Sunday, April 28, 2013
Those Who Do Not Remember History
Are Doomed To Repeat It
As I watched with a combination of dismay and amusement the grand opening of the George “Dubya” Bush presidential library this past week, a number of things occurred to me while I viewed the newsreel. We are at a point in our history now where the party that’s still clinging to its former power is refusing to move on. Hey Republicans, or conservatives or whatever, you lost the election. Get over it. Get a life already! But instead many are still reveling in one of military history’s most colossal mistakes, basking in the glory of the act, while forgetting the bitter irony of the event. I'm talking about the war in Iraq. Never mind Afghanistan, at least for the moment. The Republicans want glory. They want credit for being the heroes, for saving civilization. The irony is, their narrow-mindedness and their superficial perspective on world events dooms them to be a curse upon their own land. Nothing is getting done, because of the Conservatives of this land. And what are Conservatives fighting to defend? Only one of the worst situations this country has been in for a long time.
Want reform of the financial markets? Screw you, we're filibustering. Want Healthcare Reform? Screw you, forty thousand people a year can die so the rest can be charged twice as much as the rest of the world for inferior care. Of course, resisting this is painted as resisting big government and the evil overspending liberals. Never mind that we're basically doing most of our healthcare spending in budget neutral ways, or that the Republican's own conduct speaks poorly to their skills as fiscal guardians. The Republicans need their dark enemies to highlight their glorious crusades. The Public Option has to be this great evil, healthcare reform has to be government taking decisions from your doctors hands. Never mind the facts.
They did this all along during the Bush Administration. Everything was about defending what Bush and his Congress was doing, everything was about justifying colossal mistakes. Whether turning a soldier's request for more armor into another chapter in the epic of the evil liberal media, or blaming Katrina's death toll and the subsequent humanitarian disaster on the victims themselves, or coming up with a million different justifications for outing Valerie Wilson, the Republicans devoted themselves to the task of rationalizing failure on a massive scale. If I sound angry here, that is only to be expected. This government-by-rationalization is what I've fought against for the last several years. I don't want to live in a country where the government exists in an alternate universe, where the politicians are so oblivious to reality. And I'm not freaking done, not by a long shot. Since I don't have plans to leave this country that I love, I have plans to be part of a movement, whether it's me by myself, or millions answering the call around my nation, to make the government that runs this country a part of the reality-based community. Rather than jump the gun and jump to conclusions as it suits some ideology, I'm in favor of a government that is constantly on the move, doing objective good for this country.
I'm in favor of the Republicans, and more importantly the US military-industrial complex and its conservative minions, finally coming to grips with the fact that their policies didn't work. They can remain conservatives, keep on favoring conservative ideas, but what gives them the right to let things go to hell to prove ideological points? They are more out of the majority than they've been in years in no small part due to their failure to put politics aside and deal with an emergency with the fortunes of the nation, rather than the fortunes of their party first and foremost. Failure is not an option for me. A government that lets things fail to prove political points is violating its oath of office by failing to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It is tantamount to an abdication of the throne. A government that justifies failure by making political points, is not worthy of governing this country.
For the last decade, America has been the victim of unwise policies, policies that presupposed a willingness for restraint from the financial sector, policies that presupposed that perseverance on a military strategy and distraction from a critical theater of battle would somehow lead to success. These are people who looked at America's economy in the summer of 2008 and said the fundamentals of our economy were sound. That, right up until the point where the crashes made the obvious truth unavoidable. I don't want more government by people who are simply persisting in their policies until events overtake them and make it impossible for them to maintain the status quo. I want people who are adapting to our problems in advance, and allowing the government that flexibility. The last thing this country needs is another decade or decades worth of governance from a party that cannot tell the difference between a defeat and a victory, and resists all efforts to bring its attentions to these problems.
The Democrats aren't perfect, like Obama might say, but they are “perfectable”. There is at least a recognition among the rank and file that the current situation is not to be tolerated, or continued. The charge of the Republican light brigade should end, and this country should be allowed to get back to deciding what the wise thing is, not what is politically convenient to an unwilling, undignified minority.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
The US Is A Failing State:
How Do We Turn This Around?
The United States of America is failing. Failing to adequately tackle the problems in our economic system. Failing to reflect on the deep flaws in our system of government. Failing to repair our image abroad. Failing to adequately protect its citizens from violence at home (the recent terror bombing in Boston is only one example of many). Failing in education, in healthcare, in human rights, in religious tolerance, and even with regard to incarceration of its citizens, as the overcrowded and dangerous US prison system attests to. In fact, we look a lot like the USSR in 1990 – except with a lot more big-screen TV’s. And we all know what happened to the bad old USSR.
Of course you may well take issue with my central contention. You may say that we are prosperous because our GDP is so large. Or that our government works properly (pardon me for a second while I LOL), or even that we have a great healthcare system, and that since most of us are Christians anyway, who do we have to tolerate? I respect your right to those opinions – freedom of expression is one of the few things our country hasn't managed to screw up in the last couple of hundred years. But in every case, the data backs me up. I will try and substantiate my claims first, before putting forth a few solutions of my own.
