Moving Beyond Partisan Stupidity and Name Calling

We need to move beyond the partisan labels of Conservative, Liberal, Republican and Democrat.  We need to move past partisan stupidity so that we can start real discussion and move toward real solutions.  Pardon the wording, but stupidity seems to be the correct word.    We need to stop placing blame on the other political party and take a good look at what has happened to this country.  We are at a point in time where corruption within the political system is at an all time high, yet we can’t seem to have civil discussion in public places about it.

The last time this country experienced a revolution, it did so because the population in the United States didn’t feel that they had any representatives looking out for their interests, at a time when they were being taxed, the proceeds of taxation were going toward something that they had no control over.  “No taxation without representation!” Remember?

Let’s take a look at our current system.  The current political system is so intertwined with corporate interests that our representatives and policy makers seem to have forgotten that the U.S. Constitution was originally written to protect people.  Corporations currently have more rights than people to the extent that we no longer have the right to know where our taxes are being spent.  Usually, when governments are formed, taxes go toward society and toward a common good.  Examples of  things that developed countries allocate taxes toward are roads, schools, social services like 911, and in all cases except the United States – healthcare.

Instead of allocated American taxes toward things that benefit society, taxes and American wealth are seemingly vanishing behind odd accounting, business privacy rights, and with private government contractors situated  in various places across the world.  (Halliburton being one of them.)  The war/occupation/freedom fight in Iraq (whatever it is called, depending on which media you listen to) has billions of unaccounted American tax dollars that can’t seem to be found.   The bailout money for banks and other financial institutions or any other oddly connected corporations – insurance for example, also can’t seem to be wholly traced.  When they do tell us, we don’t learn of the full story.  AIG  (the American International Group, which along with having various holding companies, supplies insurance and other things) recently disclosed that some of its securities lending subsidiary – arm gave our bailout funds to Barclays PLC of Britain, Deutsche Bank of Germany and UBS of Switzerland.  While the U.S. financial giants of Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch received their own bailout funds, they also received bailout funding through AIG.

How could such a thing happen?  If one looks at our political leaders who also received contributions from AIG, Barach Obama, former senator from Illinois tops the list at $120,582 closely followed by Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.  Those that hold stock in AIG are also interesting.  Former Republican senator from North Carolina Robin Hayes, held $2,750,004 to $11, 500,000, while Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts  with over 2 million dollars in assets.  The current system of corporate lobbying and political finance does not discriminate between Republican or Democrat, Independent, Conservative or Liberal.   Whoever is in a position of potential power will have large amounts of corporate money somehow given to him or her.  It’s not that our representatives are bad people, (perhaps weak or slightly lame) however, it does highlight a major problem within our representative democracy.

It seems that there has been a wide gap in reality between those in national politics and the People that policy makers are supposed to represent.  The United States is at a point in time when we must begin difficult, complicated, mature discussions upon the current state of our country and looking at realistic solutions.  In such a system, it no longer matter what party line a person aligns to.    Representation for the People continues to be a major issue in government.  It’s usually why people want democracy.  What entity is our policy ultimately benefiting?  The People or corporations?  Just something to think about.

Could you spare some Change?

I just returned from being a juror for the Big Muddy Film Festival.  It was like a slice of heaven – being in a dark room for hours, watching films, one after another, then deliberating about them.  I’d have to honestly admit that I’m a bit jealous of the other jurors’ backgrounds.  I didn’t go to film school and instead have a degree in U.S. History.  So when they talked about referencing films, I added them to my list of films to see.

The process also made me think about distribution – or the method and means of getting the film out to audiences.  It’s currently changing and many debates are raging as to what, and how to do it.  One of the other jurors made a film, Chameleon Street, that won the Grand Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival in 1990, and was just recently honored again in 2009.  It, however, did not get a distributor.  If the film had been made last year, would the film have been able to get out to a larger audience using the internet?  While the internet has the ability to amplify voices, how successful is it really?

Considering Democracy also screened.  It was interesting-cool to have the film return to see how it had impacted people.  One audience member asked a question to the effect of, “If you could do it over again (since we have a new president) how would you or would you want to change it?”  This is an interesting question.  While the American People voted for change, the overarching political-corporate system has not changed.  It will resist change, and while the dominant party (of two) has changed, many of the political pay-to-play type scandals have not.  I still think that all 8 questions and sections of the film still have revelevant societal topics that could use some thought.

One high school teacher is using the film within the classroom as a teaching and discussion tool.  It’s really fabulous to hear that a film can have impact beyond its original screening.   As a filmmaker, we don’t really know what happens to the film, nor do we know where it goes, or how far its potential reach.  We could definitely use some solutions right now.  Could it possibly affect Change?

Hello Policy Maker! Launching…

Update: At the end of 2011, I ended the Hello Policy Maker project. 

It’s the eve of the launch of the new website for the new project Hello Policy Maker! It’s a website that will allow People to see other People’s political concerns and questions from across the country. It has had a launch date for February the 24th and will continue through the weekend. A few things have happened to cause this extended launch. Some of the committees still do not have their subcommittee rosters updated. Most Senate and House Committees have their main rosters up, but some still have the old subcommittees from the 110th Congress. The subcommittees can change, so I’m waiting for them so they will link to the correct issue.

Doing projects and making films are humbling, exhilarating, sometimes frustrating and always larger-than-expected. After touring with Considering Democracy, (it was a rather large, humbling and thought provoking tour) I was at a loss as to what to do. I didn’t know what to do for work, I didn’t know if I should go back into teaching, I was living on the Front Range (Denver area sprawl), and wondering what I had just done with my life. Then I had one of those moments when I thought, “Heck, I have nothing to loose. There’s a need for this type of project. Why don’t I just try it.” The roots of Hello Policy Maker! began. In the meantime, I also thought that I would move to Durango (SW corner of Colorado) and I’ve started a new job (waitressing! I’m actually enjoying it and I need it to pay the bills). But I’ve also been working on the website along the way and I’ll be uploading the next few days. Hence, the Feb 24th – 29th (stretch!) launch. I’m also heading over to Illinois to jury for the Big Muddy Film Festival this Wednesday, so the travel time will also give me a change to work on the website. I’m also looking forward to seeing some great films.

So it is coming. It is getting finalized. And it will be loads of fun. Please do keep checking back, and think of questions that you’d like to ask a Policy Maker. Life is good and we do live in a representative democracy in the digital age. Let’s start asking! There will be specifics by the end of the upcoming week.

Digital TV and Healthcare

Instigated by our new president, it appears that Congress recently voted to extend the broadcast digital TV transition from February 17 to June 12th.  It has been estimated that 6.5 million households are not ready for the transition.  In contrast over 45 million people do not have healthcare insurance.Isn’t it amazing how quickly some bills can be passed through office?  I found myself wowed at the speediness of our lawmaking process, finding it interesting as to how different initiatives pass with lightening speed, while others do not.  As another speedy example, the Department of Homeland Security was created within both the Executive Branch and its subsidiary committees within Congress within days, while the U.S. has been lagging behind all the other developed countries in healthcare, something that affects all Americans.  It seems that something like the well being of the country is logically and tightly intertwined with the security of the country.  It can not be denied that germ warfare has had a prominent place in U.S. history.

The U.S. is the least prepared for an airborne bacterial or viral national outbreak when compared to all the other developed and even some developing countries.  Airborne germs do not discriminate between those individuals with health insurance and people without it.  The U.S. society environment is also very different than ever before with many Americans loosing their jobs and their private healthcare coverage, while also at risk of loosing their houses.  These combined issues are putting the whole country at tremendous risk and exposing it to undue vulnerability as those who do not have health insurance will continue to shop at the same grocery stores, walk down the same sidewalks, and send their children to the same schools.  A national epidemic would be devastating to our population and to the economy.  Why haven’t we talked about these situations, and is it worth it for the sake of profit for private companies?

Perhaps we need to rethink our system, and can we deny that part of this system is supported by commercial broadcast TV?  While the insurance, media and healthcare industries have powerful lobbies, the large companies with the strongest lobbying power don’t seem to have the ability to utilize sound accounting. The nature of this particular, system is also placing an undue strain on our economic resources, as our tax dollars go to bailing these industries out.

The Commerce Committee’s Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet stated that television delay was needed to ensure that the transition would not be a failure.  While the transition has been planned for years, it seems that the numbers of people affected could be damaging to the country.  “It is unfortunate that Congress had to take additional action on this issue, but the prospect of leaving millions of consumers in the dark was simply unacceptable.” (AP, Tessler, Feb. 6, 2009)

If only the lives of 45 million Americans without healthcare would generate such rapid healthcare legislation.  The country did vote for change in the last election.  Just a few things to think about.

Congressional Committees and Power

There is a lot of work and activity happening in Washington DC as the nation prepares to change administrations.  After screening the film Considering Democracy across the nation, I found startling similarities in small and large communities across the United States.  It seems that People across the nation feel isolated and distanced from national policy matters.  As I drove and spent a lot of time thinking about things,  I found that it was odd that people felt isolated in the information age.  But I realized that something can be done.

I’m currently setting up a new website that will allow people to get basic political information, then respond in a way that will allow people to see each others views from across the country.  In the website’s construction – that’s going on right now, I feel the need to vent a little, both in some puzzlement and frustration.  There is a lack of systemic order in the delivery of political information that makes it difficult to get basic information.

The current political and informational systems are set up in a way that is rather confusing, polarizing and inherently partisan.  There are also interesting systemic patterns.  It’s interesting to note that while we just finished voting for our Congressional representatives, once they leave our states and go to DC, their respective party leaders choose their legislative committees for them.  As I visited Congressional websites I began to realize that the current system is rather easy to manipulate.  A few key people make major decisions, thus in theory the system is fairly easy to corrupt.   (In the process of gathering information, I’ve been to all the Congressional websites and have found them to be very predictable – the first page will have the Congress person reading books to children, smiling with military personnel, the Congress person actively listening to firemen, farmers or in a factory… )  Although I must also say that a source of my frustration is that there’s no organizational template for info on the web.  Some representatives from some states, (noticeably Texas) do not have their committee information on their website.  If the information is there, it could be anywhere.  It could be under their bio, work, views… and sometimes after going through each page, I realize that the information is not there.)   It’s also interesting that some people get into politics because they want to help to change the system and want to be on a certain committee (a MD who wants to be on the Energy and Commerce committee that creates healthcare legislation, but is consistently placed on other committees)  yet committee membership is ultimately chosen by either the Democratic or Republican leadership.  Rather easy to corrupt, no?

As I do web searches for committee membership, I’ve also found that industry lobbies are better organized than citizen organizations, in general.  Industry lobbies tend to have lists of Congressional contacts according to committees, while citizen organizations have phone numbers and contacts for local congressional representatives without any regard for the committee that the representative sits on.

Some Congressional committees are organized, but it is frustrating to try to get the membership and only find that only the Democrats have their membership ready, while the Republicans do not.  Why not work together in the first place?  It’s also interesting that the Republicans  have somehow managed to have their own page on their website, although in some cases the stated goals seem to be more neoconservative than Republican.  There’s also this fascinating Democrat – Republican party whip system.  I’ll get into that later.  I need to get back to work.

Wouldn’t it be cool to get information in one place – then be able to respond?

Happy New Year!

Welcoming a New Year

Last night as I reflected upon the year, I was filled with a profound sense of thankfulness for the opportunities that were presented, while it was also mixed with a slight disbelief at the events that have revealed themselves in the short span of a year.  On one hand, people – with their strength, beauty and character that are displayed, continue to amaze me, both in their sense of humanity, and others, with their stunning lack of it.  It’s a strange mix of swirling ironies that reflects the complexity of the issues that we face.  I am both hopeful, while harboring pessimism.

I’m hopeful because I have seen people come together, cooperate and support each other in times of crisis.  As a society, we have the qualities to rise above and triumph over difficulties and injustice.  Yet I’m simultaneously pessimistic because the dominant socio-political-economic system that supports, surrounds and has sustained U.S. society has been systemically deconstructed in the last 30 years, so that all the economic safeguards that were set up to prevent another Depression have been taken away.   This has happened in a representative democracy.  Hopefulness – pessimism.   Societies have always gone through cycles of boom and bust, but the scale and scope of the current one is unprecedented.  Hopefulness and pessimism.

I’m thankful for many things, yet realize that some societal and political patterns and mindsets will need to be reassessed, reevaluated and restructured in the New Year.  Such things can be achieved – especially when there’s a need.  There’s hope.

I couldn’t write a New Year blog that was all roses, happiness and joy, because reality casts a strong, sometimes harsh light that can not be ignored.   We are, however, welcoming a New Year, and there are many indicators and people that are pushing for good things.  While this next year will present more systemic economic difficulties, I hope that We as People, and as a society will have the character and strength to face the rapidly approaching challenges.

With all the goodness that can possibly be brought together in one phrase, I do wish for everyone -  Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

May your Holiday Season be filled with good friends, festivities, fun, family, and warmth.  Share thankfulness, histories and good ideas.

Be safe in your travels through time and distance.   A new year is just around the corner of the week!

Thank you for your time, your efforts, feed back, conversations and goodwill.

Happy Holidays!

Systemic Financial Problems Rooted in Laissez-Faire Deregulation

There are quite a few scandals that seem to be happening in alarming frequency.  It seems that many people would like to throw shoes, or something else, at policy makers for the many ills that surround us.  When examining how we got to this place, it is worthwhile to look at the philosophy that guided, chided, teased, and pushed for systemic deregulation throughout multiple administrations.

The latest scandals are connected by a common philosophical thread.  The scandals have been build upon the policy of deregulation that largely began in the 1980s.  Today we’ll focus on three business scandals spanning the globe.   Bernard Madoff, the former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market was found to have defrauded investors of 50 billion dollars.  Illinois Governor Blagojevich was charged for trying to sell the president elect’s vacated Senate seat, along with trying to get a well paid seat on a nonprofit-corporate advocacy seat for his wife. Another outrageous scandal, German based multinational corporation Siemens was caught bribing officials around the globe to secure bids for projects.  Philosophically speaking, why have these acts been carried out?  Is it because they all thought that they could get away with it?  Is the current system encouraging this type of behavior?

Bernard Madoff’s case exemplifies a major systemic flaw in the current financial world.  While people within the industry say that there are tough regulations in place, in reality, there is not.  The Ponzi or pyramid schemes that he is accused of, have been going on since the deregulation of the savings and loans institutions in the 1980s and have continued for 28 years.  What is utterly frightening about what Madoff did, in a round-a-bout way – of taking incoming investments or funds and using them to pay out high interest rates to previous investors, is essentially happening on a larger and legalized scale within the U.S. economy.

A similar Ponzi scheme is currently happening with (our taxes!) the bailout funds and the banks.  The 700 billion dollar bailout also has a striking lack of regulation, allowing the incoming funds to recapitalize failing banks to allow previous investors to be paid back.  Also because of a lack of regulation, funds are being given out to larger investors, because the bailout simultaneously raised the amount that the FDIC will cover, from $100,000 to $250,000.  All the funds that just went into the financial system, will quickly flow out of the system and only temporarily props up the banks.  Horrible, yes, but it’s happening and it’s also legal, because the Bush Administration appointed a former Goldman Sachs CEO to be the Treasury Secretary.   Is this a systemic problem perhaps?

The governor of Illinois, Blagojevich, tried to sell a seat in the Senate.  The attorney general of Illinois is working to get him removed from the governorship.  Thank goodness she is doing her job. How different through, is Blagojevich’s action from that of securing campaign donations from wealthy individuals on behalf of a corporation, like say, Goldman Sachs, who gave funds to the presidential election of George Bush, then also gets favors and appointments after he is elected?  Funds help to secure one seat, then also gets favors – deregulation has been one of them, in return.  It is fairly commonplace within the current system for people who arranged campaign financing to get appointed to other government positions.  In this way, looting can become legalized.  Henry Paulson as Secretary of the Treasury is a case in point.  I hope that I’m wrong, but looking at past cycles of financial scandals and its patterns with politics is frightening because its happening in greater frequency with larger amounts of money. The systemic deregulation has furthered flawed accounting and logic based on the scandals and the fall of the savings and loans institutions.  (You may notice that we don’t have these financial institutions around any more.)  The deregulation that started 28 years ago, has also become systemic, certain aspects have been legalized, and it has been transferred to the global scale.  The ramifications are horrendously frightening.

In looking at a system of deregulation, one also must look at the system of contracting government business deals.  Under the Bush administration private contracts grew phenomenally in number.  They have been based on the idea that less government is better.  This needs to be examined not only in a political and social context, but also within an economic context.  Does it make financial sense to pay a private contractor 4 to 10 times for something that government can on its own in a regulated environment?  It seems to actually make more unnecessary work, since government regulators (the ones that still do have jobs and haven’t been downsized or outsourced) then need to take the private contractor to court to sue for overinflated or incorrect billing.  The Halliburton case comes to mind.  Private contractors are feeding and refueling U.S. troops abroad, as well as being the collection agency for federal back taxes.  The big problem with private contractors is that they lack regulation, they don’t have to do a good job, they may have odd cost-plus stipulations to they contract and they are paid a lot more, at a time when the U.S. deficit and debt have gone up astronomically.  Private contracts are also often given to companies that have had connections with political campaign or in securing government posts.  Is it that different from what Blagojevich did?  If one is outlawed, shouldn’t the other also be?

If a large and powerful country has this type of a private contracting process, and is using a similar contracting process through its State Department programs throughout the world, how will other companies compete?  Flat out bribery.  It’s what Siemens seems to have done.  Bring in suitcases full of cash (it would be interesting to know if what the currency was – US Dollars, Euros) and arrange for drops to certain government officials in key positions that are able to push through the legislation or contract to be profitable to the corporation.  Is it that different from the private contracting process?

We need to move past partisan based finger-pointing because both major U.S. parties have been involved in similar scandals.  We need to examine why these scandals are taking place.  It’s also interesting that most often people who are charged with crimes are either in a government post or recently have left a government post.   Often because they have intimate knowledge of how the system works, they know where it was deregulated and how it can be exploited.

Societies need systems that work.  Societies need regulation.  Think of the system of transportation that we drive on.  We have regulation and systems of conduct that are are in place when we drive on public (and private) roads.  If there is a red light, people stop.  We expect drivers to stop at red lights, and this regulation helps the system operate as it should.   Deregulation takes away rules, and allows people to drive on the sidewalk, across the yellow line and in the financial world, to make their own systems of accounting.  Driving is something that many people participate in and know about, the financial world, however, is not one what we know a lot about, but one that affects us all.

We would hope that we would have leaders that would safeguard our interests, but the system has been engineered to favor a select few, at the expense of many.   Laissez-faire is a fancy word for less government control or deregulation.  Perhaps we should take a look at the destructive indicators and nature of deregulation that has guided U.S. policy for the last few decades as we look toward solutions.

Raising FDIC limits can be hazardous to your health

The U.S. is a great country, although we’re currently teetering on the edge of falling into an unknown abyss. We can, however, learn several things by looking back at recent history then make better policy. One thing to ponder about the recent $700 billion bailout is why one aspect of it temporarily raises FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) limits from $100,000 to $250,000. It is a radical increase and has both good and bad consequences, depending on how much money a person or business entity has to invest, and whether or not the health of the short term economy or long term health of the U.S. Treasury is more important. Let’s look back at what happened in our recent past starting in the 1930s and then jump to the 1980s to see what happened when the savings and loans insurance limit was raised.

After the last Great Depression, the American public did not trust banks and saw little security in depositing their hard earned money in banks. While Roosevelt viewed federal insurance as a potential hazard to the treasury because it would allow banks to engage in riskier lending practices, he caved to public pressure and built upon the regulatory bank hierarchy and created FDIC, and later the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC) for the Savings and Loans institutions. Roosevelt purposefully kept the federal insurance limit low, up to $5,000 at that time, in order to protect smaller lenders and business while setting up the regulatory structures to allow the larger S&Ls to regulate and insure the smaller ones. We will now fast forward closer to the present.

In 1982 Reagan signed into effect the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institution Act. It was a sweeping deregulatory act that created the environment for the Savings and Loans scandal to occur. It allowed S&L institutions to invest in commercial real estate, allowing the potential for more profit. It also raised the amount of federal insurance from $40,000 to $100,000. This has had many impacts.

The S&L institutions that failed used the higher amount as insurance for them to engage in risky real estate and mortgage backed securities trades. S&L were no longer responsible for losses because the U.S. Treasury was backing them up. S&L institutions advertised a high interest rate return for jumbo CDs (remember them?) to attract larger deposits – up to $100,000. As a result, money flowed to the institution. It then bundled the deposits together and started trading them on Wall Street. Raising the FSLIC amount insured essentially boosted the immediate capital of the savings and loans institutions, making insolvent institutions look immediately healthy – for a short time, before the CD needed to be repaid and the capital flowed back out.

This is why raising the FDIC insured limit is scary – and hazardous to the financial health of the U.S. Treasury. On the other hand, it does prolong a crash from happening during the last days of the Bush Administration. (Which brings up another important point. The Bush administration needs to be watched as it tries to pass various regulation in its last days in office. So far they have passed regulation, which is really deregulation, allowing mountain top mining to essentially cut off the tops of mountains, get the valuable stuff out, them dump the remaining stuff in the valley.) On the other hand, the overall amount that taxpayers are responsible for can rise significantly.

The Savings and Loans scandal had many other facets, as does the current banking and financial situation. I think the U.S. is capable of making better policy. In order to do so, it would be smart to look at what has happened in our recent past before pushing through legislation that ultimately can do more damage to a situation. Raising the federally insured limits in the recent past were disastrous because they allowed insolvent financial institutions to quickly get more capital, that it immediately began trading on Wall Street. They ended up loosing more money. It prolonged a bad situation because it created a larger amount that needed to be reconciled once the financial institutions were taken over. It made the U.S. Treasury and American public responsible for frivolous actions and accounting. In short, it legitimized a looting of the American Treasury.

FDIC Bank Woes and the Possibility of Solutions

While it is important to ‘stabilize’ the economy as our policy leaders are creating yet another bailout plan, these bailout actions seem to prolong the impacts, rather than deal with the causes. (The more recent $800 billion dollar plan aimed toward somehow helping the regular consumer.) Last week it was also announced that more banks are being ‘red flagged’ by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as being ‘troubled’. Last week the FDIC listed 171 troubled banks, that number up from 117 banks just a few months earlier. We have a systemic problem here.

It is deeply troubling that our economy is being steered by people that participated in its deregulation. The current appointee, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was CEO of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. They, along with other investment banks lobbied heavily to create a deregulated environment that kept them from having to adhere to the net capital rule. This was a safeguard that limited investment bank activity and risk, according to the amount of capital an investment bank had. Paulson effectively ensured that the SEC would not have jurisdiction over the actions of the investment banks. The investment banks then proceeded to engage in risky trades on a global scale. The largess of the impending economic trouble is being forestalled by throwing money at the problem.

This is a huge, gargantuan, mammothly large and scary problem and in disagreeing with the bailouts, I am not trying to make light of them. It is a horrible, unstable situation that has been created and engineered to be this way. I listened to the report from This American Life a few times to begin to understand the complexity of financial trades and the Credit Default Swaps (CDS) that drove speculation and the resulting hedging and insuring of stocks to make them ‘safe’. In hedging them, and making them perportedly safe, many of the largest investment banks and insurance companies participated. As one started to crumble, it threatened them all. It is a frightening thing, not only in its complexity, but because these CDS trades are private contracts between individual firms, so no one really knows how much firms owe to one another. The CDS market has never been regulated. Some estimates as to how much money is involved are around 60 trillion dollars. And unfortunately, our government, that first endorsed deregulation (it was pushed by certain industry lobbies) to create the system, is now using our tax dollars to bail out the system that previous administrations and Congressional houses created. Both Democrats and Republicans were involved.

Deregulation has been typically accelerated during Republican administrations, but Clinton’s administration and the Congressional houses during all the administrations systemically and consistently helped to create this situation. All along the way, people who spoke out and questioned various aspects of policy were called either a communist, or unpatriotic. We as a People need to begin looking at the problem in order to understand it to move toward solutions.

But first we have to take a look at the current political system as it currently exists. While the American public voted in a new administration, the systemic pressures upon the new administration, cabinet and Congress will push and have molding influences on it. Are corporate and industry lobbyists all of a sudden going to give up on their professions? No. To the contrary. Funding will shift its focus onto the Democrats that occupy the positions. Both the campaign finance and the lobbying system perhaps might need to be restructured.

At the heart of this issue is the notion that a corporation has more rights than individual people or a community. It seems to be fairly clear that for the first 100 years of this republic, the Supreme Court, time and time again ruled that it was their belief that the Framers of the Constitution did not intend for corporations to have any personhood rights. It is in sharp contrast to our current times when multinational corporations have the right to lobby for certain domestic and foreign policy measures, as well as have the right to relocate to various tax havens (Halliburton moving its headquarters to Dubai currently coming to mind) and evade paying U.S. taxes. Thus there is the need to start talking to other people, regardless of political party affiliation, educational level, or any other divisive label. We must look toward solutions as a People. We need to look at our government as an extension of ourselves. It is a representative democracy after all. Something to think about…

U.S. Policy and a Shift

This week has shown the effects of a 28 year shift in U.S. policy. The National Intelligence Council reported that in twenty years, the United States would no longer be the dominant power in the world. As a country, we have slipped precipitously in per capita GDP, in healthcare statistics, in our education standings, our economy is starting to plummet and our overall standing in the world has gone down. As the leaders of top economic countries met, this is how the world leaders reacted to George W. Bush.

While I think that the United States is a great country and has the ability to regain a higher standing, we need to rethink our foreign and domestic policy. The United States is very unique in its policy. The most stunning is our willingness to allow private corporations to dictate our policy. The United States is the only developed country to collect a Medicare tax and not cover its entire population. The United States remains unique in its allocation of public sources to private gain, now more than ever. It wasn’t always this way. Here’s a link to Bush defending another 20 Billion to Citigroup. (They previously received 25 Billion when the bailout was first past. Link to LATimes article) Does Treasury Secretary Paulson seem uncomfortable or is he always like this?

Let’s rethink what our government’s role should be. Should it be of and for the People as the Constitution of the United States proclaims? If so, then we need to re-plot this country’s course. Just something to think about.

Great Films! But what about distribution?

I recently saw two fabulous gems of film, Slingshot Hip Hop and Waltz with Bashir. In both films there were times when I was mesmerized by the reality that unfolded on the screen. Both films deal with a struggle to comprehend the harsh reality of what has happened, as well as what continues to occur. Slingshot Hip Hop is the story of rap and its rise in Palestine within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Its story is one of empowerment within crushing circumstances. People need to see what is happening behind the large walls. Waltz with Bashir is the story of trying to understand the reality of what may have occurred, so horrible that the mind shuts it away in order to deal with the trivial necessities of regular life. Both films, while different, were brilliant in their presentation of real events, of history, within a moving narrative. Slingshot Hip Hop tells the story of Palestinians, while Waltz with Bashir is told from an Israeli perspective. The films are very different in personality and are dealing with different modern time frames. One is an animation. (But don’t let that mislead you. I’ve never seen anything like it.) Both are documentaries, and a strange similarity is that both indirectly seem to question a similar authority or power.

Now, my question and concern is this: how can these films get out to a wider audiences? They are both winning accolades and great praise on the festival circuit, but how can they be seen, by say, the average American who might not have the chance to travel? I think it’s fairly accurate to believe that the average American does not get that much international news or information from the broadcast news. Even when it is a more objective news source, for one reason or another, we may not be able to get news. Last night as I was checking news (online) and saw a short video clip from the BBC that showed that reporters have not been able to get into the Gaza Strip in order to report on events. That’s a slightly different topic though.

It seems that everybody is talking about how film distribution has fallen apart. Surely we can figure something out in order to get films out to be seen by wider audiences. There are audiences out there. There are films to be seen.

Bailing Out the Private Automobile Industry?

I really question the theories driving our policy. Are other people out there doing the same thing? It seems that not so long ago, the manufacturing sectors shouted, “Let the free markets work! The strongest and best will survive! Do away with regulation. It only hampers us and holds us back.” So then our lawmakers and policy makers started deregulating industries. When the rest of the world worked to lower emissions standards, (the automobile industry really fights against these types of standards) the United States, under the Bush administration, succumbing to strong lobbying pressures snubbed the rest of the world and the Kyoto Protocols and backed out.

Largely ignoring logic, science, and the common good, U.S. auto manufacturing built large, inefficient cars, hired large marketing firms and sold inefficient vehicles first for battle – (which it’s debatable as to the merits of why the U.S. continues to have a large, economically draining presence in Iraq, but that debate is for a different day) then they sold the large vehicles to the U.S. public. They pushed for NAFTA, arguing that it would level the playing field, that it would stop illegal immigration into the U.S., that it would give jobs to those who need it the most… except those that lost their manufacturing jobs in Detroit… So then, my question – what entity is driving U.S. policy? Because the opposite of what they said and say seems to happen.

A lot of people voted for change in November. Perhaps we could start conversation about creating policy that benefits the American people. Does it seems as though no matter who gets into Congress or the White house, that something else, some other force, or thing, is behind the scenes and pushing policy? Why is it that Pelosi is advocating for a automobile bailout? Could it have something to do with corporate lobbying? Perhaps we could start a Peoples’ Party. We could start talking to one another and also start looking toward solutions.

I don’t think we should bail out the automobile industry. I think all Americans should have basic healthcare (remember, we’re the only ones that don’t have it. It’s just us, and the rest of the developing, third world) before we bailout any more of the private sector. Let’s also remember that we do pay into Medicare. Somehow they convinced consumers that it’s for the old and the poor. Now how could they have done a thing like that?

Should Corporations Have More Rights Than People?

If ever there has been a time to discuss corporate politics, that time is now. It is disgustingly appalling that our lawmakers largely did not know about certain changes that continue to be made and inserted into policy and law by the current Bush Administration. There was a recent change to tax code 382, that apparently most lawmakers and representatives did not know about. This has already had massive effects on our economy.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson does not seem to be creating policy for the  good of the American public. The Bush Administration is successfully continuing to break apart the U.S. economy because it has fallen prey to the desires of corporate profit and policy. Can this currently be denied? At a time when a large portions of the American public are facing very difficult economic times, Wells Fargo Bank has been allowed to take over Wachovia, and the Federal Reserve met on a Sunday to approve the transaction. What’s even more shocking is that Wells Fargo is being allowed huge, mammoth tax breaks, as the same time the American public paid the bill for a private corporate banking bailout. Let’s also remember that this comes at a time when news agencies have recently cut their investigative staff. This is partially why it is so very difficult to understanding what is going on. News agencies were allowed to buy up one another, and partially since they are still paying back interest on their (ridiculously large) acquisitions, (changes in government policy allowed the acquisitions to happen in the first place) and since the media CEOs and management are able to take ridiculously large salaries, there weren’t enough funds to keep the investigative journalists. These separate incidences have huge social consequences.

While I am outraged by the lack of awareness from our legislators, they are not the true cause of our problems. They are currently pawns in the system. We need to look at what entity is profiting the most from our socioeconomic and political crisis. We need to look at the system, because it has been engineered so that lawmakers have limited power and influence. Lawmakers are reacting to a system of strong, powerful corporate lobbies that have intertwined themselves with the financial, defense, insurance, healthcare and media corporations and enhanced movement from the corporate world into political administrations positions to create policy that seems to clearly not benefit the American people. We as people need to start talking about the phenomenon of corporate personhood and corporate rights versus Peoples’ rights and the common good. What would the framers of the U.S. Constitution think of our current situation? (Oh my, there so many things…)

We need to start educating ourselves and the American public needs to begin talking about these issues. Here are some links to information.

The U.S. Economy – The link will take you to This American Life and will enable you to listen to a radio broadcast on the economy from Chicago Public Radio. Oct 2008

A Quiet Windfall for U.S. Banks – This link will take you to a Washington Post article. Nov 2008

Fed Approves Wells Fargo’s Takeover of Wachovia – This link will take you to a Bloomberg article. Oct 2008

We as People need to start learning about and talking about these issues. The financial bailout is a symptom of the direction that we are headed in and unfortunately, our tax dollars will be offered as financial bailout candy unless we begin looking at causes in order to adequately address these complex financial, social and political issues. (Reaganomics is a good place to start. What are the underlying assumptions of Reaganomics? Learning this will start to untangle this very tangled web.) So then, should corporations have more rights than People? Who was the Constitutions written by and for? How does it start? What entity does currently policy seem to benefit most? Where are our tax dollars going? Why do we pay taxes? (Usually people pay taxes to toward things that benefit society like to build and maintain roads, schools, infrastructure, healthcare – well, not so much in the States… in other countries they do though.) What entity does our healthcare system currently benefit the most? People or profit? Ask the same question to all the other things that taxes go toward. For example – should school taxes go toward people or profit? Then move onto roads and all the other things that taxes are used for. And so on and so forth. Why is the United States so very different from all the other developed democracies? They all also have capitalism, but their policy is very different. Something to think about…

Veterans Day

Thank you to all the veterans out there, who have served the country in different capacities. It is my hope that we will have national and international policy that will benefit veterans in a more humanistic way. Whether that means protecting veterans in their overseas missions by creating policy that keeps them safe, giving them the tools they need to protect themselves, and equally important, having leadership that will engage in strong and intelligent diplomacy enabling a safer world and environment. I also  hope that veteran healthcare, after returning to the States, will also provide veterans with high quality, caring services. Thank you.