Get Educated, Get Organized, Get Active!
Our cities are deteriorating physically. All one needs to do is check out the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to view their "report card" to see. I am sure many of us see it in our daily lives anyway. Here is the summary of their report:
Congested highways, overflowing sewers and corroding bridges are constant reminders of the looming crisis that jeopardizes our nation's prosperity and our quality of life.
We are also deteriorating socially. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is probably one of the most important social organizations we have, providing many vital services the government fails to deliver. Yet ACORN was successfully vilified in the press despite their blatant innocence against the charges that were levied against them.
They were accused of voter fraud, but it was rarely, and I mean rarely, explained how the process worked, that ACORN itself flagged the dubious registration forms that they are required to turn over, double-registration could not mean double-voting and attempting to register Mickey Mouse will not mean the cartoon could vote.
They were made a scapegoat for Republican losses, the media essentially did not do their homework or their jobs and most citizens turned on an organization that should be celebrated.
But there is more deterioration to be considered in our society. What does it say about our democratic process when Dick Cheney can be asked his thoughts on an overwhelming majority of the population being opposed to the war in Iraq and reply, "So what?"
Again, we could turn to important media observers like Project Censored or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) or Media Matters for America to see just how much information is not given to us or how distorted it is by private interests. All of which has a tremendous effect on our politics.
In his preface to the book Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote:
The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
Economically we are seeing the wealthy get catered to while the working class, the poor in general, not to mention the disabled and the elderly, get virtually ignored.
On his homepage Gar Alperovitz, the Political Economy professor, informs us that:
• The top 5% of Americans own just under 70% of all financial wealth.
• The top 1% of Americans now claim more income per year than the bottom 100 million Americans taken together.
• The top 2/10th of 1% makes more on the sale of stocks and bonds in one year than everyone else combined.
The distribution of wealth ownership in America is truly feudal--and deeply corrosive of our democracy. Is the growing concentration of wealth inevitable, or are there innovative models and policies that begin to point the way toward more equitable ownership of wealth by individuals, workers, communities?
The coming November election could become a truly fundamental turning point for Democrats and progressives.
I think Gar's question is answerable and while his possible solutions are worth considering I personally think Participatory Economics (Parecon for short) is more detailed and thought out. In the mean time I will quote Noam Chomsky in a personal email to me on this subject:
There's no "right way" for everyone. There's no "right answer" for all circumstances. There are a lot of options and opportunities. Which ones to pursue, even to experiment with, is a highly personal matter, depending on interests, commitment, and a host of other factors that I don't know at all and that you know better than anyone else. We just have to find our own ways.
A recent study has shown that one out of three Americans are having difficulty paying their medical bills. With nearly fifty-million uninsured and health care costs that are already more than double per capita than the rest of the developed world we can no longer ignore the crisis that awaits us. At the center of this crisis in insurance and prescription costs is private ownership. The very fabrics of our lives have been reduced to little more than commodities to be sold on a cold, stale, heartless market and many people are simply finding it impossible to make ends meet.
The economist, Dean Baker, has recently noted that we can:
Take advantage of the current economic crisis to announce plans to jump start national health care insurance. Extending health care insurance can be an effective stimulus that will provide an immediate boost to the economy.
More importantly, it will provide the same access to health care that people in other wealthy countries have long taken for granted.
We could also address some other issues.
For example: Social Security. Despite the program being solvent through 2049 benefits are simply not enough for their recipients, more than half of whom rely on it as their main source of income. But the solution is relatively easy: lift the cap on taxable income. It makes no sense to cap it at barely over $100,000 a year because this means those who are in a better position to make their contribution are not having their full income taxed. Why should someone making $30,000 a year have their entire income taxed while Warren Buffett, who makes about $50 million a year, see less than half of one percent of his income taxed?
We could also be heeding the warnings of the late Seymour Melman who wrote a lot about Pentagon Capitalism and War, Inc. The Pentagon is used as a huge source of funneling taxpayer money to finance private companies. Much of it is used to create technologies and weapons, some is useful and some are undesirable though considering we are less than 5% of the world's population, we spend more than half of the world's military budget. In other words, loads of pork barrel spending.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we have deteriorated environmentally. In the last fifty years we have seen more than half of the rain forests, wetlands and grasslands disappear to a form of industrial development that ignores its ecological impact.
For too long we have viewed our planet as a "free lunch" and despite knowing our methods of development are crude and harmful we have argued that to change them would hurt the economy.
Despite the fact that countless studies have shown this simply isn't true it is astounding that we would brazenly admit that destroying the environment we rely on to sustain life is more acceptable than economic hardships.
Again, we should seriously be contemplating a post-capitalist society if this is the kind of behavior we will exhibit towards people and the environment. I think a reasonable place to begin looking for alternatives is with the work of William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book, Cradle to Cradle; Remaking the Way We Make Things:
In Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart argue that the conflict between industry and the environment is not an indictment of commerce but an outgrowth of purely opportunistic design. The design of products and manufacturing systems growing out of the Industrial Revolution reflected the spirit of the day-and yielded a host of unintended yet tragic consequences.
Today, with our growing knowledge of the living earth, design can reflect a new spirit. In fact, the authors write, when designers employ the intelligence of natural systems—the effectiveness of nutrient cycling, the abundance of the sun's energy—they can create products, industrial systems, buildings, even regional plans that allow nature and commerce to fruitfully co-exist.
The significance and relevance of all of this is that we owe it to ourselves, each other and successive generations to understand our place in the world, what we are contributing and leaving behind, whether we can hand over the world we are borrowing from our children in better shape or at least the same, and to continually redefine who and what we are for the spiritual satisfaction of commonwealth.
To do this we could use three slogans to assist us:
1. Get Educated
2. Get Organized
3. Get Active
There is nothing more important to resolving our problems than to understand them. From there it is essential to find power in numbers and utilize productive methods to achieve our goals.
2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
Media Matters for America
Participatory Economics (Parecon)
President Obama's Path to Greatness: Health Care As Stimulus
Seymour Melman War Economy
Cradle to Cradle; Remaking the Way We Make Things