Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
When you contemplate all of the problems that beset us in this election year it is hard not to feel daunted by the task of finding solutions. Many millions of American’s are without jobs, with the prospect of future employment seeming illusory. The top 1% of the American population controls vast amounts of the country’s wealth. http://www.businessinsider.com/15-charts-about-wealth-and-inequality-in-america-2010-4?op=1 Wages of average Americans have stagnated for the past 40 years to such an extent that our middle class is shrinking rapidly. The housing boom of years past has become a bust of monumental proportions and foreclosures are destroying formerly viable neighborhoods. Our once barely adequate “safety net” has been shredded and there are attempts to destroy both Social Security and Medicare as we know it. Despite a weak attempt at Medical reform millions of Americans find health care unaffordable, with many dying and others forced into bankruptcy to stay alive. Due to lack of money America’s once magnificent infrastructure is rotting and solutions are not on the horizon.
The collapse and bailout of our banking industry has cost us trillions and appears to have been brought about by fraudulent practices on the part of the industry, yet no one has been indicted. In fact the remuneration of top executives in this duplicitous industry has actually increased. Efforts to impose stiff controls ensuring that these artificial crises don’t happen again and that these huge financial entities do business ethically, have failed to pass the Congress. We see that the fallout from the American banking crisis has undercut the world’s economy and that economic crises in other industrialized nations appear regularly. Please notice I’m only referring to the economic problems we face and only producing a partial list of those economic problems.
We have seemingly come to the conclusion of an unnecessary war in Iraq, where trillions were spent and perhaps a million were killed, yet the withdrawal of troops is to bases that surround Iraq. We are leaving about 40,000 Americans in country, many as mercenaries (contractors is a euphemism) as we support the largest diplomatic infrastructure in any foreign nation. The war in Afghanistan still rages in a land that has never been significantly shaped by any outside empire, this despite the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the virtual destruction of Al Qaeda. Hundreds of billions are being spent and the lives of our troops are put in danger, in an exercise with little hope of success. Billions are going towards building Afghanistan’s infrastructure as ours is falling apart. Yet these instances fail to raise the broad spectrum of the military/foreign policy problems continuing to plague us. These issues include a military budget that far greater than that of all other nations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures
However, these three paragraphs still do not encompass the broad range of problems we Americans face. There is more to be touched on before we come to the conclusion that I’ve reached, that there is one problem that not only transcends all of these, but its need for immediate solution supersedes any of the others in importance.
On this blog the issue of civil liberties is constantly with us because our host/founder is a distinguished Constitutional Law Professor and Lawyer. Jonathan Turley’s career has been spent fighting for civil liberties and for our freedoms. One result of the tragedy of 9/11 has been the steady erosion of our civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism. The formation of a “Super Agency”, the frighteningly named (on so many levels) Department of Homeland Security has centralized LEO’s of all levels, both civilian and military intelligence organizations, into an establishment with unprecedented vigilance of American’s daily lives. We have allowed torture, used brainwashing and unlimited preventive detention. This doesn’t fully subsume the efforts made in the losing War on Drugs that has cost hundreds of billions and in fact has proved to be an utter failure. The major drug dealers receive the main benefits via higher profits created by this enforcement. A side effect, but perhaps far more costly has been the phenomenon of our country having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Our incarceration rate is way beyond Russia and China, not to mention other nations whose names are synonymous with oppression. We have literally created a prison industry, with privatization and hiring out of prisoners to work for private industries in virtual chain gangs. This is a return byAmericato indentured servitude and perhaps slavery. As any of our regular readers on this blog know the above merely superficially touches upon the problems we have in ensuring civil liberties and staving off prejudice.