The first problem is the economy. For example, in 2009 alone 131 banks failed. The TARP bailout granted billions of dollars - with strings attached - to private companies who then used the money to short-sell the market, make countless billions more, hand the government back its money (removing the strings) and pay out lavish bonuses while Americans lost their jobs. It is estimated that in 2014 our national debt will exceed one year's Gross Domestic Product. While this is occurring, a record number of laid off workers are leaving the US workforce forever due to a complete lack of opportunity to better oneself. One in four US workers who are long-term unemployed and over age 50 will never work again. I know this to be true from personal experience because I was one of those most unfortunate individuals. Even now I find myself struggling financially to keep my head above water. Meanwhile, the median family income is less today than it was a decade ago. Our government, as everybody knows, is no longer run by competing ideologies but by corporate interests (I include both parties in this category since both are moneymaking enterprises). There are good Republicans who would prefer that your cancer-stricken child had health insurance. There are responsible Democrats who are horrified by our country's spend-now pay-later approach to finance. But since they are beholden to a higher power – money – they have to vote with their wallets, not with their hearts. At the Federal level, AT&T and Goldman Sachs have contributed over $75M over the last 20 years, and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees plus the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers aren't far behind.
Across the world our reputation is tarnished, perhaps irrevocably. We are seen as an economic and religious bully, and we don't seem to care. We vilify our political enemies for their human rights records while we import cheap goods from countries we know to exploit child labor. We are, to much of the world, intolerable hypocrites. Is it any wonder that they see us this way? When it comes to medical care, healthcare apologists will continue to defend our system at all costs, claiming that so-called socialist states such as England, France and Sweden kill their citizens at will in order to save money, or they may make you wait up to thirty years for a kidney transplant. When our kids can't even get healthcare, that should be a major 'red flag' indicating that something is terribly wrong. Any anthropologist will tell you that we took care of our young much better when we were Neanderthals - so what's changed? For one in six of our citizens to be uninsured is a national disgrace. For one in four kids to be dependent on food stamps at some point in their formative years – and 25% of them are – is a social injustice of the highest order to the point that it foments much discontent. As such I think that this issue should have people out in the streets protesting and being disruptive against the whole darn system. Why it isn't happening hardly at all is a complete mystery to me. Is everyone asleep or drunk? Wake up already and smell the coffee! Revolution is in the air, can't you feel it? I am so glad that those exciting but perilous days will soon be upon us. I can't tell anyone exactly when, but it will happen in the near future, you can count on it.
Why do I think so?We deny basic human rights to our own people, and people of good conscience everywhere are fed up to their eyeballs about it. Furthermore, whom anyone chooses to marry is not a matter for government, it is a matter for the individual. Speaking as a mature Christian man and Web evangelist, although I have no opinion about gay marriage, I adamantly refuse to judge same-sex couples for getting married. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian doctrine, and it is central to the self-identity of every true believer. As to what religion to follow, since I am a full-time ambassador for Jesus Christ, I will lead any and all toward Christ who want to go. As is whether to change your underpants every day, or whether to carry a fetus in your womb, some may not like your choices, but they are inalienable rights and you should be free to exercise them as you will because that is the law of the land.
As far back as 2005, statistics showed that hate crimes against Muslims were increasing 50% year-on-year (although one recent report shows that the numbers are falling again). Even so, the FBI reported that in 2008 hate crimes against homosexuals had increased 9% from 2007, and those motivated by religion had risen by 11%. This is discouraging to say the least. The track we have taken over the last fifty years has been the wrong one. We have let corruption, greed, fame, intolerance and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge our problems almost ruin our nation. We are failing to live the American Dream, and if we don't start now our children will never even know what it was.
I have eight common-sense but fairly radical ideas, and I'm sure you have some of your own. I have chosen not to expound on what I personally think the consequences of these actions would be, as I would be diving headlong into speculation that could easily (and should be) challenged.
. Immediately and totally stop all corporations from giving money to political parties.
. Acknowledge that politics and religion do not mix well, either for good or for bad.
. Make a promise to our children: you will be well-educated, and you will be well-treated when you are sick.
. Change the game. Capitalism is an economic system combined with a federal republic system of government. It is a system that has run its course for all practical intents and purposes. So much debt has accumulated throughout the world that there isn't anywhere nearly enough money in the entire world – all the combined world economies – to pay it off. At some point in the near future, more and more countries are going to find themselves insolvent. When no one can pay back their debts, the whole thing comes crashing down, and that includes the USA. Are you prepared?
. Take a leaf out of the Bible and just treat everyone else with dignity and respect. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you. Leave the gays alone because you're a sinner too, you just commit different sins than they do. Leave the blacks alone, because racism has no place in church. Leave the Muslims or the Christians alone. When respect departs, enmity is the next train along.
. Pay for it. Child labor is inexcusable. If it costs an extra ten bucks, or extra hundred bucks, to buy something that was made by willing workers, pay it. And the same goes for government. You want healthcare? Pay for it. More troops? Pay for them. Tax breaks for corporations? Ditto. If you have to raise taxes to pay for it, raise taxes. Stop acting like giddy schoolkids with mom's credit card, and damn well pay for what you consume.
. Form coalitions based on issues, not parties. Not every NRA member is anti-abortion. Not every tree-hugging hippie thinks that owning a gun is wrong. When a party tells you how you should think, and what issues should be thrown together into what bucket, you're a lot closer to communism or fascism than you think you are.
. Buy American. From what I can tell, the great empires of yore - from Egypt to Rome to England - were 'first-to-market' with some manufacturing innovation or other, that led to more innovations, and greater strides, that in turn led to them becoming the largest producers of goods in their region. This happened to the USA from the dawn of the twentieth century until the 'fifties. Then we began to transform into a service economy, just as those others did. Producing goods is what is making China become a world powerhouse, and if we are to compete, we must produce our own. American isn't always the best, and it's almost never the cheapest, but if we are to reinstate our status as the world's greatest country, we need to start by supporting our own businesses and workers.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
The Only Way to Survive is By Taking Care of One Another
People everywhere are crying the blues about their financial situation, and with just cause to say the least. People lucky enough to still be in the work force are being forced into low-end service jobs, many of which pay below the poverty line. It's not the people's fault that they can't find jobs. The job market is rigged, and so are the political and economic systems we are currently stuck living under. I found myself forced out of my profession (computer/IT) when I hit my 50's due to what I saw as obvious age discrimination, plus having a low credit score at the time. Your credit score, it seems, can disqualify anyone applying for any job at any time for any reason. The level and concentration of injustice against unemployed older workers is a social injustice, and I will always stand against social injustice!
So how can we fix the system without tearing everything down and starting over on a clean sheet of paper? We must redefine the capitalist economic system in 21st century terms. There are two social injustices going on in our modern capitalist system, and they are the reason the system is broken. The first is the grossly unfair and lopsided distribution of wealth to the top 1% of those deriving their income at the expense of the other 99%. The second is the world's exploding population, meaning there are more and more people in a world of shrinking resources, meaning new methods of redistribution and allocation. We’ve got to redefine everything starting with democracy itself.
If you want to solve a problem, start from the top down. We have been stuck in concepts of representative democracy for 235 years, as well as shareholder ownership in business as opposed to worker-owned or co-operative enterprises. We believe that progress is getting other people to do more things for us, when quite the reverse is true. And I think that we’ve reached the point now where we’re stuck with a whole lot of unworkable concepts, so that when Michael Moore speaks about the number of people who make all this money and other people who don’t, it sounds as if we’re struggling for equality with them. Who wants to be equal to these guys? I think we have to be thinking much more profoundly, such as being on a higher plane of existence.
Actually, if you go back to what Marx said in The Communist Manifesto over a hundred years ago, when he was writing about the constant revolutions in technology, he ended that paragraph by saying, “All that is sacred is profaned, all that is solid melts into air, and men and women are forced to face with sober senses our conditions of life and our relations with our kind.” We’re at that sort of turning point in human history.
And I think that, talking about recovery, talking about democracy, we too easily get sucked into old notions of what we want. So we’re expecting protest. I don’t mind protests, and I encourage them at times. But what happened in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when people gathered to say another world is necessary, another world is possible, and another world is happening, I think that that’s what’s happening. I was there in October 2011 for the commencement of “Occupy DC” in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, and I felt honored and humbled to have been privileged to be a part of that historical event. It inspired me to write my second self-published book, “Occupy America: We Shall Overcome” that winter and spring. I have also since been involved with Occupy Atlanta here in my home town off and on as time permits. It is imperative that we take matters into our own hands. Don't trust your government, they have already been lying to all of us for decades. Take the initiative! Take a look over your shoulder and you will notice that there is no one standing behind you to do anything or to take care of any business for you. It's all on you, and it's all on all of us.
People are beginning to say the only way to survive the early 21st century is to batten down the hatches. So they are building underground bunkers and stocking them with non-perishable foods, water, firearms and ammunition. In so doing they have voluntarily devolved as human beings. Don't forget what Christ said about that, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword”. Otherwise all our time will be wasted by a mad scramble of those who compete with others instead of co-operating with them. All our efforts must instead be devoted to taking care of one another by recreating our relationships to one another. Let me point out a few examples.
In the first place, the US is the only developed country in the world that has no national health insurance and no family leave for workers. That's right, nobody but us. The very people who call these two basic human rights “socialism” are the ones who are profiting off the existing system the most. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The first and foremost duty of any government is to see to the needs of its people.” I think that sums it up perfectly.
The second example are wages, which are downright pathetic. Having been an IT professional for over 20 years, I clearly remember how wages began falling around 2000-2001 around the time of the dot-com crash. By the time I had left the business 2 years ago, the bottom had fallen out as far as wages were concerned. Jobs that paid $20.00 an hour were going for $12.00, and older workers like myself found ourselves shut out of the tech job market for good. Today as I write this, the minimum wage remains at at a paltry $7.25 cents per hour. And what are these pitifully poor people supposed to do with that last 25 cents an hour? Buy lollipops? The minimum wage works out to a take-home pay of about $875.00 per month after taxes and Social Security, not counting state taxes. Go try to live on that for a month or even a week! Many thousands of American families are being forced into doing just that due to circumstances beyond their control. In short, they are exactly where the government wants them: powerless! Take away every available resource they have and they're helpless.
The solution is a realistic minimum wage that will also serve to jump-start America's economy again. Based on the cost of living for a family of four, which would include housing, utilities, internet access, transportation, clothing and medical care, that would work out to about $12.00 an hour for bare essentials. This should be something people are out protesting in the streets about. We want a living wage, now!!
As you can see, our problems can be fixed without having to re-invent the wheel. You don't have to be an economic genius – if indeed there is really such a thing – to figure out some basic, common sense solutions to get America's middle class back to work. Otherwise I fear that too many more formerly middle class Americans like so many of us will fall into the cracks in the sidewalk and disappear.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
We Are The 99%: The Focus of Our Rage
I have given a lot of thought and engaged in plenty of research regarding the plight of “the 99%” of America's population, and what should and should not be done to bring the top 1% in line with the rest of us. Having written two books about this topic, I will now attempt to spell out the basics of what we want, and why we 99%-'ers are undertaking the various “Occupy” protests that are springing up all over the world. We all want basically the same things. We want all the legalized bribery out of politics. This can be accomplished by strict regulation of the lobbyist profession at the very least, but most likely we should consider outlawing the lobbyist profession as it currently operates. If Washington won't do it then “we the people” will have to do it for them. We can accomplish this by, among other things, “occupying” K Street and the offices of the lobbyists, or by laying siege to their offices through human barricades (nobody comes and nobody goes), or other forms of nonviolent protest. Either take the rampant corruption out of our nation's politics and fully prosecute those responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown on Wall Street and for creating the housing bubble just before they intentionally popped it, or else we may well be destroyed by Wall Street and their armies of lobbyists, shady co-conspirators and other henchmen, starting with the Federal Reserve and working our way down from there.
From my vantage point, and based on my own experiences, the least common denominator to everything that we are protesting, marching and occupying for can be boiled down to 2 things: the rights of workers and independent contractors, and the right to economic equality including the peaceful restoration of the American middle class to its former economic and social position in American society. Allow me to use the next few pages to explain exactly how we can go about accomplishing these goals in a manner that is legal, peaceful and orderly so we can set a good example for our nation's kids and grand-kids. One very good way that we could go about accomplishing this is to emulate the peaceful and nonviolent tactics of Rev. Dr. King, Jr. that were utilized during the civil rights marches and protests of the 1950's and 1960's. In so doing, history will be on our side and victory against the top 1% will ultimately be ours.
Let me add one more thing before I get into this. You will notice as you read the rest of this essay/op-ed that there are a lot of ideas in here about how to restore America and its middle class, and how to re-balance the distribution of wealth in a peaceful and orderly manner for the mutual betterment of everyone. These ideas I am about to share are simple and practical solutions to some huge problems that America faces. You will also notice that these ideas can be easily implemented using our existing governmental framework and technology. It won't be necessary to reinvent the wheel in order for America's people to accomplish their goals for the perfection of our society, starting with a rescue of the poor and middle class.
The first and foremost issue of what we 99%-'ers want should be the rights of all workers and independent contractors. We want a $12.00 per hour minimum wage combined with the abolition of the federal income tax and an end to the withholding of US income tax from our paychecks. This would give everyone who makes less than $108.000.00 per year a pay raise amounting to an average of 20% immediately, pumping billions of fresh dollars into the US economy that generates many millions in new tax revenue without raising any existing taxes. Full employment should become the new standard of the world, and that standard should be set by the USA.
The second issue I wish to mention is the right to higher education and/or vocational retraining at will and at nominal cost. This is what we should do for all the long-term unemployed, all the homeless who are healthy enough to work, all unemployed veterans, and for all newly released prisoners who are re-entering society. This is how we can end homelessness for good; simply give these people a trade. Every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to a livelihood and to a living wage. Those unable to find work, or who are having difficulty locating suitable work, and those needing to learn new job skills in order to be self-sufficient have the basic human right to professional retraining without cost. Let our colleges and universities remain as they are, but let our public institutions of higher education consider becoming nonprofits so that higher education is unconditionally accessible to everyone. The days of exclusively for-profit educational institutions must come to an end, because I am convinced that it is immoral and mean-spirited to prevent another human being from being able to sustain themselves because some CEO or policy wonk somewhere thinks that retraining America's workers would be “too expensive”, as if they are not worth the trouble. The best part about this as far as I am concerned is that America can easily afford this, and I will use the war in Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan as an illustration.
If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the illegal occupation of Afghanistan and put it into a basic savings account, there would be enough money to put every school kid in America through 4 years of college fully paid for, including tuition, books, dorms, food, transportation and Internet access, plus a new desktop or laptop computer. Let me give you another example. If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the war in Afghanistan and put it into a savings account, there would be enough money to put every homeless person or family in America – all 2 million of them as of 2012 – into a new 3,000 square foot home fully paid for, fully furnished, with the utilities turned on including Internet access (which the UN declared to be a basic human right as of 2011), and stocked with a years worth of groceries. This is what converting to a peacetime economy can do for America. And all on one day's military expenditures. Then, send them back to school to teach them new trades so they can keep those houses forever.
There is one more important thing that I have yet to mention. The world is changing and developing so rapidly as scientific and technological advances are made that the job market has become very dynamic. As you know, the pace of this advancement is accelerating, resulting in different types of jobs coming and going rapidly in order to meet an ever-changing demand. Higher education, the US public school system and for-profit vocational schools will most definitely have to adjust their curriculum accordingly. You have probably noticed that some very traditional jobs are disappearing. Just ask anybody who used to be in the travel industry, or direct sales, or a factory worker, or a former computer repairman like I was for 23 years. When I went back and tried to get retraining I was told that my credit rating was not good enough to qualify for a student loan. Many of the courses taught in various vocational schools cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I was broke at the time (come to think about it, I still am, but I digress). So, I found myself shut out from any chance at changing careers. As I began to research this I found that it is actually quite commonplace in today's dreary job market. Instead of going back to work like I wanted, I was forced into early retirement, and forced to depend on a government that I despise for my sustenance. I would much rather be self-sufficient, but never mind that. My government has already decided to throw me away because I'm allegedly too old (I'm in my mid-50's as I write this), and therefore too expensive to keep around. Therefore I insist that this practice must come to an end, that higher education should be free for everybody, and that higher education is a basic human right. The days of a college education or vocational retraining being only for those who can afford the tuition (or who “qualify” for predatory and unethical student loans) must come to an end. Do you want to have a better educated country? Fine! Let everybody who wants to get educated – or reeducated – go back to school, and let the government and corporate America foot the bill. The funds are definitely available, as I wrote above.
Of course, I can hear my critics laughing already. Where, they will say, do we get the money to fund re-educating the whole country? We're running a $14 trillion deficit as it is! You know what? You're absolutely right, we do have a seemingly insurmountable federal deficit. How do we tackle both problems together? By creating new taxpayers who have found new careers and gotten their incomes restarted, and there is ample precedent for this very thing. At the end of World War 2, there were about 600,000 former GI's who had just returned from the European and Pacific theaters in the wars against Germany and Japan. Many of them didn't have any marketable job skills, so Congress passed the GI Bill and put all those soldiers through 4 years of college. It paid off handsomely, paving the way for the record economic expansion of the 1960's. Well, if they could do that in the 1940's, why can't they do it in 2013? The answer is that the system most certainly can, and we of the Occupy and 99% Movements must count reeducation as one of the things that we occupy and protest for. Either employ us or retrain us, and we're not leaving until we get what we want.
One final thing about the basic right to higher education. According to data I obtained from the US Department of Labor, and some additional information I obtained from “CareerBuilder.com”, the average student graduate from college today will have to change careers anywhere from 5 to 8 times during the course of their lifetime of employment. So, by today's standards, and assuming career changes involve getting 2-year degrees, somebody going back to school a total of 8 times multiplied by the average cost of obtaining each of those degrees – roughly $30,000.00 times as much as eight – could be as much as a quarter of a million dollars, plus interest. Do our colleges and universities seriously believe that people will be willing to go into that much debt from student loans in their lifetimes, just so they can remain employable? How ridiculous! The cost of tuition for higher education in the early 21st century has reached a level that is so unreasonable that getting a degree has become financially out of reach for all but the top few percent. Excluding the overwhelming majority of all others for purely financial reasons is a social injustice and a human rights violation if there ever was one. We must start demanding our right to higher education as part of our goals. And so we will continue to “occupy” and protest peacefully until we get what we want. We are the 99%!
The third fundamental human right that I want to write about is to be free from poverty and hunger, with an equal chance at prosperity, in a clean and peaceful environment. How do we do all that? We clean up the environment that we already have, and for that you will need lots of people. That brings me to the topic of a huge public works program that this country urgently needs, and this is part of the solution that I see. Therefore, this is indeed another basic human right. This is something that should already have been done at the Presidential level, but unfortunately it is not as of yet. We need massive protests and demonstrations, and a major effort through the social media to get this passed into law. My proposed solution is that all the long-term unemployed people plus all the others I mentioned above be put to work in this new series of public works projects. Some will be doing environmental cleanup, others will assist with bridge and highway repairs, and still others will be repairing sewers and sidewalks. The homeless will be put to work revitalizing abandoned homes left over from the “great foreclosure robbery” (as I called it in my first book). When they are finished with the first home, they can go live in it as they begin repairs on others. We do have the capacity to have full employment at a living wage, and to end homelessness while ending the foreclosure crisis. This is one way to accomplish just that. I encourage anyone having additional ideas to publish them as I have, and the more input the better. And what about all the households where both parents work, or single-parent households? Who is going to watch all those kids? I think we should have on-site daycare available for everybody free of charge. It would be yet another way to create jobs with a starting wage of $12.00 an hour, income tax free.
The fourth fundamental human right, and another way to articulate what we want, is to address the problem of health insurance and its ridiculous cost, pricing 54 million Americans out of the health insurance market and forcing many of us to rely on the local emergency room for medical treatment. It is a fact that every developed country in the world has national health insurance except for the United States. From Europe to Canada to Japan, getting sick is never a problem unless the illness is terminal. Not so in the USA, where health care is on a for-profit basis, and we are the only country in the developed world where this is so. We have the highest cost for health care and the most expensive prescription drugs of any country in the world by far. In other words, good health care in this country is only for those who can afford it. The rest of us are left stranded on the side of the road to health and wellness and without remedy, eventually to die, and well before our time. Speaking as an Internet pastor, I find the idea of denying healthcare to nearly a fourth of the US population (about half of whom are children) just because they can't pay for it to be immoral, unjustifiable, and utterly barbaric.
So what is the solution to this pressing problem? One thing is for sure, every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to good health care. It's as basic as access to clean water (another area where mankind has some work to do). I strongly maintain that it should be a crime for any patient to die because they lacked access to treatment due to having no money or health insurance. There is simply no excuse for that to be happening in the richest country in the world, and I for one am ashamed that it is occurring, and I doubt that I am the only one who has this opinion. Also, people with preexisting conditions or who are beset with a catastrophic illness should always have unconditional access to health care. One possible way to do this would be to change the health care industry in the US from for-profit entities to nonprofits.
Anyone seeking treatment for substance abuse or mental illness, or who are in need of any organ transplants, or kidney dialysis, cancer treatment, or any other serious illness requiring constant monitoring or ongoing therapy, must be able to get treatment without financial qualification. This is not a privilege of the well off, it is a basic human right. It is pointless and very expensive to prosecute and incarcerate nonviolent drug users. They don't need jail, they need treatment.
The question remains then: How do we get caught up with the rest of the developed world when it comes to universal health care? Also, how do we do this within the framework of the existing US health care system(s) in order to conserve on start-up costs and minimize overhead? The plan I propose is simple: Take all currently available medical care in all its forms and put it under one umbrella, so to speak. Merge private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, government health insurance for civilian employees at the state and federal levels, the military and Congress' (including the President's) healthcare plans, plus the entire Veterans Administration hospital system into one single-payer system so that no one is left out. Next, streamline the new universal single-payer health care system by eliminating all the duplicate departments, and by making it an online, Internet-based and paperless system utilizing leading edge information technology in order to lower operating costs and cut way down on paperwork. And third, once this new online system gets rolled out and becomes available to everyone, we'll simply eliminate Medicaid – by putting everybody in the entire country on Medicare, and all persons will have unconditional access to the same level of care, from the President down to the dishwasher at your favorite restaurant. And now, before I move on, let me point out another equally big advantage to having a universal healthcare system such as this.
Having the government take over the administration of healthcare for the entire country is a solution that is long overdue. Don't worry about what might happen to the existing insurance industry, it isn't going anywhere and I will explain why in the next paragraph. Allowing a hypothetical universal healthcare system to work in this manner (and so-called Obamacare comes up way short) would take the burden of providing health insurance for its employees off the backs of businesses, substantially enhancing the profit margins of all US companies both great and small. This will give the American economy – together with US businesses – a far greater financial shot in the arm than any government tax cut could ever hope to. In the process, making US medical care into a series of nonprofit entities will bring American health and wellness up to 21st century speed with comparatively nominal operating costs.
So what happens to the existing insurance industry? These very companies will be the ones who will administer this new digitized healthcare system. They will do so by way of a competitive bidding process to ensure that costs are kept under control, effectively farming out the day-to-day operations of the healthcare program. The companies with the lowest bids will get the contracts, which will be brought up for renewal periodically – say, every 5 years. Running the new universal healthcare system this way will ensure that only the best insurance companies will be administering the program, and that the marginal or substandard insurance companies be ultimately either forced to improve or go out of business.
The fourth and final main thing I want to write a couple of paragraphs about is that of economic inequality, or what I call in my first book “enforced inequality”. Class warfare has been declared by the top 1% against the rest of us, meaning the 99% who are losing our jobs, our homes, our cars, our savings and eventually our health as the enforced liquidation of the US middle and working classes continues. What is needed is a peaceful and orderly redistribution of wealth that is done in a non-violent manner. So how do we accomplish this? I have a couple of ideas, but the first step for America would be to enact an all-new tax system, abolishing the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. This proposed new tax system will be a 2-tiered system, with the national sales tax – or consumption tax – set at 9% (excluding groceries, fuel, utilities, wholesale goods, raw materials, and all government entities). Why 9%, you ask? Well, according to some data that I obtained from the IRS, as well as from the alternative media, the average personal income tax rate in 2011 was roughly 18%, so I am proposing cutting that rate in half. The second tier of this proposed new tax system will be what I call an “excess wealth tax” for the mega-rich, and for any financial transactions that are over a certain limit. For individuals, there is no income tax on the first $1 million, but anything above that gets taxed at a rate of 50%. So, a wealthy household or individual who made $25 million last year would pay no tax on the first $1 million, but they would pay $12 million on the remaining $24 million. For businesses, the proposed consumption tax rate is noticeably more generous, with the first $700 million tax free, and a tax rate of one-third on anything over and above that. So, a company that made $1 billion dollars the previous year would pay no tax on the first $700 million, but they would pay $100 million on the remaining $300 million. On the other hand, a multinational corporation that had $300,000,000.00 in gross proceeds in a given year would also pay a rate of one third, so their tax rate would be $100,100,000.00, or $1.001 billion. As a result, all itemized deductions would come to an end. Ditto for the estate tax and capital gains tax, both of which would be replaced by my proposed Excess Wealth tax. The alternative minimum tax and self-employment tax would also be phased out, replaced by the national sales tax. And the motivation under the current unfair system to stash trillions in profits in overseas bank accounts would become a moot point, generating still more revenue while cutting the tax rate as it stands today.
Under this plan, there is ample incentive for the rich and big business to get enthused about my idea. First, the necessity of providing group health care would go away for US businesses (due to my proposed Medicare-for-all system), followed by the repeal of the income tax. All the money being spent on income taxes and group insurance could be put back into these businesses, making them more competitive than ever before. In fact, I would estimate that such a move by the federal government would go a long way toward making America very competitive in the global economy because the costs associated with operating a business will drop so drastically due to the elimination of these two expenses. And second, the “excess wealth tax” that I just proposed would still provide sufficient funding for costly government institutions like the military and the space program, not to mention the cost of public reeducation and the public works projects I mentioned previously.
Another way to redistribute wealth is by converting unwanted or surplus housing and commercial or office structures into residences, live-work-play developments, green or urban garden space, or new worker-owned businesses such as cooperatives. One of the things that can and should be done with my proposed national public works program is to get rid of all the empty, boarded-up houses that have been abandoned to foreclosure and neglect. Put all the homeless and jobless to work remodeling this otherwise worthless real estate. There are millions of unemployed construction workers who would love to get a chance to do something like this, so why not let them (especially if they have families)? And when they are finished rebuilding them, let them live in them and so revitalize America. Reward them by turning them into homeowners. This is how we can end unemployment and homelessness while turning around the US foreclosure crisis. We can do the same with healthcare and with higher education. Make them both available to everyone unconditionally as a way to enforce economic equality and social parity. This is how we can redistribute American wealth in a peaceful and nonviolent manner, and in so doing set a good example for our kids and grand-kids. The days of making good healthcare and higher education available for only those who can afford it must come to an end. That is unfair, discriminatory, it is a social injustice and therefore a civil rights violation of the worst magnitude. To tell anyone that they can't stay well, or that they can't improve themselves because they have insufficient funds with which to pay, should be a crime.
In closing, everybody needs to have an income and a livelihood. It is cruel and mean-spirited to tell anyone that they are not needed nor wanted, or that they can't be hired because there is allegedly no money to pay them while corporate America sits on trillions of dollars in excess cash. If unemployment is brought to an end using the methods and ideas that I have written about, poverty, hunger and crime will be brought to an end as well – not in a matter of decades, but rather just a couple of years, or the time that it takes them to finish their (free) education. We already have the means to do this, so it would be irresponsible and immoral for us not to act. However, some will say yes, but employed at what? I've been looking for a job for years and I haven't found squat. I have found this to be particularly true among older workers, minorities and people of color.
Brothers and sisters, this is not your fault. Your government, together with some of this country's most well-known institutions such as the US public school system and the multinational corporations, have let you down. All the jobs that could be outsourced overseas were sent away, never to return. The ones that couldn't be outsourced were mostly downsized out of existence, ending millions of careers prematurely. It is for these reasons that we are now protesting in the streets and occupying America in New York, Boston, Washington, DC and Atlanta, among others. Because the truth of the matter is that since these jobs aren't coming back, we as a country should be making new ones, and this should have started decades ago. We have a lot of catching up to do in the area of job creation. The good news is that there are new industries currently being born that can replace all those lost jobs that I wrote about. Green industries like solar power, windmill power generators, the construction of a low-voltage national electrical grid and of fusion reactors, not to mention biotechnology, stem cell research, nanotechnology, robotics, seashore desalination plants for an endless supply of clean water, and a greatly expanded and revitalized space industry are the new growth industries of the 21st century.
Seriously, people! We first landed on the moon in 1969, took our last trip there in 1972, after which our country's “leadership” mysteriously gave up and quit. This was alleged at the time to be due to insufficient funding, but if the US hadn't been involved with the war in Vietnam, America could easily have afforded to continue NASA's Apollo program. The immoral and strategically questionable occupations or wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today are preventing our country from returning to space in much the same way as Vietnam did. It's all a matter of the proper allocation of resources. So when do we start a grassroots campaign to stop the wars overseas so we can fund our needs at home? How much longer are we going to delay? How about starting today?
Once that serious matter is taken care of, the next step will be for us to decide how to allocate all the money the country will save by ending the wars overseas and bringing our troops home. All right, check this out. We are supposed to be in the space business already! Hello! Instead, we debate among ourselves whether or not women should have abortions, or whether gay marriage is acceptable or not. Speaking as an independent Internet preacher of the more radical kind, if we are serious about wanting to lead good lives and to be productive contributors towards the common good, then we need to be creating jobs and helping to rebuild people's lives. We need to be helping people regain their sustenance and self-sufficiency. I also am appalled that the mainstream church is so against abortion while being in favor of the death penalty and of waging war. I am equally appalled at the mainstream denominations for their condemnation of gay marriage while the divorce rates for evangelicals are about the same as for the secular world. These are glaring contradictions to their faith, to say the least.
OK, so here's how we fix our public schools and accelerate the start-up of all these new 21st century businesses, all at the same time. First, government and business should get together and find a way to give large grants to these fledgling companies that are already started up in one form or another. They need start-up capital, and they're not going to find it at the bank branch down the street. Government can and must step in. Our only alternative is to become a second-rate country, a has-been of military and economic power. The other thing that needs to be done is to start training future astronauts now. Update public school curriculum, and put it on-line. Turn the public schools into an Internet-based system that is paperless and that doesn't need to buy expensive textbooks every year (save the trees!). Then, start teaching the kids skills that they will need for a technology-based world and a digital workplace, with an emphasis on science and math. Start teaching them to be astronauts when they're 12 years old, because by the time they graduate from college there will be thousands of astronauts needed, not just a select lucky few like today. I can easily explain this.
At the peak of the US space shuttle program, NASA was launching about three missions per year. Having just witnessed the birth of the privatization of space by the recent docking of the first commercial space flights to the International Space Station, I can tell you that by the end of this decade there will be about three launches per week instead of per year. Ten years after that in 2030 there could easily be more than 3 launches per day, and so on. The time to begin getting ready for our space-faring future is now. Then do the same with the adults. Retrain everybody who can't find work, or who are in need of a career change, and pick up the tab just like the GI Bill. Performing this service for America's workforce will literally lift them all up to the next level and make it much more competitive. I have heard people complain over and over again that “we can't compete” with some dude in China who does the same job we do for $2.00 a day. What America needs is new careers to replace those that have been eliminated. We not only have the capacity to do this already, we are way behind and we have some catching up to do. But we are Americans. We can and will succeed if only we will unite together in this effort. Let's all get started today.
Are America's Drug Laws in Line With God's Laws?
The Bible says in the Old Testament “Obey the laws of the land in which you are living, so that it may go well for you where you abide”. This is always good advice. Jail is no place for anyone to be, and it is that way by design to deter crime. But what if the laws we are duty-bound to obey run contrary to the Bible? Is it possible for a man-made law to be contrary to the Bible's teachings? And if so, should we still obey it? Is there an example of this anywhere in the Bible?
The answer to all of these is an emphatic yes. The most obvious example of this would be the crucifixion of Christ Jesus himself. If we take all the religious teaching in the Bible and set it aside for just a moment, we find that from a purely historical perspective Jesus was crucified as a criminal because He preached against organized government and organized religion. It is not well understood by many people that the teachings of Christ were revolutionary in their time, a fact that the modern church is not teaching, much to their discredit. When Jesus taught, he spent much more time with the common people than He did at the temple at Jerusalem, where His teachings were met with much consternation among the religious establishment of that time. He was viewed by the political and religious establishment as a threat, and so they put Him to death, not realizing that He would only be in the grave for three days. Another example would be in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. When Daniel refused to bow down to the god of king Nebuchadnezzar, the king had Daniel thrown into a fiery furnace, only to emerge some time later unharmed. When the king sentenced Shadrac, Meshac, and Abednigo to that same furnace that was heated up to 7 times hotter than normal, they too were unharmed. Instead, the king looked into the furnace and saw four men instead of three, “and the fourth man looked like the Son of Man”, which was Jesus Christ. Jesus stood with Shadrac, Meshac, and Abednigo in king Nebuchadnezzar's great furnace and protected them from harm. He did so despite the fact that they had been given a death sentence by the governmental authority of their day.
The most relevant question to ask at this point is whether there is an example of this in modern times, and how it applies to us. The unfortunate answer in this case is also an emphatic yes, and I am talking about the criminalization of marijuana (and its cousin, hemp, one of the most useful plants that exists with numerous applications) in this country. (Beg your pardon, pastor? Marijuana! Been smoking any?) Before anyone jumps to conclusions or judges me for my words, I have a Scriptural example of what I am talking about. Just hold your thoughts for a moment for a quick check of God's Word. In the book of Acts in the New Testament, it says the following in chapter ten:
“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up … to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him 'Get up Peter, kill and eat!'. 'Surely not Lord', Peter replied, 'I have never eaten anything impure and unclean'. The voice spoke to him a second time 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean'. This happened three times, and then the sheet was taken back to heaven.” (Acts 10, 9-16 NIV)
Now let's hold that thought while we go back to the book of Genesis, the first book in the Old Testament, to the very first chapter. It states in verses 11 through 13:
“Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds'. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seeds according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with their seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning the third day.” (Genesis 1, verses 11-13, NIV)
And so, it really jumps out at us in Genesis that God made all the plant life and fauna on earth and then “saw that it was good”. And yet cannabis is outlawed as a dangerous schedule one narcotic. Never mind that nobody ever died or overdosed from smoking weed, while cigarettes kill 50,000 people per year and overdoses of legal prescription drugs kill 100,000 more, not counting suicides. On the other hand, medical uses for cannabis are well documented, such as being effective for glaucoma and chemotherapy patients as well as some (but not all) mental health patients, among other things. There are literally millions of others like me who are clamoring for legalization. Moreover, in a poll just released this week 52% of all Americans want cannabis (its proper name) and hemp (its cousin which has literally tons of commercial applications, including biofuel) to be legalized. If either or both were to be legalized, it would create an agricultural and industrial bonanza, creating several million new jobs, maybe even more.
The Bible admonishes us to “not call anything unclean that God has made clean”. Peter, who was the equivalent of an orthodox Jew in today's world, protested to God against breaking the religious laws of the time. He was forbidden from eating the meat from certain animals based on the Law of Moses, the Jewish religious doctrine of that time, which is known as the Old Testament today. But God told Peter in his vision that it was okay, that His laws superseded the religious laws of the day. This is noticeably consistent with the teachings of Christ, who taught that His teachings were a new agreement between mankind and God that replaced the old agreement, or Old Testament. Today, being a Christian means being “born again” and receiving a new life in Christ, with all our sins against God, our mistakes and character flaws, our personality defects and moral shortcomings of our past being canceled out by the blood of Christ. And so we become fortunate enough through our newly found favor with God to not be charged with any penalty for the sins and errors of our past.
Let me be absolutely clear that we are being lied to by our government about the “dangers” of marijuana use. Cannabis, as it is called much of the rest of the world, is erroneously classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a schedule one narcotic. A narcotic is defined as a barbiturate (downers) or an amphetamine (uppers). It is a manufactured substance made up of certain chemicals which can be physically addictive when abused. Yet these two classes of drugs are legal in spite of their inherent danger. The USDEA, on the other hand, has classified marijuana as a dangerous narcotic when in fact it is neither. Marijuana is nothing more than a plant. It is not manufactured and it contains no harmful chemicals or physically addictive tendencies. God put the marijuana plant on this earth for mankind's use. It has medicinal properties that are well documented. It is beneficial and not dangerous provided that it is not abused. AIDS patients use it because it helps them regain their appetite. There is study after study published in various medical journals going back decades that prove that marijuana used for medical and recreational purposes is harmless when used in reasonable quantities. That's why we should, as in times of old, “not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Who do the abusive authoritarians think they are to criminalize God by outlawing that which He created? All this proves is their colossal arrogance and their closed-mindedness.
So do I think everybody should start smoking pot? Of course not. I sometimes use medical marijuana for a nervous disorder that I suffer from, as well as a permanent back injury, without any side effects. But this does not mean it's for everybody. For example, certain individuals may be allergic to weed, or they may dislike the smell of the smoke, or have other personal reservations about its use. As Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial”. What's good for one person may not be so for another. Many people drink and have no problem with it personally, while others abstain by choice, and each is equally entitled to their opinion. Is this a contradiction in the Bible then? Not at all. You will recall that I stated that Christ replaced the Old Testament with the New when He died on the cross and then rose from the dead after three days. So if we obey the new law, the law of Christ, obeying the laws of the land should come naturally without effort. But the criminalization of marijuana calls pot “dangerous” and “narcotic” and makes something “unclean” of a part of God's creation that He has “made clean” (by its very creation). That's why the marijuana laws in this country run contrary to God's laws.
What should we do? If medical marijuana ever comes up for a vote in your state, vote yes. In the meantime, try to be a law-abiding citizen, understanding that not all of the laws on the books are good ones. Some, like the drug laws, are there for the wrong reason because they are protecting the wrong people. That's why the drug laws are bad ones. We live in a world that is basically evil, but there is still much good despite all that. The Bible can teach us to learn to differentiate between the two for our own benefit.