Imagine America – crises and opportunities

Crises

When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. We are heading for a crisis-driven choice. We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.” Paul Gilding

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves… The question is: What are people doing about it?It’s not because the population doesn’t want it…It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one…It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can. Humanity Imperiled — The Path to Disaster by Noam Chomsky, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013

The World Grows More Complex

 Opportunities

…biologically speaking, we are just as likely to be peaceful as we are to be violent…charts a new course for rejecting the old paradigm of war’s inevitability and finally releasing mankind from its destructive grip….Why War Isn’t Inevitable: A Science Writer Studies the Secret to Peaceful Societies by Brad Jacobson  

…….As consumers, employees and entrepreneurs, Millennials are shifting the norms of corporate America’s conduct, ethical imperatives and purpose…A new generation of employees, consumers and entrepreneurs is stepping forward with a better way of doing business — putting its bets on the goodness of people rather than loading the dice in its own favor. Millennials to business: Social responsibility isn’t optional By Michelle Nunn 

…A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civilityReweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades

what I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world…Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world…Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power…The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history…We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened before…Healing or Stealing? by Paul Hawken

 

6 Facts About Hunger That Demonstrate the Shameful Excesses of American Capitalism

AlterNet [1] / By Paul Buchheit,  June 23, 2013

Of all the miseries placed on human beings in their everyday lives, the lack of food may be the most inexcusable. Even in a world controlled by unbending attitudes of self-reliance and individual responsibility, the reality of children and seniors and disabled citizens going hungry is a stain on humanity, a shameful testament to the capitalist goal of profit without conscience.

The facts presented here all touch on the lives of human beings, in the U.S. and beyond, who lack food or the means to pay for it.

1. Congress wants to cut a food program that feeds low-income children.

According to the Department of Agriculture [3], 48% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in 2011 were children. Either unaware or indifferent to this, Congress is considering a new farm bill [4] that would cut food assistance by $2 billion a year while boosting the farm subsidies of big agriculture.

2. Some individuals make enough in two seconds to pay a SNAP recipient’s food bill for an entire year.

Americans [5] Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, two Kochs, and four Waltons made an average of $6 billion each from their stocks and other investments in 2012. A $6 billion per year person makes enough in two seconds (based on a 40-hour work-week) to pay a year’s worth of benefits to the average SNAP [6] recipient. Just 20 [5] Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire SNAP budget [7] for 47 million people.

Capitalism encourages an individual to make as much money as possible, even without producing anything. Most Americans accept that. But questions should be raised about a system that allows the yearlong needs of a hungry person to flash by in two seconds of an investor’s life.

3. McDonald’s profits are double the total wages of all its food servers.

McDonald’s has 440,000 [8] employees, most of them food servers making the median [9] hourly wage of $9.10 an hour or less, for a maximum of about $18,200 per year. The company’s $8 billion profit, after wages are paid, works out to the same amount: $18,200 per employee.

As noted by MSN Money [10], the company pays its front-line workers minimum wage or very close to it. But instead of passing along part of its profits to employees, McDonald’s just announced plans for increased dividends and share repurchases.

4. Just 10 individuals made as much as all the fast-food counter workers in the U.S.

The 10 richest [5] on the Forbes list increased their combined wealth by almost $60 billion from 2011 to 2012. That’s approximately equivalent to the total annual salaries of 3,378,030 fast-food [11] counter employees if they were all able to work 40-hour weeks, 50 weeks a year.

5. Apple avoided enough in taxes to mount a global attack on malnutrition.

The World Bank estimates the total cost [12] for “successfully mounting an attack on malnutrition” would be about $10.3 to $11.8 billion annually. Apple [13] alone underpaid its 2012 taxes by $11 billion, based on a 35% rate on total global income. (The company paid $8,443 current taxes on $55,763 total income, or a little over 15%.)

6. Speculation on food prices has contributed to the impoverishment of 115 million people.

From 1996 to 2011 the portion of speculative [14] wheat market trades by Goldman Sachs and other players went from 12 percent to 61 percent. The price [15] of wheat went from $105 a ton in 2000 to $481 a ton in 2008.

Food prices dropped after the recession, but the World Bank [16] notes that they’ve jumped 43 percent since 2010. The World Food Program [17] reported that since 2008, high prices have pushed 115 million more people into hunger and poverty.

Speculation hasn’t hurt the speculators. According to the World Wealth Report 2013 [18], the number of high net worth individuals ($1 million or more in investable assets) increased by 11.5% in North America in 2012, the highest rate in the world.

Billionaires are on the rise, and a billion people are without adequate food. The speculators should be ashamed.

See more stories tagged with:

hunger [19]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/6-facts-about-hunger-demonstrate-shameful-excesses-american-capitalism

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-buchheit
[3] http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/06/24/fact-vs-fiction-usda%E2%80%99s-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/
[4] http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/opposition-to-house-farm-bill-spans-political-spectrum/
[5] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/Forbes400_2011-12.xls
[6] http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/18SNAPavg$PP.htm
[7] http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY13budsum.pdf
[8] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/63908/000006390813000010/mcd-12312012x10k.htm
[9] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-0000
[10] http://money.msn.com/investing/5-companies-that-owe-workers-a-raise
[11] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#35-3020
[12] http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/resources/online-library/life-free-hunger-tackling-child-malnutrition
[13] http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/320193/000119312512444068/d411355d10k.htm
[14] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/23/goldman-sachs-agm-drive-food-prices-up
[15] http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/1630.pdf
[16] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/09/13/america_latina_crisis_precio_alimentos
[17] http://home.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/newsroom/wfp204445.pdf
[18] http://www.capgemini.com/sites/default/files/resource/pdf/wwr_2013_1.pdf
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/hunger
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

9 Ways the Right’s Ayn Randian Experiment Screws Over the Young

Blog for Our Future, By RJ Eskow, June 17, 2013

Conservatives keep claiming liberals want a “cradle-to-grave nanny state.” That rhetoric has distracted us from the real social re-engineering taking place all around us. The right, along with its “centrist” collaborators, is transforming our nation into a bloodless and soulless Randian State.

Their decades-long assault on our core social values is on the verge of consuming its first complete generation of Americans. Born at the dawn of the Reagan era, Millennials were the first to be fully subjected to this all-out attack on the idea that we take care of each other in this country, and they’ll pay for it from the cradle to the grave.

Some of us are the parents of Millennials. Who’ll fight with them, and for them?

The Psychosis

The Simpsons made a running joke out of Springfield’s “Ayn Rand School for Tots [3],” where toddlers fend for themselves in playrooms whose signs say things like “Helping is Futile.” That’s very funny. What is happening to our country isn’t.

A successful social contract has bound us together since the FDR era. The Randian State is an effort to dismantle it, replacing our nation’s web of mutual trust and support with a lifelong helplessness and dependence on the whims and generosity of corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals.

The Randian State is built in the morally depraved mold of right-wing über-heroine Rand, who reviled the less fortunate – and even those who tried to help them – as “parasites [4],” while at the same time idolizing sociopathic killers.

That last statement isn’t rhetoric. It’s reporting. “He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman,” Rand wrote admiringly of child murderer and dismemberer William Edward Hickman. “He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”

As Mark Ames [5] points out, this echoes Rand’s description of her hero in The Fountainhead:  “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

Hickman’s actions were certainly not those of a “nanny.” But, while most conservatives undoubtedly disapprove of his deeds, the glorification of sociopathic selfishness represents the mentality with which the Administration is perpetually seeking “compromise.” It has infected everything from the Beltway’s “bipartisan” consensus to the content of our national media.

Where’s Julia?

Conservatives went into rhetorical overdrive last year after the Obama campaign released an “infographic” ad called “The Life of Julia,” depicting ways Obama’s policies help women throughout their lives.

A typical reaction came from self-declared moralizer, former Reagan official, and chronic excessive gambler [6] William Bennett. Bennett intoned [7] that “Julia’s entire life is defined by her interactions with the state … Notably absent in her story is any relationship with a husband, family, church or community … Instead, the state has taken their place and is her primary relationship.”

That’s deceptive, of course. The presentation focused on government because it wasabout government.  The Obama campaign wasn’t proposing to marry her or drive her to church. But reason rarely intrudes on such arguments. The Romney campaign quickly prepared a counter-slide show and the “socialist” debate was on.

Obama won.

Curiously, “Julia’s” story seems to have disappeared from the BarackObama.Com [8] and Organizing For Action websites now that victory’s been achieved. Old links to it are dead, and attempts to click on this introduction [9] only lead back to the site’s main page.

Anti-Social.

Bennett’s phrasing was drawn from conservative avatar Margaret Thatcher [10]. Thatcher represented a radically un-American vision of life which lacks either our sense of community or our bonds of mutual trust, and which denies even the existence of society itself.

“Who is society?” demanded Thatcher. “There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families …”

Conservatives went searching for evidence that centrist Obama was really pushing cradle-to-grave socialism. The only target they could find for their faux outrage was Michelle Obama’s campaign [11] to encourage breastfeeding, an embarrassing right-wing misfire which suggests there may be Freudian overtones to their “nanny” outrage.

Instead of pushing “cradle to grave” statism, the Administration pivoted immediately after the election to government-shrinking Grand Bargains. A “sequester” agreed to by both parties began slashing services on both ends of life. And the Administration’s attempting to end the sequester, not by calling for its straight repeal (as it should), but by offering cuts to Social Security at the later end of that “cradle to grave” span.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why “Julia” has disappeared from the Obama website.

The Manifesto

The Randian State’s first manifesto may have been the startling document produced by Ronald Reagan’s “blue ribbon” education commission in 1983, which proposed to use schools as factories for more effectively turning Millennials – and every generation that follows – into usable raw material for corporate production.

The commission approached American education in a self-declared state of crisis, saying it was asked to address “the widespread public perception” – held by whom, exactly? – “that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.”

The sternly ideological report which resulted was called “A Nation At Risk [12].” Though right-wing in content, it reads like a Soviet proclamation on industrial production. Students are redefined as inputs in a system to maximize American corporate competitiveness, productivity and profits.

“History is not kind to idlers,” says the report. “We live among determined, well-educated, and strongly motivated competitors. We compete with them for international standing and markets …”

The rhetoric is hectoring and fierce:

“(T)he educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

The “problem” was stated in terms that were both militaristic – “We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” – and moralistic: “Our Nation’s schools and Colleges … are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve.”

That was an assault on an idea that had been uncontroversial among Americans of all political persuasions for generations: that education can and should help children learn to participate more effectively in society. The authors had more concrete objectives in mind.  Like Communist commissars plumping next year’s wheat harvest, their goal was productivity, productivity, productivity.

“Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce,” wrote the Commission.  And by “raw materials,” Millennials, they meant you.

The rest of the Commission’s report is largely taken up by a) platitudes, and b) statistical studies which soon challenged aggressively [13].  But the Randian State moved on, Millennials firmly in its maw. And while A Nation At Risk only targeted students, it soon had Americans of all ages in its sights.

Birth School Work Death

During the Thatcher years a British punk group called The Godfathers put out a song called “Birth School Work Death.” Here are nine ways the Cradle to Grave Randian State is harming Millennials in those four stages of life.

1. Prenatal Nutrition

For some the new regime began even before they were born. The Reagan Administration moved to cut nutrition funding [14] for 600,000 pregnant women, a particularly hypocritical act for a movement which claims to be concerned about the rights of unborn children.

2. Early Childhood Nutrition

The same cuts also lowered food budgets for children in 4.6 million households, eighty-seven percent of which lived below the poverty line.

3. School lunches

The National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 both promoted healthy meals for America’s schoolchildren.  Seems benign and even wise – unless you’re a Randian, of course. The Reagan Administration added to cuts in 1980 budget, then passed into infamy when it stated that ketchup and pickle relish [15] could be considered “vegetables” when designing a balanced diet.

Few, if any, parents adopted this approach at the family dinner table. “Kids, finish your vegetables!” never became “Kids, finish sucking the factory produced, sugar-drenched condiments out of those little folding packets!”

4. Cutting education funds.

The Reagan Administration’s cuts to the Department of Education, some occurring under Education Secretary William Bennett, eventually totaled $19 billion.

The right has continued to mount an assault on school funding at every level ever since, from local school boards up to the state and Federal level. They’ve been joined by “centrist” Democrats like Rahm Emanuel in their efforts to demonize teachers and privatize schools.

5. Making college unaffordable.

The University of Virginia’s Miller Center conducted a study for the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and found that “Since the mid-1980s” – roughly the start of the Millennial Generation -”the costs of higher education in America have steadily shifted from the taxpayer to the student and family.”

Median family income have risen by 147% since then, while college tuition and fees rose 439%, a tripling of education costs in real dollar terms. The impact has been greatest on lower-income families, sounding a potential death knell for social mobility.

From the New York Times: “Among the poorest families … the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000.”

6. Leaving graduates drowning in debt.

The misguided ‘privatization’ of Sallie Mae, the government’s student loan enterprise, led to a series of political and financial scandals. (See “Sallie Mae’s Jets [16].”) It also contributed to an explosion of student loans, many of which went to highly dubious ‘colleges’ which issued high-cost, worthless degrees. Many other students went to more legitimate institutions, but found themselves drowning in debt.

Now 7.4 million students [17] are about to see a doubling of their interest rates unless something is done.  Elizabeth Warren [18] has proposed given them access to the Fed’s ultra-low rates for banks, while more modest proposals would keep current rates in place.

The student debt situation for Millennials would be morally unconscionable even if rates remain at current levels.  Anything else is shocking to contemplate.  The UPI reports today [19] that Sen. Lamar Alexander said the President and Republicans “agree” on what should be done.

That’s not reassuring.

7. Massive unemployment.

There are 10 million unemployed young people [20] in the United States. The official youth unemployment rate is 16.2 percent, the adjusted rate (including discouraged workers) is22.9 percent [21] – not much better than the Eurozone’s – and the anemic ‘jobs recovery’ is even weaker for Millennials.

The crisis covers everything from high-school-age summer and after-school jobs to employment after graduation.

Studies show that youth unemployment lowers income for the rest of a person’s life. That means this crisis is urgent as well as massive. Every passing month harms the future of an entire generation. What immediate, major measures are being proposed to address this emergency?

None.

8. An increasingly inequitable, wage-stagnating economy.

When Millennials do find jobs – hopefully – they’ll enter a marketplace and economy plagued by historic levels of wage inequality and stagnation.

That’s not an accident: It’s policy.Tax rates favor inequality [22].  Right-wing Republicans and “centrist” Democrats have savaged unions, an effective counterweight against growing inequality. And both parties have served the growing financialization of our economy (although the GOP does it with more gusto), making things worse for everybody except Wall Street.

9. Greater fear and insecurity in old age.

Now the President has proposed cutting Social Security benefits through the cynical “chained CPI.” The “Chain” is also a tax increase, but only on income below the highest level, which means it will aggravate the inequalities that are hurting the vast majority of Americans.

Every generation will suffer if it passes, including those who have already retired. But for Millennials it will be a final late-life kick from the Randian State.

A Letter to Millennials

The year was 1984. Wham! and Cyndi Lauper were topping the charts.  The top movie of the year was, appropriately enough, The Terminator.  And the nation was re-electing Ronald Reagan. Americans are now suffering from birth to death as a result of this triumphal year for Randians, which plunged us deeper into a red-in-tooth-and-claw world and left millions struggling with its social consequences.

As they used to say back then: Have a nice day!

Dear Millennials:  We tried to stop them. We failed. We’re sorry.  Now we need a party – and more importantly, a movement – that will refuse to allow the continued destruction of government’s vital role in our social fabric.

Until we do, every generation will suffer. But you, the Millennials, will continue to carry the dubious distinction of being the first generation of Americans to have been assaulted from the cradle to the grave. For your sake and everyone’s else, you must fight back.

This Father’s Day, here’s a promise: Some of us will be right there beside you.

(This piece has been edited slightly since first published, mostly to replace the awkward phrase ‘Rand-y’ with ‘Randian.’)

 

See more stories tagged with:

rand [23],

ayn rand [24]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/ayn-rand-0

Links:
[1] http://www.ourfuture.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/rj-eskow
[3] http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/Ayn_Rand_School_for_Tots
[4] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/129091-the-man-who-attempts-to-live-for-others-is-a
[5] http://exiledonline.com/paul-ryans-guru-ayn-rand-worshipped-a-serial-killer-who-kidnapped-and-dismembered-little-girls/
[6] http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/474.html
[7] http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/opinion/bennett-obama-campaign
[8] http://barackobama.com/
[9] http://www.barackobama.com/truth-team/entry/the-life-of-julia/
[10] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/prof_margaretthatcher.html
[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/15/michele-bachmann-michelle-obama_n_823604.html
[12] http://datacenter.spps.org/uploads/sotw_a_nation_at_risk_1983.pdf
[13] http://www.edutopia.org/landmark-education-report-nation-risk
[14] http://www.csmonitor.com/1983/1108/110814.html/(page)/3
[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketchup_as_a_vegetable
[16] http://www.ourfuture.org/node/44840
[17] http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130531/99593
[18] http://blog.ourfuture.org/20130508/congress-should-pass-elizabeth-warrens-bill-lowering-student-loan-rates
[19] http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/06/15/Alexander-GOP-Obama-agree-on-fixing-student-loan-rates/UPI-83531371323368/
[20] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2013/06/05/65373/americas-10-million-unemployed-youth-spell-danger-for-future-economic-growth/
[21] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/04/06/number-of-the-week-youth-unemployment-at-22-9/
[22] http://www.nationalmemo.com/inequality-rising-all-thanks-to-government-policies/
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rand-0
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ayn-rand-0
[25] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Celebrating Inequality

By GEORGE PACKER, New York Times, May 19, 2013

The Roaring ’20s was the decade when modern celebrity was invented in America. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” is full of magazine spreads of tennis players and socialites, popular song lyrics, movie stars, paparazzi, gangsters and sports scandals — machine-made by technology, advertising and public relations. Gatsby, a mysterious bootlegger who makes a meteoric ascent from Midwestern obscurity to the palatial splendor of West Egg, exemplifies one part of the celebrity code: it’s inherently illicit. Fitzgerald intuited that, with the old restraining deities of the 19th century dead and his generation’s faith in man shaken by World War I, celebrities were the new household gods.

What are celebrities, after all? They dominate the landscape, like giant monuments to aspiration, fulfillment and overreach. They are as intimate as they are grand, and they offer themselves for worship by ordinary people searching for a suitable object of devotion. But in times of widespread opportunity, the distance between gods and mortals closes, the monuments shrink closer to human size and the centrality of celebrities in the culture recedes. They loom larger in times like now, when inequality is soaring and trust in institutions — governments, corporations, schools, the press — is falling.

The Depression that ended Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age yielded to a new order that might be called the Roosevelt Republic. In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.

One virtue of those hated things called bureaucracies is that they oblige everyone to follow a common set of rules, regardless of station or background; they are inherently equalizing. Books like William H. Whyte’s “Organization Man” and C. Wright Mills’s “White Collar” warned of the loss of individual identity, but those middle-class anxieties were possible only because of the great leveling. The “stars” continued to fascinate, especially with the arrival of TV, but they were not essential. Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Perry Como, Joe DiMaggio, Jack Paar, Doris Day and Dick Clark rose with Americans — not from them — and their successes and screw-ups were a sideshow, not the main event.

Our age is lousy with celebrities. They can be found in every sector of society, including ones that seem less than glamorous. We have celebrity bankers (Jamie Dimon), computer engineers (Sergey Brin), real estate developers/conspiracy theorists (Donald J. Trump), media executives (Arianna Huffington), journalists (Anderson Cooper), mayors (Cory A. Booker), economists (Jeffrey D. Sachs), biologists (J. Craig Venter) and chefs (Mario Batali).

There is a quality of self-invention to their rise: Mark Zuckerberg went from awkward geek to the subject of a Hollywood hit; Shawn Carter turned into Jay-Z; Martha Kostyra became Martha Stewart, and then Martha Stewart Living. The person evolves into a persona, then a brand, then an empire, with the business imperative of grow or die — a process of expansion and commodification that transgresses boundaries by substituting celebrity for institutions. Instead of robust public education, we have Mr. Zuckerberg’s “rescue” of Newark’s schools. Instead of a vibrant literary culture, we have Oprah’s book club. Instead of investments in public health, we have the Gates Foundation. Celebrities either buy institutions, or “disrupt” them.

After all, if you are the institution, you don’t need to play by its rules. Mr. Zuckerberg’s foundation myth begins with a disciplinary proceeding at Harvard, which leads him to drop out and found a company whose motto is “Move fast and break things.” Jay-Z’s history as a crack dealer isn’t just a hard-luck story — it’s celebrated by fans (and not least himself) as an early sign of hustle and smarts. Martha Stewart’s jail time for perjury merely proved that her will to win was indomitable. These new celebrities are all more or less start-up entrepreneurs, and they live by the hacker’s code: ask forgiveness, not permission.

The obsession with celebrities goes far beyond supermarket tabloids, gossip Web sites and reality TV. It obliterates old distinctions between high and low culture, serious and trivial endeavors, profit making and philanthropy, leading to the phenomenon of being famous for being famous. An activist singer (Bono) is given a lucrative role in Facebook’s initial public offering. A patrician politician (Al Gore) becomes a plutocratic media executive and tech investor. One of America’s richest men (Michael R. Bloomberg) rules its largest city.

This jet-setting, Davos-attending crowd constitutes its own superclass, who hang out at the same TED talks, big-idea conferences and fund-raising galas, appear on the same talk shows, invest in one another’s projects, wear one another’s brand apparel, champion one another’s causes, marry and cheat on one another. “The New Digital Age,” the new guide to the future by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen of Google, carries blurbs from such technology experts as Henry A. Kissinger and Tony Blair. The inevitable next step is for Kim Kardashian to sit on the board of a tech start-up, host a global-poverty-awareness event and write a book on behavioral neuroscience.

This new kind of celebrity is the ultimate costume ball, far more exclusive and decadent than even the most potent magnates of Hollywood’s studio era could have dreamed up. Their superficial diversity dangles before us the myth that in America, anything is possible — even as the American dream quietly dies, a victim of the calcification of a class system that is nearly hereditary.

As mindless diversions from a sluggish economy and chronic malaise, the new aristocrats play a useful role. But their advent suggests that, after decades of widening income gaps, unequal distributions of opportunity and reward, and corroding public institutions, we have gone back to Gatsby’s time — or something far more perverse. The celebrity monuments of our age have grown so huge that they dwarf the aspirations of ordinary people, who are asked to yield their dreams to the gods: to flash their favorite singer’s corporate logo at concerts, to pour open their lives (and data) on Facebook, to adopt Apple as a lifestyle. We know our stars aren’t inviting us to think we can be just like them. Their success is based on leaving the rest of us behind.

George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is the author, most recently, of “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/20/opinion/inequality-and-the-modern-culture-of-celebrity.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130520

The New Know Nothing Party and the High Price of Willful Ignorance

by John Atcheson, February 19, 2013 by Common Dreams

Ignorance: The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.

Excerpt

Here in the 21st Century the Republicans have become the new Know Nothing Party...  Just as the original Know Nothings employed fear, bigotry, ignorance and hate to motivate its base, so too does the Republican Party… one area of willful ignorance eclipses all others in terms of its denial of fact and the consequences of that denial:  Climate change. The scientific consensus is clear at this point, and it’s backed up by empirical evidence…We are trading away children’s future….So we have a clear and present danger, a strong scientific consensus, and empirical evidence that we are on the verge – or well into – irrevocable global disasters of epic proportion. How does the Party of Willful Ignorance respond?  With intentional ignorance, of course. The question is why. And the answer is simple. They sell ignorance because it is in the interests of their true constituency – the uber wealthy and the corporate special interests.  While tackling climate change would avoid catastrophic costs and create jobs, it will hurt the coal, oil and gas interests. Austerity preserves the status quo on who has and who doesn’t.  Them that has would continue to get, them that doesn’t would lose even more.

Hawking government as the problem lets them turn over trillions in retirement and health care profits to the private sector while increasing your individual debt.  It converts education from a public right to a private profit center. It allows them to justify cutting back on regulations so banks can once again screw you with impunity. It trashes your air, pollutes your water, and destroys your climate..We the people must seize control of the political process with our votes.  Progressive principles won the recent election, and a majority of Americans support progressive positions on a case-by-case basis. If we fail to translate these individual beliefs into broader political practices and votes, it’s due largely to the mainstream media, which regularly presents the “debate” about issues as opposed to the reality of the issues.  Thus, Rubio can still trot out the entire Republican playbook of lies and willful ignorance…As a result, our democracy is diminished; our children’s world is compromised; and our economy remains in service only to the uber rich.

Full text

Here in the 21st Century the Republicans have become the new Know Nothing Party.  Just as the original Know Nothings employed fear, bigotry, ignorance and hate to motivate its base, so too does the Republican Party.

Look at the litany of the new Know Nothing’s commitment to willful ignorance.

For example, the idea that debt and deficits spell doom and austerity will grow the economy.  This buffoonery can no longer be attributed to ignorance – history tells us it isn’t so, and the failed experiments in Europe confirm it.  At this point, holding fast to this notion can only be explained in terms of willful ignorance – AKA bald-faced lies.

Or take the trickle down fantasy that has dominated their economic policy for 30 years.  Nothing trickled down, but a great deal of our wealth has trickled up.  Believing in trickle down can only be explained as a de facto act of economic aggression on the middle class and low-income earners.

We could go on and on here with the Republican’s commitment to lying.  Government as inefficient. The private sector as the provider of all good things by pure serendipity. The Republican’s commitment to freedom and liberty –except when they want to shove an ultrasound device into your vagina, tell you who you may or may not marry, who can and cannot fight in wars … on and on it goes.

But one area of willful ignorance eclipses all others in terms of its denial of fact and the consequences of that denial:  Climate change.

The scientific consensus is clear at this point, and it’s backed up by empirical evidence.  Events that were forecast to occur are occurring, although they’re happening more quickly than modelers expected.

We are trading away children’s future.  If we don’t act, they will face  extreme droughts, a billion or more climate refugees, food scarcity, vast stretches of new deserts, rapidly rising sea levels, extinction of some 50% or more of species, wildfires unlike any that humanity has ever witnessed, floods of biblical proportions, and spreading of tropical diseases, and literally trillions of dollars of defensive investments made in a futile attempt to fix an unfixable disaster.  And unchecked, ocean acidification will destroy virtually all fisheries, and could ultimately effect the generation of atmospheric oxygen.

So we have a clear and present danger, a strong scientific consensus, and empirical evidence that we are on the verge – or well into – irrevocable global disasters of epic proportion.

How does the Party of Willful Ignorance respond?  With intentional ignorance, of course.

The question is why.

And the answer is simple. They sell ignorance because it is in the interests of their true constituency – the uber wealthy and the corporate special interests.  While tackling climate change would avoid catastrophic costs and create jobs, it will hurt the coal, oil and gas interests.

Austerity preserves the status quo on who has and who doesn’t.  Them that has would continue to get, them that doesn’t would lose even more.

Hawking government as the problem lets them turn over trillions in retirement and health care profits to the private sector while increasing your individual debt.  It converts education from a public right to a private profit center. It allows them to justify cutting back on regulations so banks can once again screw you with impunity. It trashes your air, pollutes your water, and destroys your climate.

So why do the Democrats and the press not confront this willful ignorance as the Big Lie it is?  For three and a half years, Obama barely contradicted Republican talking points. But the Republican’s lunatic positions force him to adopt progressive positions in the campaign, just as he had in 2008. But this quadrennial embrace of progressive rhetoric fades as soon as the election is over, and he drifts into the pragmatic compromiser.  And it’s not just Obama.  How could Reid not change the Senate Rules on filibusters?  In fact, the whole Democratic Party acts like the skinny kid in the cafeteria, willfully giving up his lunch money.

To some the answer is that Democrats are actively complicit – that the entire political process is a Kabuki dance in which each Party plays its part. But the fact is, Republicans get 8 times more in political contributions from corporations than Democrats do, so the vested interests seem to see a real difference.

But whether we are in the midst of a Kabuki dance or victims of political cowardice may not matter.  The outcome is the same, and so is the solution.

We the people must seize control of the political process with our votes.  Progressive principles won the recent election, and a majority of Americans support progressive positions on a case-by-case basis.

If we fail to translate these individual beliefs into broader political practices and votes, it’s due largely to the mainstream media, which regularly presents the “debate” about issues as opposed to the reality of the issues.  Thus, Rubio can still trot out the entire Republican playbook of lies and willful ignorance, and the press treats it as a legitimate debate and focuses on a drink of water.

As a result, our democracy is diminished; our children’s world is compromised; and our economy remains in service only to the uber rich.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/02/19-0

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse

By DAVID STOCKMAN, New York Times, July 31, 2010

IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s stand puts the lie to the Republican pretense that its new monetarist and supply-side doctrines are rooted in its traditional financial philosophy. Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

This approach has not simply made a mockery of traditional party ideals. It has also led to the serial financial bubbles and Wall Street depredations that have crippled our economy. More specifically, the new policy doctrines have caused four great deformations of the national economy, and modern Republicans have turned a blind eye to each one.

The first of these started when the Nixon administration defaulted on American obligations under the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement to balance our accounts with the world. Now, since we have lived beyond our means as a nation for nearly 40 years, our cumulative current-account deficit — the combined shortfall on our trade in goods, services and income — has reached nearly $8 trillion. That’s borrowed prosperity on an epic scale.

It is also an outcome that Milton Friedman said could never happen when, in 1971, he persuaded President Nixon to unleash on the world paper dollars no longer redeemable in gold or other fixed monetary reserves. Just let the free market set currency exchange rates, he said, and trade deficits will self-correct.

It may be true that governments, because they intervene in foreign exchange markets, have never completely allowed their currencies to float freely. But that does not absolve Friedman’s $8 trillion error. Once relieved of the discipline of defending a fixed value for their currencies, politicians the world over were free to cheapen their money and disregard their neighbors.

In fact, since chronic current-account deficits result from a nation spending more than it earns, stringent domestic belt-tightening is the only cure. When the dollar was tied to fixed exchange rates, politicians were willing to administer the needed castor oil, because the alternative was to make up for the trade shortfall by paying out reserves, and this would cause immediate economic pain — from high interest rates, for example. But now there is no discipline, only global monetary chaos as foreign central banks run their own printing presses at ever faster speeds to sop up the tidal wave of dollars coming from the Federal Reserve.

The second unhappy change in the American economy has been the extraordinary growth of our public debt. In 1970 it was just 40 percent of gross domestic product, or about $425 billion. When it reaches $18 trillion, it will be 40 times greater than in 1970. This debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.

In 1981, traditional Republicans supported tax cuts, matched by spending cuts, to offset the way inflation was pushing many taxpayers into higher brackets and to spur investment. The Reagan administration’s hastily prepared fiscal blueprint, however, was no match for the primordial forces — the welfare state and the warfare state — that drive the federal spending machine.

Soon, the neocons were pushing the military budget skyward. And the Republicans on Capitol Hill who were supposed to cut spending exempted from the knife most of the domestic budget — entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects. But in the end it was a new cadre of ideological tax-cutters who killed the Republicans’ fiscal religion.

Through the 1984 election, the old guard earnestly tried to control the deficit, rolling back about 40 percent of the original Reagan tax cuts. But when, in the following years, the Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, finally crushed inflation, enabling a solid economic rebound, the new tax-cutters not only claimed victory for their supply-side strategy but hooked Republicans for good on the delusion that the economy will outgrow the deficit if plied with enough tax cuts.

By fiscal year 2009, the tax-cutters had reduced federal revenues to 15 percent of gross domestic product, lower than they had been since the 1940s. Then, after rarely vetoing a budget bill and engaging in two unfinanced foreign military adventures, George W. Bush surrendered on domestic spending cuts, too — signing into law $420 billion in non-defense appropriations, a 65 percent gain from the $260 billion he had inherited eight years earlier. Republicans thus joined the Democrats in a shameless embrace of a free-lunch fiscal policy.

The third ominous change in the American economy has been the vast, unproductive expansion of our financial sector. Here, Republicans have been oblivious to the grave danger of flooding financial markets with freely printed money and, at the same time, removing traditional restrictions on leverage and speculation. As a result, the combined assets of conventional banks and the so-called shadow banking system (including investment banks and finance companies) grew from a mere $500 billion in 1970 to $30 trillion by September 2008.

But the trillion-dollar conglomerates that inhabit this new financial world are not free enterprises. They are rather wards of the state, extracting billions from the economy with a lot of pointless speculation in stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives. They could never have survived, much less thrived, if their deposits had not been government-guaranteed and if they hadn’t been able to obtain virtually free money from the Fed’s discount window to cover their bad bets.

The fourth destructive change has been the hollowing out of the larger American economy. Having lived beyond our means for decades by borrowing heavily from abroad, we have steadily sent jobs and production offshore. In the past decade, the number of high-value jobs in goods production and in service categories like trade, transportation, information technology and the professions has shrunk by 12 percent, to 68 million from 77 million. The only reason we have not experienced a severe reduction in nonfarm payrolls since 2000 is that there has been a gain in low-paying, often part-time positions in places like bars, hotels and nursing homes.

It is not surprising, then, that during the last bubble (from 2002 to 2006) the top 1 percent of Americans — paid mainly from the Wall Street casino — received two-thirds of the gain in national income, while the bottom 90 percent — mainly dependent on Main Street’s shrinking economy — got only 12 percent. This growing wealth gap is not the market’s fault. It’s the decaying fruit of bad economic policy.

The day of national reckoning has arrived. We will not have a conventional business recovery now, but rather a long hangover of debt liquidation and downsizing — as suggested by last week’s news that the national economy grew at an anemic annual rate of 2.4 percent in the second quarter. Under these circumstances, it’s a pity that the modern Republican Party offers the American people an irrelevant platform of recycled Keynesianism when the old approach — balanced budgets, sound money and financial discipline — is needed more than ever.

David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, is working on a book about the financial crisis.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/opinion/01stockman.html?_r=3&th&emc=th&

The Price of Our Freedom

by George Lakoff – Author, ‘The Political Mind,’ ‘Moral Politics’ and ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant!’ – Huffington Post. December 27, 2012

“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” — Barack Obama, Newtown Address, December 16, 2012

That sentence, uttered by President Obama in his Newtown Address, may turn out to be a turning point in American history. The president, in one sentence, turned the beautiful faces of the 20 first-grade children murdered brutally by assault weapons into the moral measure of our nation. Conservatives have argued that guns = freedom, and that there should be no limit on such freedom. The president trumped their argument: The price of not protecting the nations’ children is too high. Permitting the mass murder of our children is not freedom.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

Democracy, as the president has said, begins with the people taking care of one another responsibly, importantly through government as an instrument of freedom. That how we get our public schools, our roads, our sewers, our patent office, our scientific research, our energy, communication and transportation systems, our food safety, our protectors, and all the rest that we need to be free in our private lives. It is a truth: the private depends on the public. We, all together, constitute the public. Unless we take care of one another and one another’s children, we can’t get democracy — and freedom — right.

The gun lobby rests on conservative ideology: Democracy supposedly gives each of us individually the “liberty” to seek our own self-interests with no responsibility for the interests or well-being of anyone else. After and Obama’s Newtown Address, the whole idea of such “liberty” makes no sense.

The time is ripe to end the conservative grip over nearly half of America. That starts with an all-out effort to put in place responsible gun safety laws. Total registration, just like with cars. An end to automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And an end to blaming massacres on crazies. Gun massacres require guns that can massacre. Eliminate them.

The president set just the right tone. We’re in this together. We bear joint responsibility for one another and all our children. If you accept this, really accept it, you can’t keep conservative ideology, not just on guns, but on anything.
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is co-author, with Elisabeth Wehling, of The Little Blue Book.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/the-price-of-our-freedom_b_2314658.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=121712&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

President Obama’s speech at prayer vigil for Newtown shooting victims

By Washington Post Staff, Published: December 16

Full transcript of President Obama’s remarks at a Dec. 16 prayer vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

OBAMA: Thank you.

Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.

“For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.

Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy, they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms and kept steady through it all and reassured their students by saying, “Wait for the good guys, they are coming. Show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma, because they had a job to do and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.”

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question.

Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of, and that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home.

For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-speech-at-prayer-vigil-for-newtown-shooting-victims-full-transcript/2012/12/16/f764bf8a-47dd-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

The Faithful Budget

Priorities for a Faithful Budget – A collaboration of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and organizations…

Our Message to Political Leaders

We write as communities of faith where respect and care for one another is a sacred imperative and we are learning to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” But American society as a whole is, or should be, also such a place, where we delight in the value of each and every one, and gladly accept a mutual responsibility for one another’s wellbeing…

A faithful budget must promote a compassionate and comprehensive vision for the future….
Our message to our national leaders — rooted in our sacred texts — is this: Act with mercy and justice by serving the common good, robustly funding support for poor and vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, and exercising proper care and keeping of the earth…All our faith traditions place people who are impoverished and marginalized at the forefront of concern.  The current fiscal debates – at their heart – are a struggle for the soul of our nation and its moral conscience.  We grieve at the soaring gap between rich and poor; faith and fairness require that we preserve and strengthen vital lifelines for people who are struggling to overcome hardship and poverty in the US and abroad. The faithful way forward to fiscal health calls for a focus on job creation, revenue increases, a shared commitment to the common good, and cuts in unnecessary military spending…

Full text

All our faith traditions place people who are impoverished and marginalized at the forefront of concern.  The current fiscal debates – at their heart – are a struggle for the soul of our nation and its moral conscience.  We grieve at the soaring gap between rich and poor; faith and fairness require that we preserve and strengthen vital lifelines for people who are struggling to overcome hardship and poverty in the US and abroad. The faithful way forward to fiscal health calls for a focus on job creation, revenue increases, a shared commitment to the common good, and cuts in unnecessary military spending.

In Summer 2011, an interfaith coalition in Washington, DC began daily Capitol Hill prayer vigils and worked together out of our common sense of urgency around the need to protect social safety net programs that serve people living in poverty and The Faithful Budget Campaign continues this work in this critical 2012 election year.

Priorities for a Faithful Budget

A collaboration of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and organizations, The Faithful Budget promotes comprehensive and compassionate budget principles that helps lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it while shielding the wealthiest from any additional sacrifice.

Sign On to the Faithful Budget Preamble!

Join your voice to many others calling for a faithful budget. Review the preamble and sign on below. (Note: Signing on is only for the preamble, not for the entire budget document.)

You may also download the preamble document with initial sponsors list, or download the entire Priorities for a Faithful Budget document.

Preamble to Priorities for a Faithful Federal Budget

Our Message to Political Leaders

We write as communities of faith where respect and care for one another is a sacred imperative and we are learning to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” But American society as a whole is, or should be, also such a place, where we delight in the value of each and every one, and gladly accept a mutual responsibility for one another’s wellbeing.

As the American people we understand ourselves to be “one nation under God,” not a mere collection of isolated individuals. All of us have something to contribute to our life together, and none of us is excluded from our circle of mutual care and concern. Government of, by and for the people at its best is a vital forum for promoting the common good and ensuring that no one is left behind.

A faithful budget must promote a compassionate and comprehensive vision for the future. As communities of faith, we call on our elected leaders to craft a federal budget that fulfills our shared duty to each other in all segments of society to those who are struggling to overcome poverty or are especially vulnerable, and to future generations through our collective responsibility as stewards of Creation.
Our message to our national leaders — rooted in our sacred texts — is this: Act with mercy and justice by serving the common good, robustly funding support for poor and vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, and exercising proper care and keeping of the earth.

In the current political and economic climate, neither party is giving voice to the needs of the families who are struggling to overcome poverty. It is simply not true that we must reduce assistance for the poorest among us in order to achieve fiscal recovery. A Faithful Federal Budget can advance fiscal responsibility while increasing support for the poor and vulnerable, by focusing on job creation and economic revitalization, an equitable tax system based on fairness, and true human security over disproportionate military spending.

The way to national recovery is not to close our hearts to the poor, but to heed the words of the Prophet Isaiah who assures us, “[I]f you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday . . .you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in”(58:10-12).

In this time of global economic crisis, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other communities of faith, guided by our sacred texts, advocate a constructive vision of the directions needed for a just society and a healthier world. The common prophetic message found in sacred texts does not rest solely on eternal life, but on God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our shared traditions insist that piety and righteousness cannot remain only individual endeavors, but must also encompass our society’s commitment to justice and mercy.

Principles of a Faithful Federal Budget

Restoring Economic Opportunity: The opportunity to work hard and improve one’s economic condition is a value that defines this nation. But it is a reality increasingly available only to those who are already wealthy. We believe in the inherent worth of every individual and that God intends dignity, health, and wholeness for each person. We need an economy that empowers workers to self sufficiency and provides pathways out of poverty. The principles of “liberty and justice for all”, as enshrined in our Pledge of Allegiance, seem hollow in light of the pace at which wealth and opportunity have shifted from the many to the few. We believe that everyone deserves equal opportunity and must therefore have equal access to the building blocks for success. We urge Congress to make the long-term investments needed to sustain the United States’ economic renewal, create economic opportunity for all, and work toward ending poverty. This requires investments in high-quality, affordable education, sustainable jobs with living wages, and policies that help families to build assets.

Ensuring Adequate Resources for Shared Priorities: From the time a federal income tax was established, the concept of a progressive tax system, based on the ability to pay, has been widely accepted as fair and equitable. Over the last several decades our tax system has grown less progressive, and now frequently places more of a tax burden, as a percentage of income, on the middle class than it does on the wealthiest among us. The tax system also creates financial incentives for individuals to act in ways that are thought to strengthen our social fabric, such as investing and saving for retirement, starting a business, owning a home, getting a college education – even charitable giving. Because of the way tax benefits are structured, however, too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits. This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most. An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level. A Faithful Budget will act to correct this imbalance. Investment in the renewal of our nation’s economic well-being and protecting the poor and vulnerable will itself serve to reduce the long-term deficit. Such investment should be financed through an equitable tax system founded on fairness, where those who have reaped extraordinary benefits contribute proportionately to the good of all.

Prioritizing True Human Security: With well over half of the discretionary budget dedicated to military spending, the United States is unable to invest in other areas that build substantial human security in our communities. Global threats to peace and security need not instill a national inclination to make an imbalanced investment in new weapons systems, detention centers, and militarized border walls, leading to disproportionate spending on the mechanisms of war and enforcement, while we become less secure in so many other ways. We believe a faithful budget must reevaluate these priorities, increase investment in the areas of health, education, and community well-being that are essential to true security. Our budget priorities should reflect a more balanced approach to the full spectrum of investments that build meaningful security for individuals, families, and communities.

Meeting Immediate Need: As it always has been, the faith community itself continues to be committed to serving vulnerable populations at home and around the world. At the same time, we urge our nation to implement policies that will reduce poverty and hardship. As a united people committed to compassion and justice, we fulfill our calling as a people when we invest in a social safety net that will support the vulnerable in times of hardship, such as recession, unemployment, sickness, and old age. Even as the economy has begun to revive, unemployment rates remain remarkably high. Proactive stimulus policies and the elasticity of the mandatory safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, are incredibly effective measures that have prevented millions from falling into poverty. Congress has the moral and pragmatic responsibility, even as it pursues long-term deficit reduction, to adequately fund critical human needs, social service, environmental protection, and humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance programs, all of which ensure human security in its broadest sense.

Accepting Intergenerational Responsibility: We cannot leave our children a legacy of debt, but neither must we leave them a legacy of rising poverty and growing inequality. As educational programs, adequate housing, health care, nutrition programs, job training, and other community services all fall victim to pressures to reduce the deficit, economic vulnerability continues to grow and more families find themselves one disaster away from poverty. Our nation’s vital social safety net did not create the deficit, and the vulnerable populations served by the social safety net it should not bear the brunt of deficit-reduction measures. A Faithful Budget will seek wise and far-sighted ways to reduce the nation’s long-term deficits while protecting the most vulnerable among us.

Using the Gifts of Creation Sustainably and Responsibly: In the book of Genesis, God called Creation “good.” Because of Creation’s intrinsic worth, the earth and its resources deserve our respect and our consideration. While the earth has been given to us as a home, and while its resources are bountiful and good, we have abused this gift, placing unsustainable burdens on our environment and its resources. As a human community, we owe a debt to our environment, both for its own sake as well as our own. Environmental degradation has substantial, and potentially irreversible, short and long-term impacts, such as rising health care costs from air pollution and resulting respiratory problems; increased premature deaths due to the cumulative impacts of poor air quality; declining water quality in our communities; degradation of public lands; global climate change, which is already affecting some of the most vulnerable populations on earth; and loss of open space. A Faithful Budget must encompass a reverence for our created environment, making choices that protect air, water, and land—the entirety of Creation—gifts from God that must be available to and protected for this generation and those to come.

Providing Access to Health Care for All: As providers of services and care, both physical and spiritual, our members, congregations, and institutions are well-acquainted with the importance of providing access to health care for all people. All individuals, regardless of their age, income, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, geography, employment status, or health status, deserve equal access to quality, affordable, inclusive and accountable health care. Reducing health care options for some based on any of these factors is profoundly unjust. As we examine the interwoven web of access within the federal budget, there are areas of profound concern for the common good and practices of good stewardship. A Faithful Budget will ensure access to quality health care by investing in wellness and making needed improvements in the health care system.

Recognizing a Robust Role for Government: We are inspired by a common conviction that God has called on all of us – as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society acting together through our government – to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all people. For this reason the faith community has worked alongside the United States government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad. People who need help paying rent or feeding their children come to us, frequently as a first and last resort, and we do all we can to provide the aid that compassionate love demands. And yet, faith communities and agencies cannot do it alone. The need is great as many who once gave to our ministries of mercy are now recipients of our charity. We need the government’s continued partnership to combat poverty by providing a truly adequate short-term safety net, and by means of policies that serve to prevent poverty, reduce extreme inequality, restore economic opportunity for all, and rebuild a robust middle class.

The Call

As faith communities and Americans of conscience we stand with those among us with those whose need is great and we call on all of us to act together as the American people with mercy and justice, and to re-arrange our national priorities to focus on the common good. Accordingly, this Faithful Budget boldly proclaims the aspirational goals toward which, we believe, our nation much strive. More pragmatically, we urge Congress and the President to show their intent to move toward these goals by enacting legislation that enhances the well-being of all Americans and to make a good faith increase in funding for the impoverished and the vulnerable here and abroad in fiscal year 2013.
Let us embrace a call to live together in community, not agreeing on everything, but sharing in the common purpose of bettering our nation, protecting our brothers and sisters here in the U.S. and around the world, and sustainably caring for our environment. We call on Congress and the Administration to craft a federal budget that protects the common good, values each individual and his or her livelihood, and helps lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it while shielding the wealthiest from any additional sacrifice.

The following list of sponsors are those organizations who have endorsed the preamble of the document Priorities for a Faithful Budget.  Click on the links to visit their websites and learn more about them.

Updated: March 22, 2012

American Friends Service Committee
Arkansas Interfaith Alliance
Bread for the World
Center of Concern
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice
Church of the Brethren
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Economic Circle of Justice, Sisters of St. Dominic Blauvelt, NY
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Faithful Reform in Health Care
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Islamic Society of North America
Jesuit Conference
Jubilee USA Network
Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, US
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Minnesota Council of Churches
Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity
Muslim Public Affairs Council 
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches of Christ, USA
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness
Progressive National Baptist Convention
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

http://faithfulbudget.org/about/

The National Debt and Our Children: How Dumb Does Washington Think We Are?

by Dean Baker, Huffington Post, 10/15/2012

While much of the country is focused on the presidential race, the Wall Street gang is waging a different battle; they are preparing an assault on Social Security and Medicare. This attack is not exactly secret. There have been a number of pieces on this corporate-backed campaign in the media over the last few months, but the drive is nonetheless taking place behind closed doors.

The corporate honchos are not expecting to convince the public that we should support cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They know this is a hopeless task. Huge majorities of people across the political spectrum strongly support these programs.

Instead they hope that they can use their power of persuasion, coupled with the power of campaign contributions and the power of high-paying jobs for defeated members of Congress, to get Congress to approve large cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other key programs. This is the plan for a grand bargain that the corporate chieftains hope can be struck in the lame duck Congress.

Most of the media have been happy to cooperate with the corporate chieftains in this plan. There are two main ways in which they have abandoned objectivity to support the plan for cutting Social Security and Medicare.

First they continually run stories about how the deficit and debt are the biggest problems facing the country. They routinely use phrases like “crisis” and other hyperboles to scare their audience about the risks that the debt poses to the country.

The whole notion of a “fiscal cliff” is an invention that implies an urgency that does not exist. There is almost no consequence to not having a deal in place by the end of 2012. The dire projections of recession and rising unemployment assume that we don’t ever get a deal on the budget.

The fixation on the debt certainly cannot be justified by any objective standard. Clearly the most pressing economic problem facing the country is the tens of millions of people who are unemployed or underemployed as result of the collapse of the housing bubble. These people and their families are seeing their lives ruined due to a monumental failure by policymakers.

Furthermore, it is easy to show that the large budget deficits of recent years are entirely the result of the economic collapse. If the economy were back near full employment, the deficits would be relatively small as was the case before the collapse. Yet it is the deficits and debt that dominate news reporting and debate questions, not the overall state of the economy.

The other way in which the media have been pushing the agenda of the corporate honchos is by refusing to press candidates on their support for the cuts to Social Security that are a likely part of a grand bargain. Does President Obama support reducing Social Security benefits by 3 percent by cutting the annual cost-of-living adjustment? Does he support raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 67? How about your candidates for the Senate or the House?

It’s unlikely that many people know the answers to these questions because the reporters have not been asking them. Yet these policies and other cuts that would likely be part of a grand bargain would have a much more direct impact on most people’s lives that the tax proposals being touting by President Obama and Governor Romney.

To be specific, the reduction in Social Security benefits from the cut in the in the cost-of-living adjustment that is being pushed as part of a grand bargain would have more impact on most future retirees living standards than ending the Bush tax cuts on the richest 2 percent would have on their living standards. While the media have done endless pieces on the impact of this possible tax increase on the wealthy, they have done almost nothing on the impact of cutting the cost-of-living adjustment on the living standards of retirees.

This, of course, fits the needs of the corporate honchos who are pushing the agenda for cutting Social Security and Medicare. They don’t want these cuts to become an issue before the election because it will make it harder for members of Congress to vote for them.

This is why the reporters covering this election deserve nothing but contempt from the public. It is their job to highlight the issues that will matter to people’s lives, not to help push the agenda of corporate America. But clearly they have decided to do the latter.

Dean Baker is Co-director, CEPR; author, ‘The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive’

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/national-debt_b_1968868.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=101612&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief