Friday, November 4, 2011

Rolling Our Rights & Freedoms; Backward or Forward?

Has it occurred to you that our Constitution, and with it our freedoms, are under attack?
It seems to me that powerful interests are steadily making inroads with their money and influence in high places. These forces are relentless, and move incrementally so we don't notice too much, until their gains have been solidified.

One example is access to our elected officials in Congress, as well as in the Administration -almost regardless of who happens to be in power.
The current situation is egregious, allowing one party to just say 'no' to even the most basic things, like extending unemployment insurance or passing routine authorizations like paying our military personnel, allowing emergency funds to be used to mitigate natural disasters, like floods, hurricanes and shortages of vaccines and medical assistance.
What is that about?

The short answer is simple meanness, and the attitude of 'my way or the highway'!
How did we get to this awful place in our national politics?
For that matter, what about those States that decided to outlaw collective bargaining?
Hey, I know that organized labor can be extremely problematic, with it's single minded zeal to constantly demand more & more, even from financially strapped governments and institutions, but even that kind of greed doesn't justify taking away the right to collective bargaining!
Talk about blame games, that takes the cake - except for what we have come to call 'corporations' and their growing power over every lever of our economy.

Of course, corporations are an integral part of our economy, providing jobs, goods and services we need. But, in exchange for providing these basic essentials, corporations are now able to engage in practices that are downright harmful to our society.
Things like moving manufacturing jobs offshore, thereby creating unemployment here. Or, exerting financial influence over elections and prudent fiscal policy. Or, claiming the same rights as people! Can you believe it? You'd better, because its happening.

Back in the early 1900's, President Theodore Roosevelt had to deal with the exceptional growth of corporate power that was being used to abuse the public in several harmful ways. That led, among other things, to the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust - actually a virtual monopoly on oil and petroleum products. Can you imagine the result of the former Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Texaco, and Standard Oil of Ohio companies still being part of the same gigantic corporation?

Before Roosevelt's time, this same phenomena had occurred before when the Mining, Steel production and Railroad industries were dominating trade and employment with their power, and the abuse of it. These were more than historical happenings, they were terrible times for many workers, consumers and ordinary citizens, too! Reviewing our history -and that of the world- such concentrations of power do occur, largely due to human nature and the lack of reasonable controls being exercised.

For those who believe that government is too big and pervasive, ask yourself if you'd like to live without a government strong enough to deal with big business and big labor! Then ask yourself how those selected to represent public interest can, themselves, be corrupted by these very powerful forces. Not so easy, is it?

Most of my adult life was spent working for corporations, so I am grateful for the good livelihood that -and a great education- has provided. But, there were times I didn't enjoy working for poorly managed companies, arrogant & incompetent bosses and working conditions that were inadequate or unsafe.
So, for all the good that corporations provide, there can also be a big, bad side, too! Corporations are not inherently good, and they can be used for purposes that harm people and the economy as well as the environment. We've seen enough examples of this to know with certainty, the truth about corporations.

My main concern about corporations is their potential for misuse. They are not people - as our Supreme Court has come to claim, do not have a conscience and always can be counted on to act in their own selfish, self interest. Other than that, very little to be concerned about!

Now, consider extending these concerns to the people who control corporations. They are people, but with a difference. These folks -the elite 1% among them and at the top- are in the habit of setting themselves up to be special; wealthy, protected from normal liability, well-connected to power, used to getting their way, prone to believe they belong to an exclusive, chosen class, exempt from normal duties of a citizen - think military service, entitled to the best of everything, beyond the influence of small shareholders, employees or servants, able to enjoy the trappings of high-life at will, etc

And, think about all the advertising oriented to appeal to those with lots of money; large gated estates, luxury cars, yachts & planes, jewelry fit for royalty, lavish & rare art, investment opportunities not generally available to most of us, legal, medical and money management services too expensive to imagine, vacations, cruises, galas, sports events, closed private clubs where the rich & famous hide out to enhance their exclusivity, casinos, elite schools, fancy spas and the like.

Can you honestly say that you are not influenced by this kind of opulent lifestyle? How do you feel about people flaunting what they have -and what you don't- in your face? My goodness, this stuff rivals those emperors, kings and potentates of old, who thought they were divine and had a right to take what they wanted, fight wars to expand or keep what they had, torture those who dared look at them crooked, and live lives of debauchery and excess.
Does what is happening today, sound much different? Materialism reigns, baby! Every act, thing or lavish service is treated better than motherhood, because it adds to what we have decided to call our Gross National Product!

Know any of these people? Maybe, but not personally. More likely from the media, urban legends or fame. To most folks, these titans of corporate - or inherited or stolen - power exist in a sort of never-never land, beyond our credible imagination. Occasionally, one of them crashes to earth, from one of their excesses, most likely. Then, we are inclined to castigate them, ridicule and despise them, or maybe actually revere them and hold them up as paragons of virtue! The choices ours, of course, of how we view these people of privilege and excess.

How do you feel about some of these folks earning as much in one day as you do in a year? Is that size of gap healthy? What would you say if you learned that some of these wealthy people pay essentially no taxes, while you are struggling to make ends meet? How about when they can get the finest medical care available on earth, and you're lucky to have health insurance? Or, they fly around in corporate jets while you are lucky to own a car, or be able to buy the gas to run it?

I don't mean to idly sow seeds of discontent; merely to point out a few inequalities that do not seem to be necessary or productive in our society. What does concern me is how such gross inequalities may harm our way of life, and what we can do about it.

First, the money problem. How much is enough? Is any limit necessary? What about the concept of fairness? Shouldn't the rich pay more than ordinary citizens? Shouldn't corporations? Don't they depend on our infrastructure, services, security and stability? Don't these essential benefits matter in tangible terms? Why can't these obvious disparities be reconciled? Who can we trust to do it?

By allowing our government to become so dysfunctional, we are unknowingly committing the error of undermining the very things we value. Think about it, if its not too painful. No, think about it anyway! Corporations are eroding the underpinnings of our Constitution by claiming person-hood and dodging important responsibilities and reasonable guidelines. Because they have the resources, constant and clever attacks are being made that grant corporations more 'rights' then they are entitled to.
And, by the expedient of 'incorporation' all manner of tax and identity dodges are being created that allow 'anonymous' donors to buy election votes and influence legislation without the public knowing what interests are being represented, or how rules are being skirted. That is unacceptable!

If these games continue to be played with ever wider impacts, there will come a time when public trust becomes history. Already, there is evidence that the trust so necessary to our way of life is being steadily eaten away by sharp practices designed to surreptitiously benefit schemers of all stripes, creating a virtual shadow government that usurps honest debate, discussion and elections.

Our Constitution is a great document, limited only by the ideas our Founders could conceive of and get approved by compromise in 1787. But, it acts as a general statement of policy, not a bible. And, it was considered obsolete before it was put in place by a relative handful of wealthy white men! Just imagine, the Bill of Rights was an afterthought! It's great that these 10 Amendments were adopted, but that didn't exactly solve the problem either to every one's satisfaction. That is why we continue to try and amend our Constitution, to address issues the Founders finessed. You know, little things like slavery, the right to vote for blacks, women and unhanded whites; just a few little details like that!

Now, we need to address the growing problem of wealth-enhanced influences that mainly serve to further enrich the rich! Anytime ordinary citizens like you and me suffer the loss of their influence to the rich, powerful and famous, that is a blow to the essence of what has made this country great. That is why squarely facing this growing problem of 'corporate' wealth & power that is so insidious, is so necessary.

Now, how do we do this? No short answers exist, but it will most assuredly be up to us, the citizens. We could start by coalescing around the idea that our freedoms are being eroded, and that we demand acceptability from our elected representatives. We could also recommend a few corrections that will be necessary to define what is broken and what needs fixing. And, we can certainly attract attention by speaking out and taking to the streets if necessary, like the 'Occupy' movement is doing now.
My only caveat is trying to be 'for' something, not just being 'against' it. But, that is always the catch in a democratic type of society, like ours; change is possible, but likely not easy. Like others, I counted upon the success of corporations to earn retirement income, so I don't lightly dismiss their importance. But, there has to be a better way!

So, that is our challenge; we don't have to reinvent the wheel, because that's already been done. Our task now is to decide which way that wheel needs to roll - backward or forward?
I choose the later, if we can overcome the inertia of the backsliding that seems to be accelerating, despite our wishes to the contrary. While I won't be around a whole lot longer, millions & millions of people will, and already I can see what the steady accretion of disastrous practices can wring the very life out of people! These people don't really want handouts, they want a more level playing field - in education, opportunity, nutrition, health and those basic freedoms that were fought for by our forefathers.

As the Buddhists say; we are born as well-favored beings, which is difficult to gain and easy to lose! Think they got it right? If so, what are you going to do about it? Maybe the 'Occupy' movement is a beginning of something we need. But, we need to identify what that is, then stand for something good, not just lash against what we dislike.
Who knows? But we all should care!