? At what point does conservation become patriotic again?

When we’re fighting wars for oil, an American flag magnet on the back of an SUV is the most patriotic we can muster?  When Americans are starving from lack of nutrition, we industrialize and over-process our farms instead of growing real sustainable foods?   When we are facing the greatest calamity of our times — climate change — we continue to burn the dirtiest fuels we can find even though cleaner alternatives are accessible and in our reach?

Consumption has plagued this nation for the last several decades – our endless quest for more has resulted in Americans acquiring huge masses of debt, the loss of millions of acres of land, the fighting of wars for more energy resources, and the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other emissions into our atmosphere.  It has not made our nation as a whole stronger – instead, it has made only a few richer.

American needs to consider what is really important.  Is it stuff that makes us happy? Or is happiness the stuff that really counts?

A Sustainable Culture rather a Consumer Culture

By whatever name you wish to use- free market capitalism, market economy, or neo-liberal economics- our current economic system glories in greed, is without moral or ethical constraint, and feels that there should be no constraints on its ability to externalize its costs. If we don’t radically change the way we operate our economic system, there no hope that a biosphere that can support us and our fellow creatures will long endure. Chris Hedges has written “a consumer culture based on corporate profits, limitless exploitation, and continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.”

From Barbara Kingsolver we read that “global commerce is driven by a single conviction: an inalienable right to earn profit no matter the human cost.” Many believe that profit without any limits or constraints is the business of commerce in our society. This is the economic system which now dominates the planet. Unless the environmental community is willing to confront directly this system, there is no hope that we will be able to sustain a planet which is hospitable for humanity and our fellow creatures. We as a species are as much in danger as the polar bear. They may succumb sooner than us, but the direction we are now heading will seal our fate.

We cannot win the battle to defend, protect, and restore the planet unless there are fundamental changes in the way we conduct business. Multinational corporations operate across all boundaries with little restraint. We now live in what Ralph Nader calls a “soft-fascist state” as the corporations dominate and control much of our government and its agencies. Corporate power and money dominate all levels and branches of government. Recent rulings by the Supreme Court clearly demonstrate corporate dominance.

We are confronted on an unlimited number of fronts. While we like to proclaim those few victories we gain, they are seldom permanent and of a limited nature. As long as we have an economic system which values trashing the planet for profit more than preserving it, there is no hope of any real victory. We will be confronted with an endless number assaults to our land, air, and water. Private profit is now valued more than public health and equality. If we are ever to make real progress in protecting the planet’s biosphere from constant assault, we must make fundamental, structural changes in the way our economic system functions.

The environmental community has by and large fought to protect the environment by supporting government regulations. The regulatory system we have built will always be inadequate to solve the real problems we face. It is a system which gives permits to profit seekers to pollute. Regulations are of little value when they are not enforced. The revolving door between government regulatory agencies and those who are to be regulated is always spinning. Corporations always fight any new regulations from the formulation of the law to the writing of the regulations. There powerful lobbying efforts always ensure that any proposed regulation will be weakened. They always exploit the loopholes which always seem to be present.

We shouldn’t be surprised when we hear of the latest report of corporate misconduct. GM’s ignition switch immorality should not shock us if we remember the firebomb Ford Pinto’s of the past. The current fight to eliminate neonicotinoid pesticides is a clear example of the evil nature of our present system. The honeybees that do the pollinating for many of our crops now have populations which are in collapse. Scientists have determined that the most likely cause of this situation is the use of the pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Yet the industry fights any regulation and the EPA is failing to remove them from use. Rather than the industry proving the safety of their products before subjecting all life to their use, we must prove they are dangerous after much damage has been done. We certainly have it backwards. Profit trumps humanity.

The environmental community to this point hasn’t had the gumption to take on our economic system. The big groups maybe to comfortable operating within it. I wonder if environmental groups fear the loss of financial support more than the destruction of the environment. Are they afraid that they will be labeled socialist or un-American? Patriotism has nothing to do with political ideology, waving flags, supporting President’s world adventurism, or singing patriotic songs. Patriotism means working to make our country the best it can be for all of our fellow citizens and protecting the public health which is dependent upon a healthy environment protected from a destructive economic system.

I understand that taking on our economic system is almost incomprehensible in the scope of its challenge. Taking on specific threats is a challenge that is within our grasp. Even in the huge challenge that climate change presents, we still believe it is the possible within our current economic system. But we have been fighting to significantly lower CO2 emissions for over 30 years and the clock is rapidly running out. It amazed me how jubilant environmental groups have been with the new rules for power plant emissions of CO2. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy with this, but let’s face the reality that in the total picture of things this is but a very small step. The same president who supports this rule is pushing the fracking of natural gas almost everywhere.

We need a cultural and economic change that embraces the principal that business can no longer be conducted at the expense of our health and the health of the biosphere. The cost of our goods must reflect their real cost. We need a new type of capitalism which requires more than just a profit motive. The following are some possible cures to the problems created by the cowboy capitalism that now rules the planet:

  • Corporations are not people and therefore are not entitled to the rights of citizens. They only have those specific rights created by legislation.
  • Corporations should be prohibited from making any political contributions either directly or through front groups like trade associations or think tanks.
  • Polluters should pay a tax for all pollution with increasing rates with volume and with time. A carbon tax is but one example. Dumping waste into the environment must no longer be free.
  • All producers of goods must provide for their recycling and upcycling after the products use has been completed.
  • All lobbying done by profit making entities must be open to observation by neutral observers such as a member of the press. Full transcripts should be available.
  • The corporate charter of all corporations should include the proviso that corporate operations may not in any way detract from the common good. We must revoke the charters of all corporations which put their profits ahead of the good of society.
  • The exploitation of human labor must as well as the exploitation of the planet must lead to revocation of a corporations charter.
  • When a corporation is guilty of violating the law, those officials responsible must go to prison.
  • When a suit is settled out of court between an individual and a corporation, the corporation may not hide behind non-disclosure agreements.
  • Excessive profits should be taxed at increasing rates.
  • Corporate profits should be taxed at a fair but unavoidable rate.
  • All advertising aimed at children must end.
  • Individuals who gain income from investments should play income taxes at the same rate as everyone one else. People who must labor for a living should not have to pay taxes at a higher rate than those who gain income without working.
  • The “cautionary principle” must be applied in the development of all new products.
  • The right to clean water and air must be established in the Constitution.
  • Advertising must be held to a strict level of factual accuracy.

End Times, Indeed!

While there are some who believe that the “rapture” and “end time” are near, there is mounting scientific evidence the end of civilization maybe approaching, but it has nothing to do with the actions of a deity. The human race through its own actions, greed, and ignorance is putting at great risk the life that is the earth’s biosphere on which we are totally dependent.

This is not a construct based on religious belief. Those who believe the “end time” is near should keep in mind that the very first Christians thought that this event would come in their lifetime. The end we are facing is not something that will happen suddenly like the supposed rapture. It is a process that has already begun. We have already entered a phase which is the sixth mass extinction period on earth. Unlike past extinction periods, it is the result of the actions of one species, us. Every major ecosystem on the earth is in decline. This is not a belief, but a scientifically observable phenomenon.

Since the last mass extinction period 65 million years ago, life has been evolving. This evolution has occurred more rapidly than the extinction of species. Now, species extinction is occurring one hundred to a thousand times more rapidly than in the past. Extinction does not just occur species by species, but there are cascades of extinction as keystone species die out.

There are many causes of this sixth extinction period. There is no greater cause than our economic system which makes profit as its only concern. An economic system which exploits the planet and its resources to increase profits. An economic system devoid of any moral concern, in which greed is praised, and there is no level of profit which is obscene. We now have a corporate system which powerfully influences the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. It is a system which we have promoted world-wide. I have no problem with a corporation making a reasonable profit if it does so without externalizing its costs. They must no longer profit by exploiting the biosphere, the planet, or its employees.

We now have a consumer culture which much of the world is attempting to emulate. No matter how much “stuff” we already have, it is never enough. We have been brain washed since our earliest childhood to “need” more and more. We believe bigger and newer is always better. We are told that if we can just have the “magical item” our lives will be enriched with unlimited joy. 90% of what we purchase ends up in the landfill within six months of purchase. The earth’s resources cannot sustain our lust for more stuff. We can no longer have an ever expanding economy based on consumption. The earth’s resources are finite.

We are poisoning our planet with more than 80,000 chemicals, most of which have not been tested. There has been little testing of how any interact in the environment. Go into any hardware store and see the shelves lined with pesticides and herbicides which we use with little regard to their ultimate effects. All life is connected and related, yet we willy-nilly spread these and so many more chemicals into the environment. We are poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Our bodies are filled with many chemicals that nature never intended. This is true for our fellow creatures.

Climate change and disruption is something that many people are aware of but far too few are willing to accept and act to control. If you are a climate change denier then you are denying the overwhelming scientific consensus that the planet’s climate is changing as a direct result of man’s activities. Observable evidence overwhelming refutes the “beliefs” of climate change deniers. Human civilization developed over the last 10.000 years in a period of a relatively stable climate. Excessive CO2 in the atmosphere was the major cause of the fourth major extinction period on the planet.
All that CO2 we a pumping into the atmosphere is doing more than raise the temperature the atmosphere and the oceans. Much is being absorbed into the oceans. When CO2 is absorbed into the oceans it become carbonic acid. The acidity of the oceans has already increased by 30% threatening much of the life of the oceans. If we destroy the life of the oceans as we now seem intent on doing, we will be putting a large nail in the coffin of humanity.

The sheer numbers of our species on the planet present a great challenge to the continuation of our species. While those in developed countries look to the poor nations of the world, we often forget that a child born in the United States will have a much greater impact on the planet than the children of poorer countries. We can rationalize all we want and hide behind the banner of free choice and/or religion, but we have a responsibility to our children not to go beyond the replacement number of two. If you say you love children, then show real love by adopting a child that so desperately needs a family. The injunction to be “fruitful and multiply” was given to primitive culture that was at constant war and before the expectation that half a family’s children would reach adulthood. We have greatly altered the balance of childhood death and survival using many “unnatural” means. Birth control methods maybe “unnatural,” but no less so than incubators for the premature.

The question is very simple. Do we care and do we have a responsibility to our children, grandchildren, and all who will follow us? How can we say we love them and not do all we can to ensure that they have the same opportunities for a good life that we have been given. Don’t we owe it to them to give all future earthlings a livable planet? You can choose ignorance and apathy. You can say the problem is too big and I can’t do anything to change things. You can choose to believe the corporate profit seekers and the politicians who are in their pocket rather than the scientists whose life studies are the investigation of the life systems on earth. One of Henry Thoreau’s teachings is that we don’t have to wait for others to act before we begin to act. We are a society of one and so we as a society of one can act before our neighbors. Rather than giving your grandchildren another stuffed animal, plastic toy, or electronic gizmo, give them a healthy life on a healthy planet.

While it is true that we must all take on our individual responsibilities, we must help change how our country and world act. We must change those aspects of our present economic system which allows profit no matter the cost. We must have government fully involved in solving the problems that so threaten our children’s future. We must elect leaders who will lead in the creation of a healthier planet rather than for more profit of their corporate donors. We need leaders who choose knowledge over blind adherence to a political philosophy. I wish our country would become a world leader in a fight for the future rather than the leader in producing weapons of war and the numbers of people in our prisons.

Progressives in Susquehanna Valley Look to Unite

Susquehanna Valley Progressives are looking to establish a network or coalition to promote progressive values and move the region forward.  About a dozen progressives met on July 26 to discuss a vision for the region and priorities for moving forward. Stay tuned.

Read the article in the Daily Item.

If you’re interested in getting involved, email svprogressives@gmail.com.