It's been ten months since Americans voted for change, with the hope that the transgressions suffered in the previous eight years could be mitigated. Today, millions more Americans find themselves worse off than they were on Election Day, and Obama's mandate appears to be slipping away. Part of why things aren't improving is that the wrong discussions are being held on the most fundamental issues.
The debate on health care reform, for example, should focus on how to implement a universal, single payer, non-profit system like every other developed nation in the world already has. Only in America is it acceptable to stage bake sales and barbeques to offset catastrophic health care costs, in lieu of a real safety net for all citizens. Only in the United States can hard-working people lose everything because of illness. Only in this nation can insurance companies deny care, or refuse to cover the sickest among us.
A few fringe lunatics hijack the health care debate with nonsensical talk of death panels and a government takeover, outright lies that derail meaningful discourse. The corporate controlled media highlights disrupted town hall meetings while ignoring what eighty percent of Americans want: a public option. Yet, Obama appears to be wavering on even that, when he should be fighting for so much more. Without the minimum of a strong public option, there will be no tangible reform.
As the employment situation worsens, economists talk about a "jobless recovery," as if such a thing exists. They admit that consumers (who account for 70% of the total US economy) need to start spending in order for recovery to happen. Yet, as long as jobs continue to disappear and those who are still employed lose ground, consumer spending will contract. Obama occasionally chimes in with rhetoric like, "there will be no real recovery without a jobs recovery," but he doesn't address why jobs are disappearing or offer any solutions.
Workers in the United States have few protections, so age and other discriminations are rampant. Employees are regarded by management as expendable and an undesirable cost, sometimes even a liability, rather than adding value by what they produce. Unwarranted layoffs designed to pad the bottom line and enrich shareholders and CEOs are perfectly legal and accepted. It has become easier to increase profits by shedding workers than by expanding productivity or reducing extraneous expenses, such as excessive CEO compensation.
The average CEO in the United States makes 430 times more than the average worker, a ratio far greater than in any other country. The disparity between rich and poor in our nation is now more than it was before the Great Depression. This redistribution of wealth to the top few percent has strangled our ability to move forward. Until incentives for shedding jobs are stemmed and outrageous payouts to CEO's are capped, the layoffs and outsourcing will continue.
The discussion on how to rebuild our work force should not revolve around 50-somethings retraining for the third time for jobs that will never materialize. Instead, the focus should be on amending trade agreements, increased regulation, shifting health care costs from employers, and instituting more worker protections.
The housing and commercial real estate markets continue to erode, in part because the aforementioned issues have not been addressed. As long as Americans continue to lose their jobs, they will also lose their homes. As long as Americans have to file bankruptcy due to medical costs, they will lose their homes. As long as Americans are forced to cut back on their spending due to job losses and wage cuts, more storefronts will become vacant.
More homeowners are becoming upside down on their mortgages, owing more than their homes are worth. There is no discussion of offering real relief, such as a moratorium on foreclosures, or requiring mortgage holders to renegotiate loans to reflect true property values. Toxic mortgage-backed derivatives repackaged by Wall Street as some sort of legitimate investment are still floating around, and nothing has been done to regulate the mortgage industry. Ignoring all this, economists try to find a silver lining by pointing to a slight uptick in home sales, which mainly reflects bargain hunters snapping up foreclosed properties at greatly reduced prices.
Economic recovery, according to the mainstream economic pundits who shill for Wall Street, means a return to unabated growth and the resumption of rampant spending habits on the part of consumers. There is no discussion about overpopulation, limited resources, climate change, and other factors that preclude this unsustainable model. Most Americans are already experiencing a decrease in their standard of living, and this trend will continue. The future will be made harder because the majority are uninformed and unprepared for the new reality which will require a permanent shift to a simpler lifestyle.
The current "free market" capitalistic system is untenable. Anti-trust laws should be enforced to break up monopolistic companies now deemed "too big to fail." Burgeoning federal deficits need to be met head-on. The Federal Reserve and Wall Street must be made transparent and closely regulated.
Instead of wringing our hands about the lack of money for infrastructure, schools and social programs, American citizens should be asking why most of Congress votes for a military budget of $700 billion each year, continuing the funding of two illegal and unnecessary wars. Obama, who pledged to end the war in Iraq, is escalating the war in Afghanistan and expanding it into Pakistan. To what end? Why does our nation spend more on its military than all other nations combined? Why does the United States continue to occupy somewhere between 740-1,000 military bases around the world? No other country has this imperialistic model, and it continues unchallenged, without any discussion.
The huge outlay for military spending continues to the detriment of programs that actually help people. Cutting the military budget in half would still provide more than enough for SMART defense, rather than wasteful defense. The money saved could fund all other programs, federal and state, that have been slashed over the years. Instead of manufacturing bombs and tanks, the United States should be producing real goods and services that help, not kill people.
A pattern has developed in America of allowing only one or two threads of discourse to enter any given conversation. For example, instead of having a broad palette of presidential hopefuls to choose from, including candidates such as Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, who dared to challenge the status quo, we end up with two choices. In name, Democrats and Republicans represent two separate parties, but in actuality they are not very much different from each other in terms of maintaining the existing broken system.
Political candidates representing genuine change get marginalized, while those who further corporate interests get pushed to the forefront. Thus, the illusion is perpetuated that Americans are freely choosing from a pool of the best candidates. The idea of having alternative parties that more truly represent the will of the people is bantered about occasionally, but never gains any real traction. The current two-party system has come to represent only one special interest group: big business.
Last fall, progressives lambasted the Democrats in Congress who voted for a 700 billion dollar bailout of Wall Street, despite the fact that eighty percent of Americans opposed it. Nearly a year later, Congress admits they don't know where the money went, and there is no apparent concern for accountability. There are the usual citizen grumblings about "voting them out," yet, historically, more than ninety percent of Congressional representatives will get re-elected in the next cycle.