Sunday, November 6, 2011

Something's Not Working

In April 2010, I was invited to my alma matar for a wonderful evening of food, discussion and literature with one of my all time favorite authors.  There was no way I was turing down the opportunity to meet Margaret Atwood so I took the train down and stayed overnight at a small inn by the railroad tracks.

But today I am not writing about that wonderful evening with Ms. Atwood at Randolph-Macon.  Instead, I am going to write about the morning after.

I got to Ashland by train.  It's an easy trip.  The train runs several times a day and is a direct shot north or south depending on which way you are traveling.  The morning after the event I was traveling back north to DC.  What I didn't know at the time was that the train taking me home was also taking more than a few protestors up for the day.

Protestors, DC...yeah - we get them all the time up here.  But we don't usually get them in pumps, open toed sandals, American Flags, coiffed hair and pocket books.  This was my first exposure to the "Tea Party."  Don't get me wrong.  I firmly believe that EVERYONE has the right to speak their mind and walk into their capital city to announce what they think is wrong.  I just thought that perhaps they should be wearing more appropriate attire than a pencil skirt and 1-2" pumps with open toes.  But I only live up there - what do I know?

These lovely men and women, and I mean that sincerely for the most part, instantly tagged me as "one of those liberals" (actual words) who was "destroying our country."  Mind you, at this point I had said nothing to them other than "Hello" and was just waiting for the train as they were.  The difference, according to them, was that I was obviously college educated (how they could tell that by my standing there I have no idea), I wasn't wearing anything in red, white or blue (there's a dress code?), and I had a suitcase.  (OK - I'll give them that one.  I did have a suitcase.)  But I was also in an amazingly good mood so I thought I would try to have a discussion with them if only to find out what in the world they stood for as after months of media attention I still had no idea.  Oh, that and I thought Sarah Palin was an idiot in the common sense aspect of the word so I couldn't understand what these women saw in her.  (I still think that and I still have no idea what they see in her, really.)

I never told them if I was a Democrat or a Republican because to be honest I am neither, those just happen to be my only choices other than not voting.  What I did find out is that they were just as frustrated as I was about a number of things.  Mismanagement of government funds (let's talk Postal Service, shall we), watching our value as a country disintegrating a bit, foreclosures, job loss just to name a few.  We had no problem agreeing on the issues.  It was the solutions they offered that gave me pause, but they were so excited - off to their first march, the first march they felt honored them - I didn't have the heart to debate with them.  I just told them to make sure they drank lots of water, watched their feet and if anything seemed iffy to jump out of the march or have the name of a lawyer they could call.  (Hey - it's DC, arrests during protests of any kind happen.)  They gave me a bit to think about that day but no solutions I found palatable.  But I started watching, closely.

Fast forward about a year and a half.  Now we have the Occupy movement.  There are some basic differences.  For example - there wasn't any corporate funding to start the Occupy movement.  It was started by some folks who read a magazine out of Canada that called for a occupation of Wall Street.  Supposedly (don't know if it is true or not) the Tea Party was started by the Koch Brothers with corporate funds.  The Tea Party came across pretty polished and a great deal more top down than the Occupy Movement seems to be.  Occupy seems to be a great deal more grassroots than organized.  It is also a great deal more optimistic than the Tea Party if you can believe that.

But at the root of both movements is the basic feeling that we, as a country, feel we have been let down by those we elected to lead us.  We take a look around us and realize that we are not better off than where our parents or their parents were.  We have too much debt for important things.  We cannot afford the essential things in life - food, clothing, housing, education of any kind - without going into debt.  We feel as though we were taken for a ride, especially when corporations have received bailouts to move our jobs overseas, save their CEOs job, make money for stock holders, and prove they are too big to fail - yet we as individuals are expected to make it on our own unless we are in DIRE straights.

Look, I am not saying that we need handouts.  I also don't think that the majority of people down at the Occupations are saying that either.  I also don't think they are saying we need to end capitalism.  What I am hearing - although it is taking quite a bit of work to hear it as the media doesn't seem to be covering it as the Tea Party was covered - is that changes need to be made to bring us back to the Constitution and what our Founding Fathers dreamt for this country.  Somewhere we lost our way, decided that personal profit is far more important than our neighbor's barn being on fire and that a business counts as a single human being when making a political contribution.

I get it, running for office is expensive.  As things stand you can't run for anything political unless you have a spare $10,000 or so lying around - and that's for something small.  Forget about the national political stage unless you can come up with seven to ten figures.  That's where corporate funding comes in.

Ladies and gentlemen - are we worth less than General Electric?  Than General Motors?  Than Bank of America?  Each of those corporations is made up of tens of thousands of individuals, half of whom are in debt to their own institutions in some fashion.  But somehow, they got themselves rated as individuals themselves - individuals who get bail outs, tax breaks and have a direct impact on the 99% of us upon whom they exist.

But we all know that.  We all know we are mad.  And hopefully we all know now that there is a great deal we agree upon.  What we need now is ideas for solutions.  So, here are a few.

1) Corporations are just that - corporations.  They are run by more than one person, their decisions are made by a group that is comprised of members who each have a single vote as well.  These board members sometimes sit on more than one corporate board.  And in some cases the members of the board aren't even citizens of the US.  Yet, corporations are being allowed to donate money to political causes and have a say in the American political agenda.  Reverse the decision to make them as powerful as a person.  Each person should have a single vote - not a single vote and then a second vote or third vote depending on which corporate boards they are sitting on.

2) Review the tax code.  Simplify it and enforce it.  Listen to the men and women who comprise the 1% and say they want to be taxed more.  TAX THEM.

3) Term limits for Congress.  There are term limits for the US President, a position that was supposed to be essentially a figure head, to ensure he/she does not accumulate too much power.  How much political power do you think a Congressman who has served 57 years has?  Think it might be a bit much?  Yeah, I think so too.  I also don't think he or she can truly know the people she/he serves anymore when they live inside the bubble that is DC.

4) Universal Health Care.  Good health is a right, not a luxury.

5) National Educational System designed to ensure a standard in this country going all the way through university/technical college.  Pay the teachers - you know, the ones who teach your kids?  Make the educational system a light on the hill by working together to do it.

6) Understand that most successful countries have a large government that hires their own people.  We did for a long time - how else do you think we pulled ourselves out of the Great Depression?  That doesn't mean don't encourage new business - just that we need folks in jobs.  Projects that create art, projects that create roads, projects that create hospitals and schools.  We do that - we'll have jobs, folks that have skills and money flowing in the economy.

7) REGULATE CORPORATIONS - ESPECIALLY THE LARGE ONES THAT AFFECT COMMUNICATION AND SAFETY.  Everyone lives with rules.  Why should corporations be the only entities in this country who don't?  Think about it - how can a company justify charging you for fare to get somewhere, then charge you to either carry your bag on or stow it, then charge you for food or water or basic service on their vehicle and consider charging you for the use of their bathrooms?  Once you chose their airline you no longer have a choice of products - only of using them or not using them.  If you fly without baggage you are a TSA risk, yet you have to pay anywhere from $20-$40 more than your ticket to travel with the simplest of carry ons.  Hmmm...can we say hostage anyone?  Seriously - how can they justify it?  Easily - we have stopped regulation so we have stopped looking at their rules and the only people looking are the folks looking at the bottom line.  This is not just the airlines - it's all corporation.  FIoS (aka - Verizon) charges you to have a phone, more money to use the phone, more money to access your internet and then, when nothing works - more money to have someone come to your house to fix it.  But, if you are willing to work with Miguel in Mexico City, then, for now, there is no charge.  In the future, there will be.  HUNH?  Again - with regulation corporations would be forced to live with rules like the rest of us.

We as a nation are angry, but we are also polarized.  We have spent the past 200+ years making sure there is an "us" and a "them" - two parties alone - so that we can have a fair fight.  But the problem is that we don't want a fight anymore.  We want a nation that works, together.

So, let's hear them.  Let's come up with some credible ideas.  (No one paying taxes is no more credible than everyone moving to a commune to live folks.)  Let's discuss how we might be able to take our Constitution and make it work for us - all 100% of us - equitably, fairly and as our Founding Fathers intended.


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