Sunday, September 27, 2009

Progress Through Reflection: A speech I'd deliver to Obama and congress

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for progress in society, and for always looking into the future in what we do. And now more than ever, its obvious that if human beings are going to survive into the 22nd century, we need to find our way. The path can be blazed through several factors; renewable production, transportation and consumption through sustainable means, and gradual population control. Before we do that, we must devise a way out of our current economic morass and evolve as not just a nation, but as a global society.

If you ask anyone from the Baby Boomer generation when the nation's economy was at it's best, they'd tell you it was the post-WWII days, just after Roosevelt's New Deal finally began to be accepted by both sides as necessary and effective means to an end. Even Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president in decades, recognized the importance of the New Deal in a 1954 letter to his brother, Edgar-

"Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Some folks on the right would tell you it wasn't government intervention in our economy that brought us out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, but rather what they call "free market solutions." However, It is noted by most honest historians that the Depression was the inevitable cause of free market plunder and abuse by the robber barons of the late 19th century, combined with their brutally ferocious suppression of workers' unions by hired goons and even military force. Indeed, reckless capitalism and irresponsible corruption among the banking elite was the poison in the 1920s, and government proved to be the cure in the 1940s. And as we continue to reward the bankers for their greed at the expense of the American people in the 2000s, that popular quote from George Santayana comes to mind.

In the 1920s, economic inequality had polarized the American people. A great portion of wealth was concentrated among the top 1% income earners, while those who sweated in their factories could barely afford running water and electricity, such luxuries back then we take for granted today. While the railroad owners and oilmen basked in mounting wealth and soft tax rates, blue collar employees lived in run-down shacks and tenements they shared with dozens of others. The Wall Street panics of 1921 and 1929 were engineered and executed by the financial string-pullers of the day, and the disenfranchised working class was further sequestered into crippling poverty and debt. While failed banks were bought for pennies on the dollar, most investors lost everything they had. Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw this injustice, and set about fixing it by going after the problem rather than the symptoms.

As is seen now in the late 2000s, the president in the late '30s was viciously assaulted by the money interests through yellow journalism from the corporately-owned media. As he raised corporate tax rates and income tax rates for the very top up to as much as 80 to even 90%, he was vilified in the papers as a traitor to capitalism. His fabulously wealthy enemies portrayed themselves through nefarious doublespeak in the press as saints, the so-called results of hard work and free market success, the "hardest working American people."

The truth was that America's most truly dedicated laborers waited hours in lines just for a piece of bread or a bowl of soup. As most everyday Joes and Janes know through personal experience, hard work and perseverance does not automatically mean making millions of dollars. Sometimes it barely pays the rent. Sometimes hard work can still end in foreclosure and unemployment, as we've seen all too often today.

On the eve of the 1936 election, Roosevelt addressed a Madison Square Garden crowd on a tenacious political environment and economic climate eerily similar to our current one--

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace; business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all of history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred."

With the controversial New Deal came a lofty tax on the richest of the rich. It also came with a government-funded safety net. This net also was made of Social Security and unemployment insurance. Regular folks all over had jobs that paid far more than they used to. American families now had the wherewithal to own personal vehicles and move into larger houses. They could afford luxury and had the financial confidence necessary to invest in the market again. And the rich were still rich, just perhaps with less influence over domestic affairs than they used to have. While national health insurance was a staple of this safety net, that was rejected by the right but Medicare came as a compromise in the 1960s.

Roosevelt's New Deal was instrumental in stopping the abuse of workers by their employers. Through unions, the proletariat now had a powerful voice that could not be ignored. They used their freedoms to demand fair pay and hours and an end to child labor, among other things. Grassroots coalitions also formed to demand equal rights for black laborers, and this evolved into the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. LBJ's democratic party became the party of civil rights, just as it had become the party of the union man in previous decades. Just as it has been the party of equal rights for homosexuals. Just as it was elected last fall to be the party of access to medical care for all, regardless of their income.

And even in the political strife of the 1960s, the New Deal's economic safety net was just about the only thing going correctly in the midst of an unjust war in a foreign nation. The backlash from that war resulted in high crime rates and increased violence and public outrage. Still, work was plentiful and people still had their homes and careers.

The parallels are overwhelming as we are yet again faced with an economy and health care system in shambles and the only real solution staring us in the face. Wealthy private sector elites have once again been proven to be held accountable only to money, while government has always been held accountable by the people and the democratic process. Yet the private sector is still succeeding in shielding our eyes from historical basis for an effective government solution.

Ronald Reagan once quipped, "Government isn't the solution to the problem. Government is the problem." He validated this claim as he clandestinely filled the war chest of our eventual Taliban and Al-Qaeda enemies. To really drive home the point of his statement, Reagan also famously helped suppress Latin American populist movements against the brutal right wing dictatorships we put into power. Government by Ronald Reagan's value system is very much a problem, for all of us. But a democratic government in FDR's vision, as a solution to real crises, has proven throughout our history to be the saving grace of a democratic people.

This really only leaves one to confront the statement that's been present the entire time, even after 70 years. Government really can be used for good. The war effort of the late 1930s and early '40s was different from today's, because our government, businesses and populace were united in a common cause. The government had a plan for success and put it to action.

The government nationalized industries all over; Ford factories were used to make tanks. And the face of Rosie the Riveter symbolizes my grandmother's spirit for cooperation as she helped build fighter planes with other young women, while the young men were overseas, perilously fighting evil. Many American families similarly share such proud stories of selflessness in their ancestry.

America, for a few years, took one for the team. We contributed in a national effort in a cause we all knew to be noble. Sure, we rationed our goods, gave up a few luxuries, and worked harder than we ever had. But in the end it all paid off. I'm not saying we have to resort to such drastic measures today, but that we simply unite once more and work toward a common goal.

Today's goal is not to defeat a military empire abroad, but to defeat a financial empire that reigns within our own borders.

Yesterday's American Dream was one of tall buildings, rabid and wasteful energy consumption, and more cars on the road than there are stars in the sky. This dream has come true. Now we see, through the receding of the ice sheets and extinction of species, through reckless banking just as prevalent today as in the 1930s, that the things we venerated have broken us. Now is the time to live up to a new dream.

We mus dream a dream of a population sustainable for planet Earth, cultivated through a united effort to stop oppressive regimes and genocide. Through reproductive education and prevention of disease. Through smart ways to produce just as much as we consume. Through a cooperative spirit made possible only through peace and solidarity.

Mr. President and congress, let's make this dream a reality, and work to give our posterity the greatest of gift of all-- a world which they can appreciate and enjoy for millenia to come.

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