So far I’ve touched on the critical issues we face regarding the economy, the Military/Foreign Policy establishment and on the erosion of our constitutional freedoms. The last area I’d like to briefly explore is that of the encroachment of religion into our political life and the radical new interpretations of Church/State separation it has brought. It is true that in America there has always been a tension between those who wear their religiosity on their metaphoric sleeves and the right of average Americans to live their lives as they see fit. This encompasses the right to believe, or disbelieve as we choose. I grew up in a time when great literary works were banned from our shores, where movies were censored, where an actual husband and wife on a TV show (I Love Lucy) had to be depicted as sleeping in separate beds and when she was obviously pregnant, the word pregnant couldn’t be used. In my native New York State, our Governor’s wife had to established residence in Reno,Nevada in order to divorce him, since divorce was not allowed in New York. This was how far religion already had encroached upon civil life and the lives of ordinary people in times past.
Today we are faced with the specter of religion once again dominating our society. These new religious zealots disdain separation of church and state; re-write history to suit their narrow views; would force a woman to bear children she doesn’t want and enforce their peculiar notions of sin upon all of us. They would resurrect the marginalization of homosexuals via depriving them of their constitutional rights and even go so far as some as suggesting we ban contraception. They raise a legitimate fear of returning us to the “Dark Ages” of only sixty years ago. Sadly, these problems with religious zealots that I’ve enumerated aren’t even a complete catalog of things we should fear by their renewed rise to political power through overwhelming wealth.
What I propose to you here is that all of these difficult situations, to those who view them as problems, have arisen out of one overarching issue. This is the source for all of those dilemmas detailed above and therefore must be dealt with before all of the others. It is America’s transcendent issue. This is the problem of the influence of wealth upon our political system. All of the evils (to my mind) listed above arise from the power to control government that money gives. Think about that in context of every issue I’ve detailed above and you will see that at its root is the influence of entrenched wealth upon our political system. The economy is a no-brainer. The Military/Security/Industrial Complex, of which Dwight Eisenhower warned, has controlled our military budget and our foreign policy. This interlocking self interest group has required diminishing our civil liberties to justify the money spent on wars and intrusion into foreign affairs, by promoting a climate of fear. They also use unconstitutional intrusion to intimidate and/or punish those who expose their misdeeds. Religious institutions free of taxation and oversight have developed huge war chests to control politicians and ensure that they adhere to certain litmus tests of “putative piety”.
From lobbying efforts and emoluments offered politicians, to the vital need for campaign financing that politicians rely on to get elected/re-elected, money drives our system. All of the difficulties we face arise because of the influence of wealth upon our political system. Therefore, in my opinion this should be the transcendent issue that must be addressed if we have any hope of making America conform to the vision of our Founding Fathers. While some may argue that I’m belaboring the obvious, I would put to them that nothing else can be changed until we change our laws on campaign financing, lobbying and corporate personhood. In that mix we should ban religious entities, not from their right to freely practice their beliefs, but from the ability to influence politicians through money that is un-taxed. In America everyone should have the right to have their say, but it is intolerable that the opinions of some “elite” citizens prevail because their money is considered “free speech” as was formulated in the SCOTUS case Buckley v. Valeo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckley_v._Valeo and then recently expanded in the infamous “Citizens United Case”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission .
An example of “Citizens United” impact was seen this week in Iowa where there were massive infusions of so-called “Super-Pac” money for campaign ads, which changed the dynamic of the Iowa Caucus. The Jack Abramoff lobbying case brought out the sickening details of how politicians were bought and corrupted. Abramoff ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Abramoff ) was recently released from a minor jail term, but most of those he was involved with, like the ubiquitous Grover Norquist and Karl Rove were never indicted. That Abramoff is trying to atone for his behavior by speaking out against money in politics, is but a cruel irony of how powerless the system is to deal with its corruption by money.
My conclusion is that with so many problems to deal with in our country our efforts to bring significant reform must “follow the money”. If we can’t limit the destructive effect of wealth upon our political system, our efforts at dealing with the many other issues destroying our Constitutional government will fail. I believe we must start here. What do you think? Below are links to organizations that have been formed to fight the influence of wealth and to overturn Citizens United. If you agree with me you might check some of them out to see if they are worthy of your support.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger