George Polisner – Friday, November 7, 2014
Near the end of 2008 America was on the precipice of economic collapse –which would have also had a severe and lasting impact upon global markets and the world. Since 2009 we’ve experienced a long slow recovery from the cliff.
There are numerous issues we must face quickly as Americans or America will perish as a footnote in history –characterized as a “nice try”. We can either be remembered as the society that recognized our strengths and addressed our weaknesses –or we can be known as a once promising society that waited for magic to happen until it did not.
The vital issues as I see them:
The Corruption of the Political and Judicial Environment
Influence of money on elections and representation
Remember one of the key issues in the founding of America – “No taxation without representation”? When we each cast a vote (assuming we do and that our vote is counted), we have an expectation that our elected officials will advocate for our interests. Regardless of your political ideology –do you really believe that your vote or mine compared to a million dollar check from Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, General Electric or Monsanto will have the same value with our elected officials?
The Constitution and Bill of Rights established an intent for representational fairness. Furthermore, three branches of government were created to provide greater protection against the corrupting influence of wealth. My friends that are very liberal with affinity with the green party are justified in their anger and frustration with the present system. My libertarian friends are absolutely correct to be livid as well. Unless you are the person collecting the check from Exxon, Chevron, WalMart, GE, Monsanto, the US Chamber of Commerce or the Koch brothers –you are completely justified in your alarm, frustration and anger.
So why are we fighting each other instead of the system that is subverting our government? –More about that later.
Under our present system it takes generally takes massive amounts of money to run a successful campaign. GMO labeling is a great example –where despite the will of the people –citizen initiatives for GMO labeling have been narrowly defeated due to being outspent by opposition from the likes of Monsanto, Pepsi, Kellogg’s and others by 10 – 1 or more. Media purchases (commercials on TV/Radio, newspaper ads, magazine ads and direct mail are all incredibly expensive.
In recent years the perfect storm was intentionally created to erode our ability to have a representative government. The conditions were set forth by the evisceration of the “Fairness Doctrine” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine – which had provided a mechanism for equal and fair broadcast time) and the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings in “Citizens United” v. the FEC and McCutcheon v. the FEC.
Influence of money on budget and appropriations
Part of the role of government is to determine how to allocate and invest our taxpayer dollars to keep America strong now and for future generations. This is also an area that has caused significant anger and frustration among Americans. This is due to a lack of alignment of how our money is allocated (societal priorities) and the inefficiencies and corruption in the present system.
When people talk about “Big government” versus “a government so small we can drown it in a bathtub” what some are really saying is we want an efficient government that provides the services we need at the federal, state and local levels.
While “drowning government” is used as a battlecry by Grover Norquist and others -they are actually not interested in addressing inefficiency or corruption. They are simply manipulating the masses from civic/political participation and to privatize –so they can transfer and consolidate additional wealth to the top 1%. Most of my conservative and liberal friends agree –if our/their home is on fire –we’d like a well-trained group of first responders that can react quickly and save life and property. If we drive over a bridge we have an expectation that it won’t collapse. If we need a license to drive our vehicle –we’d like to make sure we can get in, be tested and evaluated and licensed. If we turn on our water faucet –we expect clean, safe good tasting water –not a flammable sludge.
The problem becomes when Monsanto or another large company, industry (via a lobbying group) or extremely wealthy individuals write large campaign donations (or hire family and friends of our elected officials) –there is an absolute expectation that our representatives will reward them with lucrative government contracts –or projects that are not aligned with our societal priorities or imperatives. These are “pork projects”, “earmarks” or “bridges to nowhere” –and create justified anger among taxpayers.
If we truly aspire toward a democracy –we must act like one. We should be making every effort to make voting accessible, simple and highly encouraged.
The voter suppression movement is antithetical to democracy –and those behind such efforts harbor such a complete contempt for America, the Constitution and Bill of Rights –as a nation we should be considering the revocation of their citizenship and eliminating their ability to live in or do business in the United States. A pattern of interference by any individual, group of individuals, lobby or business entity should be investigated and upon a finding of guilt –there should be severe civil and criminal consequences.
All federal, state and local elections should allow absentee voting and receive ballots no less than 30 days prior to election day. Election season should include at very least two legally recognized holiday’s: Issue Day in which broadcast media provides time for all candidates and groups representing major societal issues access to airtime and Election day should also be a paid holiday.
Furthermore we must have law that establishes clear transparency and accountability in elections. Until we can separate money from campaigns -we must demand clear labeling of ballot initiatives including who is sponsoring and funding them. We cannot allow front groups to obscure the real power and motivation behind initiatives.
For example we can not tolerate an unholy alliance between oil companies to attempt to eviscerate law established to protect air quality through a front group called “Citizens for Healthy Clear Air”. We must have the mechanisms to understand that Chevron contributed 5 million dollars, Exxon contributed 5 million dollars -not a “citizens” organization “concerned” with air quality.
With rights come responsibilities as citizens. We must take the time to understand the candidates, their voting records, their stated positions (and until we can separate money from campaigns and appropriations) who is funding them.
We must look beyond the attack ads, yardsign, soundbite and promises to understand the candidates or ballot initiatives. There is excellent, well-researched information that is published by many different trusted organizations that can guide you if you need help.
People have died or have been beaten in order to win the right to vote. When we do not vote (whether due to apathy, cynicism or a “boycott”) we are not only dishonoring these courageous men and women –we are simply letting Monsanto, WalMart, McDonalds and Halliburton determine what America should look like.
Growing Economic Inequality
Tax code and policy
Since the 1960’s our tax code has changed, become more complex and now clearly favors corporations and the wealthiest Americans. When an administrative assistant is investing a greater percentage of their earnings into American society through their taxes than a wealthy venture capitalist or ExxonMobil -the tax code is clearly a key contributing factor to the growing abyss between working families and the wealthiest Americans. While many may say this erodes the quality and dignity of the American dream for most people -it is far more disturbing on deeper levels as it weakens the American economic system. Our economic engine fuels America -so by weakening our engine -it absolutely weakens this country.
Our tax policy should encourage the type of investment as well as divestment that is aligned with our national, state and local objectives. For example -if from a National Security perspective -we seek to limit our dependence on oil imports -our tax policy should include credits for the purchase of electric vehicles, mass transit passes, solar/wind for home use -while paying for those credits with additional taxes on gasoline or other carbon use.
Estate taxes should provide an exemption up to three to five million dollars and be adjusted for the cost of living every five years. While some argue this represents a double tax (presumably income/capital gains taxes during one’s lifetime) and then again upon death -it is not about fairness -it is about protecting America from the conditions that exist today -an obscene concentration of wealth among the wealthiest 1%. This creates a significant imbalance of power and wealth -and each subsequent “trust fund” generation is more insulated from real American life -while being able to assert more influence and power over such lives. Estate taxes protect the path to democracy from an “economic cancer”. With diminished or zero estate taxes we are led directly to the oligarchy we’ve become today.
Corporations use our infrastructure, education system, resources and people. The basic rule should be -if you want to conduct business in America -you should pay taxes here. When ExxonMobil is generating record quarterly profit and pays zero tax and a small business trying to survive is paying taxes -there is something inherently wrong. If America’s strength and promise is grounded in fairness -we must address this. Fair taxes are not anti-business. Providing a landscape in which small businesses can thrive -while large enterprise can still provide a solid return on investment (without harming society) should be a goal. As tax revenues are invested in government services -and appropriations for a future, stronger America -large corporations need to either provide their fair share or agree to no longer conduct business in the lucrative American market,
Minimum versus living wages
Lately the stagnant federal minimum wage has been in focus. The federal minimum wage in America is $7.25 per hour. Based upon a 40 hour work week this is $290.00 per week (gross wages).
21 million workers (an estimated 16% of the American workforce) would be postively impacted by a change in policy on wages. The average CEO in 1965 made 20 times the average worker salary.
In 2013 average CEO compensation was 295.9 times average worker compensation. There are a handful of CEO’s that have (or continue to have) the leadership, vision and work ethic -that they have made a company what it is (or in some cases have created entire industries). They have risked their own capital (or convinced others to put capital at risk -not an easy task) and have created opportunities for 100’s or 1,000’s or 10’s of thousands of American workers.
Most of the rest of the class of CEO’s are managers -not leaders. They may have a well-recognized name or following. They may have created higher equity value for a company by shifting costs to society (by reducing the workforce, transferring jobs to lower paying areas around the world, legally evading U.S. tax responsibility through tax loopholes and keeping worker wages stagnant). They are not innovating or creating any value for America or the world -they are simply shifting costs on paper.
To create stock/shareholder gains by reducing the American workforce, busting unions and keeping workers fearful (and reducing worker wages) should not be tolerated by American society.
For example -there are many that would say -the free market will take care of itself (although we’ve yet to actually see a free market -and likely never will). However in near “free-market” conditions WalMart (one of America’s largest employers) keeps average worker wages low and is vigorously anti-union. This causes many WalMart workers to supplement their negligible wages with food stamps and other vital social services that we all pay for (in our taxes). This at a time in which they were paying $100’s of millions of dollars to executives as “performance bonuses”. Yet many consumers continue to shop there because, you know, “Save money. Live better!”.
I’d propose that while we increase the federal minimum wage -many state and local governments should also address minimum wage, raising it beyond the federal minimum if the local region has a higher cost of living. Furthermore -large corporations like WalMart, McDonalds and others should be held accountable for a higher, “Living Wage”.
As Americans -we should be supportive of any worker that is employed and trying to improve their own economic standing and that of their families. And we need to make sure the largest, most successful enterprises are not simply taking care of their executives and to a lesser degree, their shareholders. They must treat their employees fairly and certainly not have an expectation that American taxpayers will cover part of what should be fair wages.
American healthcare and drug costs are out of control. There are two fundamental issues -access to care and cost containment. Between 1999 and 2009 according to RAND healthcare costs nearly doubled for the average American family with little improvement in quality of care.
Furthermore -prior to the introduction of the Affordable Care Act -a growing number of American’s had no access to healthcare coverage in America.
In the scope of the American healthcare system -we each bear some responsibility to ourselves our families and society. If we are to be a relatively unhealthy nation, filled to excess with fast, fried food, smoking, drinking (among other cultural issues we discuss later leading to substantial mental health costs -we exacerbate expenses and diminish the quality of the average american life. While government should not dictate individual diet or health -government can certainly make recommendations that must be unfettered by lobbying by meat, fast food, drug, tobacco, GMO or other industries that are seeking profit without regard to American health or healthcare costs. However a person that indulges in high risk behavior -should not shift their costs to society -the cost of healthcare coverage should not be “one size fits all”. The additional costs of healthcare related to conditions of obesity should be borne in part by the individual through a tax on fast or unhealthy food and additional taxes on companies that profit from such products. Additional healthcare costs associated from smoking and alcohol should be addressed in a similar manner.
Companies and entire industries that create health risks should be taxed and such taxes should be earmarked to offset any additional societal costs related to such behaviors including health and education for Americans to live more content, healthy lifestyles.
Employer versus Societal
I believe that as a nation we have a fundamental responsibility to each other to ensure that Americans have access to food, clothing, shelter and healthcare. While an employer benefits from greater productivity (and thus profit) with a healthy workforce -and should encourage positive behavior (fitness, nutrition, incentives for remaining in good health) -it is ultimately our responsibility as a society. Whereas the Affordable Care Act is an attempt to help contain costs (through a competitive, “free-market” exchange and the negotiating leverage that comes from adding 30-50 million people that previously had no access to healthcare coverage) -the intent of the ACA is also to provide a societal mechanism for access to coverage. As more employers have shifted the burden of additional heathcare costs to employees (via the co-insurance payment) -I believe we unfairly burden employers with rising healthcare costs. Such costs should be borne by society in a single payer system of care. While many may vehemently disagree (as evidenced by protest signs such as “I want government out of my healthcare”) on single payer -I suspect much of the negative reaction has been driven by misinformation from insurance companies, insurance lobbyists and people like the Koch brothers. If you have a choice between government weighing in on healthcare or the CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield or a group of wall street analysts (and let’s face it -those are the choices we have) -who do you think is more likely to approve a necessary and vital procedure for your child? A CEO that has their executive bonus tied to cutting costs and driving profit? Good luck with that. Frankly -the only people I’d like involved in my healthcare is me and my doctor. Nevertheless -the system itself has to be administered -and healthcare is one industry (of several) that should not be driven by the motive of profit. There are other, better ways to measure the efficacy of the system without paying a CEO tens or hundreds of millions of dollars while healthcare costs continue to spiral out of control.
Military/Defense Costs There is no question in this volatile world we need a strong, well-equipped and capable national defense with the ability to rapidly and effectively deploy in order to protect American and allied life around the world. Nevertheless -the military procurement process is bloated and there are many well-known areas of waste and corruption. The manner that we address our defense costs needs to radically change. In the year 2015 we will be spending over a trillion dollars (between mandatory and discretionary federal budget) on military services. This represents approximately $3,300 per year for every man, woman, child and infant in America. In 2011 we outspent the next 15 countries (including Russia and China) combined and outspent the second country (China) by five times (see chart below).
The American education system was once one of the best in the world. An international study found that the U.S. is now 19th in combined testing of Mathematics, Science and Literacy. This is important. As many Americans have begun to correlate energy policy to American security (the more dependence upon oil imports and global volatility -the more we have to spend on military to protect our global energy interests) people have not yet considered the connection to global leadership in education to national strength.
“Eighteen education systems had higher average scores than the United States in all three subjects. The 18 education systems are: Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong-China, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macao-China, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of Korea, Shanghai-China, Singapore, and Switzerland.” (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2012/pisa2012highlights_1.asp)
This is of great concern for the future of American society. When we do not have to depend upon other, potentially unstable regions of the world -we do not have to increase our military capability to remain strong and secure. Our ability to synthesize new materials that will improve the quality of American and perhaps life around the world rests with our future scientists, mathematicians and research.
If we lag in education -we will have to depend upon discoveries and materials that came from elsewhere (if they are even made available to us). At present we have a military advantage over any other nation -however that is due to superior technology, science and research. How long will that advantage last when we are lagging behind at least 18 other countries in education?
Furthermore -the cost of higher education in America is rising exponentially (while again -the American profit before people approach to student loans will continue to transfer wealth and weaken the American economy).
How many of our youth -if surrounded with leading K-12 schools -that are safe havens from violence, bullying, guns might have gone on to be the next Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, John Kenneth Galbraith or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -instead of imprisoned, sent to war or trying to survive in America with menial employment -because we as a society squandered an opportunity to support them.
If there is any place where our investment as a society should be clear -for a strong America now and especially in the future -education is the place. Our schools should be places where learning is inspired, world class and safe. It is the place where we show our youth that we value their life and past generations encourage each new generation to go beyond, add to American and global knowledge and chart a better, safer future for all. It should be unfettered education predicated upon the fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics -and should include continuous new scientific knowledge and theory as it becomes available. It should be publicly funded -and in no way should ExxonMobil or the Koch Brothers be teaching climate theory, McDonalds should not be sponsoring nutrition classes and WalMart should not be sponsoring business or consumer courses. And education should be well-rounded in culture, languages, humanities, music and the arts -all to help future generations appreciate and protect the gifts provided by past generations.
Public College and Universities in America should be tuition free -and we should fund materials and limited student expenses -either through low interest loans or grants for those that do not have the economic ability to fund themselves. When higher education is unaffordable -it limits our societal ability to have every individual reach their potential -and when we do not provide the incentives -we weaken American society now and in the future.
Racism and Gender Discrimination
If we are to consider ourselves an advanced and civilized society -there is no room for discrimination or pay inequity. Work performed by an individual should be compensated on the basis of the quality and value of the work, not predicated upon anatomy or the color of one’s skin.
There remains a vast difference in how we seek to be perceived as a nation -and the deep seated fear and hatred we harbor against others. Unlike the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision that we are a post-race society -there is racism running through most threads of American life -and in some regions -it is not even hidden.
Our energy policy over the last 50 years has been defined by Big Oil, Coal and the Nuclear power industries. Abdicating such important policy to the profit motive has led us to the brink of climate catastrophe (or Nuclear catastrophe as Fukushima continues to demonstrate an important lesson about nuclear power generation through fission technology). It has also is responsible for shifting incredible wealth to one of the most politically unstable parts of the world -and we have paid for this policy- and continue to do so with the blood of our sons and daughters (as well as many innocent civilian lives). We must rapidly transition to a safe, renewable energy strategy. The answer does not lie beneath the surface of America in the form of dangerous fracking technology. The answer is not in an environmentally ill-advised pipeline. The answer is blowing in the wind -as well as solar energy, transitioning to electric and/or hydrogen powered vehicles and other technologies that minimize carbon emissions and contribute to catastrophic climate change. We need to apply the same rigor to the “energy” race as we once did to the space race. It is at an absolute minimum a matter of national security.
Domestic Security, Drug Policy, Police and Prisons
We would all like to raise our families and enjoy a life free from crime (well, I suspect most of us anyway). Addressing quality and dignity of life in the areas outlined above (namely economic inequality, racism, education, healthcare) are all proactive investment in domestic security. When people and communities are valued over profit and wealth -there is simply less crime. We are human however -and thus crime will happen. Our lack of proactive investment in society and in communities that have led to widening economic inequality is a factor in more crime as well as drug and alcohol abuse in America. Police and prisons are a reactive expenditure when we fail.
A democracy is predicated upon a well-educated populace and access to unfettered, real and independent news. Such news should not be mired in opinion or filtered to produce a specific way of perceiving events -that is a fundamental difference between news and propaganda.
When news (or the “Fourth Estate”) becomes beholden to a particular perspective -it is no longer trustworthy, credible or of value. Many years ago major American broadcast news competed for viewers on the basis of investigation, integrity and were not held accountable for profitability by the leading broadcast networks. News was viewed as a public service -and part of the price broadcast networks paid for leveraging American society-owned “broadcast commons” or airwaves. In the late 1970’s television shifted and with it -news became accountable to produce profit. Not only has this diminished the quality of news (whereas arguably the entertainment value has increased) -the profit motive is often directly in conflict with reporting the news. As a society -we must make a renewed investment in competitive and real news sources that are effective, efficient and not beholden to a political or corporate perspective. Media should be well funded through societal investment from tax revenues and not filtered by industry lobbyists, politicians or from foreign investment. Furthermore -numerous cable channels procured distribution capability by establishing an “educational” component to their programming. For example in many markets while the “News” show Hannity spews hate and lies corresponding to the political perspectives of the foreign owner of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch the line-up of thoughtful programming that is helping to educate and inspire America is as follows:
- The History Channel: “Pawn Stars: The Adventures of Corey and Chum”
- TLC (formerly called The Learning Channel): “19 and Counting: Jesse’s Engagement (can’t wait for Jesse to have 19 kids)”
- Arts and Entertainment: “Godfather of Pittsburgh -I’m the Big Guy”
- Discovery: “The Town That Caught Tourettes?”
- National Geographic: “Alaska State Troopers -Cut in the Gut”
- Bravo: “Vanderpump Rules”
- Science: “Which Universe Are We In?”
-a question that seems more than reasonable when putting the above list together. These are a small bit of evidence with regard to why we must read more and watch TV less. What was sold to society as a great boon to education and knowledge has simply been another way in which we are fed opinions via “news” programming, told who to hate and who to blame for our problems. And in between the above programming or “Honey Boo Boo” (thankfully cancelled as of this writing), or watching Ted Nugent or Sarah Palin shooting defenseless animals from helicopters or the Duggars spewing out another child -in complete denial that the world has finite resources while pretending their genes are so remarkable -the only thing better than 19 Duggars must be 20 Duggars! -while I do not recommend violence of any kind -shooting your TV might be considered justifiable from my perspective.
Many hardworking American families have been ripped apart by deportation. A society that claims “family values” and then separates parents and children is drowning in its own hypocrisy. We owe it to the history of how America was founded (by immigrants) and achieved greatness (by immigrant labor) and how we continue to put food on our tables (most of which has been provided through backbreaking efforts of immigrant labor. We need a new round of amnesty (for those that are want to yell ‘Merica here and talk about building a big fence -it was your political idol -Ronald Reagan that signed Immigration Amnesty into law in 1986 -see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_Reform_and_Control_Act_of_1986)
Whereas the resources that American society has is finite -we do need sensible controls and a forward thinking immigration policy -and we need to address where we are at today. By not providing amnesty -we devastate communities and create more uncertainty and anxiety for an important part of America.
People want to eliminate corruption and drive perceived and real inefficiencies out of government services and systems. Many are told that privatization is a key to creating a competitive landscape and such competition will lead to efficient use of our societal investment. The reason privatization is not a panacea is it creates competition for profit. As a private enterprise -I can succeed by increasing revenue or lowering costs or both. Often if I lower costs -I diminish the services I provide. Whether I succeed or fail is not based upon the societal outcomes or results we desire -it is purely upon profit or loss of the enterprise.
Government should be held accountable and should be transparent in the funding and outcomes of agencies providing public service. However the profit motive is often in direct conflict with providing the services we need as a society. Privatization tends to benefit the already wealthy -as any reduction of costs (due to stagnant salaries, reduced workforces, lack of retirement or other benefits) -are generally shifted to executives and stockholders. This is why there is so much pressure on industries that historically have been government services to privatize. It is sold to us as “greater efficiency”. It is more frequently intended to transfer and consolidate wealth.
Acknowledging Our History
America aspires to be a strong and benevolent beacon of hope for humanity. A place where people are valued over things, innovation and hard work are rewarded and there is opportunity for all that are willing to work hard. Even if we “right” the ship -I believe we must understand our complete history, acknowledge our past mistakes, remedy them if we can and look to a future that is not encumbered by our past. From genocide (the trail of tears), slavery, imperialism, wars prosecuted on the basis of lies and interference in other sovereign governments (such as the assassination of Allende in Chile, the multiple attempts to assassinate Castro and destabilize Cuba meddling in Central America and elsewhere in the name of “national security” should be cast into the light, studied and readily understood so in the future we do not make similar mistakes. We must redefine what is in our national interests -and it should be predicated upon keeping Americans and our allies safe in America and abroad -it should not be predicated upon protecting the accumulation of wealth -or protecting the interests of large, multinational corporations over the rights of indigenous people.
Cultural Societal Illness
The pursuit of profit and wealth (and the accumulation and consolidation of wealth) has become the American focus. From “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, “Real Housewives of Wherever”, “Cribs”, music videos, expensive cars and the constant bling paraded in front of us in a barrage of commercials for Cadillac’s, Lincolns, BMW’s and so on. We are told we can be much happier if we buy more luxurious homes, cars and jewelry. In fact -we’re told if we don’t shop, the terrorists win. I believe if we don’t shop (and consume) in a more evolved way -”the terrorists” do win.
As a nation we have lost our way. We have had the quality of American life eroded over the last few generations. We have abdicated our American values to money and material wealth. Instead of a sense of community where people would take care of each other, children could be outdoors playing until dinner -we’ve become a suspicious, fearful nation. We’re worried that our jobs could be eliminated at anytime -because the new CEO wants to hit quarterly expectations and take a large bonus. If we are fortunate enough to have a mortgage payment we’re hoping we don’t lose our home as so many recently did. If we pay rent -we hope the owner doesn’t increase the rent so we are faced with a “should I buy my medicine or groceries” decision for ourselves or our family. Some are so frightened they want to take their assault rifle or handgun with them wherever they go -which then creates more fear. A young person graduating from college or university (if they were fortunate enough to have the support to attend) graduates while encumbered with tremendous debt. Any thought of using the education for public good or services is lost as young adults enter the job market with home mortgage-like debt.
- A pristine forest was once a day or weekend in nature. Now forests are managed and clearcut for profit.
- We sing about “Purple mountain majesties” in “America the Beautiful. Now we remove mountaintops for mining interests and profit.
- Our water ways were once unspoiled, precious resources. Now they are perfect to carry our toxic waste out to sea where in the Gulf coast they can mix with the oil disaster caused by BP and Halliburton.
- For years our diplomatic solution was to send in the Marines (even if it meant invading the wrong country and creating instability and chaos for generations).
We have supported brutal dictators like Pinochet, Noriega, Batista, Trujillo and others in exchange for giving our large corporations unfettered access to their natural resources, people and markets. However when they no longer follow our directives we cut them loose.
We fund prisons but not schools.
Are you fortunate enough to be able to attend college? We’ll make sure you start your your life burdened with significant debt.
We pay our educators, first-responders, nurses and others next to nothing and accuse them of “bankrupting” the American system.
We allow our political landscape to be sold to the highest bidder.
We won’t allow two people that love each other to marry -however we advocate passionately for the right of someone to acquire possession of an assault weapon at a moment in time in which their anger, depression and situation drives them to take their own life and many more around them.
We complain about traffic while driving slowly or stopped, alone in our carbon polluting cars, trucks and SUV’s -and protest against a high-speed train or other forms of mass transit -because it is “wasteful”.
- We see poverty in other countries and think “what a shame” or we quickly turn the page or change the channel without thinking about the abject poverty that exists in America.
- We are distressed when people are killed at a mall -but don’t give much thought to the child that walks to and from school in an area plagued by drive by shootings and violence.
- We see the parade of people of color being detained on “Cops” because they may have stolen a car, assaulted someone or had drug paraphernalia and are glad they are arrested, convicted and behind bars -yet when a massive fraud created the most severe economic crisis in America since the Great Depression -we patched the system up with taxpayer money -slapped a few wrists and then Congress fought for less regulation and enforcement (and continue to do so).
- We are shocked about what Lindsey, Miley, Amanda or Justin do next -and could care less that an American drone strike or bomb just killed a group of innocent children or a wedding party in a dangerous place whose name we cannot pronounce.
- We gather in the tens of millions to watch the Super Bowl or American Idol -but we don’t vote -and then we wonder why our quality of life is being eroded, how wealthy Corporations are now “people” and money is now “speech”. We care less about who you are and more about what you do, what car you drive and what you have.
We claim we are hated for our freedom? I suspect we are admired for our “freedom” and are simply held accountable for what we do with it. In 2008 we were tired of illegal wars and occupation. We were tired of a deregulated business climate that led us to the precipice of economic ruin. We were tired of tax cuts for the wealthy and record deficits. We still believed in the American dream. We had hope again. In 2014 we elected a Congress (whether we voted or not) that will advocate for the same policies that brought us to the brink of economic collapse. And this time -the stakes are much higher -our environment and economic systems are at risk.
What Can We Do?
Each election cycle will be viciously fought from herein, the odds against and the stakes higher. We will be fighting against a monumental wave of money pouring into campaigns, attack ads, media buys and opinions masquerading as news.
We are divided (and conquered) in many ways. The politics of wealth focus on our differences, tell us who to blame and corrupt the system to create cynicism and apathy.
If we are to survive as a nation -we must unite around the things that we agree upon. The last few election cycles have provided insight into how America can win -not how a party wins. There were numerous ballot initiatives placed by citizens that received enough petitions/signatures to become part of the local and/or state ballot. As our legislators have largely failed America for a long time -we can work on American outcomes that “We the People” want, share resources across state and local boundaries and put critical issues to vote from sea to shining sea. While electronic petitions have become popular -we need a mechanism to go beyond the petition and draft American law. There are too many recent examples of massively popular support for an issue that dies in Congress because it is wildly unpopular with the people and industries that are buying Congressional representation.
The outcomes most all Americans want are things like:
- Legislators and Politicians that will put our communities and country first.
- Government services that are effective, transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
- A political and judicial system that is well-insulated from corruption,
- World class, safe, inspiring K-12 Education.
- Well-paid educators that will inspire the next generation to learn and go beyond previous generations.
- Textbooks and education that cover the best body of knowledge we have today -free from political or religious debate.
- Affordable college and universities.
- An opportunity for all hard working people to improve their quality of life.
- Access to high quality, affordable medical, dental, vision and mental health care.
- Clean air.
- Safe, clear, good-tasting water.
- Everyone paying their fair share of taxes.
- Well-paid first-responders that can afford to live in the communities in which they serve.
- The economic opportunity to create a better, safer future for our children.
- Mass transit systems that are inexpensive, fast and efficient.
- Retirement security for our aging population.
- Housing, healthcare and services that honor our Veterans.
- A mechanism to address the out of control economic inequality that has become a cancer to the American economic and political system over the past few generations.
- Communities that are developed and funded to address abject poverty -so every American can enjoy opportunity, prosperity and truly look forward to a better future.
- Roads, highways and bridges that are well-maintained and safe.
- State and National parks to protect pristine areas and coastline for ourselves and future generations of America and the world.
Examples of the type of results we may want to support together (not grounded in political ideology -grounded in concepts and policy that will strengthen America for this and future generations):
- Election Day Holiday Act: All official Federal, State and Local elections will provide mail-in/absentee balloting beginning at least 30 days prior to Election day and accept ballots until the polls close on Election Day. Election Day will be a paid, nationally recognized American holiday.
- Political Truth in Advertising: Any content in a political advertisement that is determined to be false or misleading will require a label that identifies the advertisement as false and misleading and will require a response advertisement to the opposing campaign without charge. Furthermore, any attack advertisement will be no longer be exempt from civil libel laws or penalties. A pattern of false advertising will result in criminal fraud charges.
- Political Funding: No individual, group or organization can provide more than $100 for a campaign. No group or corporation may donate to a campaign outside of the jurisdiction of their HQ.
The outcomes we as Americans want and the method to enact law can be at the local, State or Federal level.
We are developing the “how” we do this -and need your help. We are working on launching a social network called “CivWorks” that protects your privacy, does not sell advertising and provides many of the social features you enjoy today with Facebook, Google+ or other platforms and will use a small monthly subscription fee to fund our initial development, new features and functions that you would find useful and for ongoing not-for-profit operations.
The difference is that we are integrating the features that will allow you to connect with interested or concerned people in your area to work on issues we all care about and how we can either begin ballot initiatives or actually draft and track law we want passed by our local government, State government or Congress -and tracking the bill to see which elected officials support it -and which do not.. Working together on both legislative and budget/appropriation outcomes we want for ourselves, our families, our communities and America -we can shift political power back to “We the People” and create a better America and world for future generations.
Teaching from a range of perspectives will prepare students from diverse groups to work together in a truly unified nation.
Schools today are rich in student diversity. A growing number of American classrooms and schools contain a complex mix of races, cultures, languages, and religious affiliations.
Two other sources of diversity are becoming increasingly prominent as well. The widening gap between rich and poor students is creating more social class diversity, and an increasing number of gay students and teachers are publicly proclaiming their sexual orientations.
Toward an Authentic Unum
The increasing recognition of diversity within American society poses a significant challenge: how to create a cohesive and democratic society while at the same time allowing citizens to maintain their ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic, and primordial identities.
Our ideal as a nation has been and continues to be e pluribus unum—out of many, one. In the past, Americans have tried to reach this goal by eradicating diversity and forcing all citizens into a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture (Higham 1972).
This coerced assimilation does not work very well. An imposed unum is not authentic, is not perceived as legitimate by nonmainstream populations, does not have moral authority, and is inconsistent with democratic ideals. To create an authentic, democratic unum with moral authority and perceived legitimacy, the pluribus (diverse peoples) must negotiate and share power.
Even with its shortcomings, the United States has done better in this regard than most nations. Still, citizen expectations for a just unum are far outpacing the nation’s progress toward its ideal. Many citizens of color, people with low incomes, or speakers of languages other than English feel alienated, left out, abandoned, and forgotten.
Our society has a lot to gain by restructuring institutions in ways that incorporate all citizens. People who now feel disenfranchised will become more effective and productive citizens, and new perspectives will be added to the nation’s mainstream institutions. The institutions themselves will then be transformed and enriched.
In the past two decades, multicultural education has emerged as a vehicle for including diverse groups and transforming the nation’s educational institutions (Banks 1994a, Banks and Banks 1992). Multicultural education tries to create equal educational opportunities for all students by ensuring that the total school environment reflects the diversity of groups in classrooms, schools, and the society as a whole.
Considering the Dimensions of Multicultural Education
The following five dimensions of multicultural education can help educators implement and assess programs that respond to student diversity (Banks 1993, 1994b).
- The first dimension, content integration, deals with the extent to which teachers illuminate key points of instruction with content reflecting diversity. Typically, teachers integrate such content into curriculum in several different ways (Banks 1991b). One common approach is the recognition of contributions—that is, teachers work into the curriculum various isolated facts about heroes from diverse groups. Otherwise, lesson plans and units are unchanged. With the additive approach, on the other hand, the curriculum remains unchanged, but teachers add special units on topics like the Women’s Rights Movement, African Americans in the West, and Famous Americans with Disabilities. While an improvement over the passing mention of contributions, the additive approach still relegates groups like women, African Americans, and disabled people to the periphery of the curriculum.
- A second dimension of multicultural education is knowledge construction, or the extent to which teachers help students understand how perspectives of people within a discipline influence the conclusions reached within that discipline. This dimension is also concerned with whether students learn to form knowledge for themselves.
- The prejudice reduction dimension has to do with efforts to help students to develop positive attitudes about different groups. Research has revealed a need for this kind of education and the efficacy of it. For example, researchers have shown that while children enter school with many negative attitudes and misconceptions about different racial and ethnic groups (Phinney and Rotheram 1987), education can help students develop more positive intergroup attitudes, provided that certain conditions exist. Two such conditions are instructional materials with positive images of diverse groups and the use of such materials in consistent and sustained ways (Banks 1991a).
- The equitable pedagogy dimension concerns ways to modify teaching so as to facilitate academic achievement among students from diverse groups. Research indicates, for example, that the academic achievement of African-American and Mexican-American students improves when teachers use cooperative (rather than competitive) teaching activities and strategies (Aronson and Gonzalez 1988).
- The empowering school culture and social structure dimension concerns the extent to which a school’s culture and organization ensure educational equality and cultural empowerment for students from diverse groups. Some of the variables considered are grouping practices, social climate, assessment practices, participation in extracurricular activities, and staff expectations and responses to diversity.
Knowledge Construction and Transformation
I would like to suggest an alternative to the contributions and additive approaches that are used in the content integration dimension. This alternative, the transformation approach, changes the structure, assumptions, and perspectives of the curriculum so that subject matter is viewed from the perspectives and experiences of a range of groups. The transformation approach changes instructional materials, teaching techniques, and student learning.
This approach can be used to teach about our differences as well as our similarities. Teachers can help students understand that, while Americans have a variety of viewpoints, we share many cultural traditions, values, and political ideals that cement us together as a nation.
The transformation approach has several advantages. It brings content about currently marginalized groups to the center of the curriculum. It helps students understand that how people construct knowledge depends on their experiences, values, and perspectives. It helps students learn to construct knowledge themselves. And it helps students grasp the complex group interactions that have produced the American culture and civilization.
Reinterpreting the Montgomery Bus Boycott
The history of the Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott, which began on December 5, 1955, can be used to illustrate how the transformation approach works. Viewing this event from different perspectives shows how historians construct interpretations, how central figures can be omitted from historical records, how history can be rewritten, and how students can create their own interpretations.
Textbook accounts of the Montgomery bus boycott generally conclude that: (1) when a bus driver asked Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white person, she refused because she was tired from working hard all day, and (2) the arrest of Rosa Parks triggered the planning and execution of the boycott.
Two important accounts by women who played key roles in the boycott contradict important aspects of the textbook conclusions. The two memoirs are those of Rosa Parks (with Haskins 1992) and Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (Garrow 1987). Robinson was an Alabama State College English professor and president of the Women’s Political Council.
Students can compare mainstream accounts of the events (such as those in textbooks) with transformative accounts (such as those by Robinson and Parks). This activity presents an excellent opportunity both to learn content about diverse groups and to gain insights about the construction of knowledge.
According to Robinson, professional African-American women in Montgomery founded the Women’s Political Council in 1946 to provide leadership, support, and improvement in the black community and to work for voting rights for African Americans. Many council members were Alabama State College professors. Others were black public school teachers.
In 1953, the council received more than 30 complaints concerning bus driver offenses against African Americans. For instance, black people (even when seated in the “Negro” section of the bus) were asked to give up their seats to whites. Further, blacks often had to pay their fares in the front of the bus, exit, and reenter through the back door—and sometimes when they stepped off the bus, the driver left them.
Robinson and other council members worked with city leaders to improve the treatment of black bus riders, but to no avail. African Americans continued to experience intimidating, demeaning, and hostile encounters with bus drivers.
As the negative pattern of incidents persisted, the council concluded that only a boycott against the bus system would end the abuse of black bus riders and bus segregation. A boycott was thought to have good potential for success because about 70 percent of Montgomery’s bus riders were African American. The council planned the boycott and then waited for the right time to launch it.
The year 1955 presented three choices for the “right time.” On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old high school student seated in the “Negro” section of a bus, was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white rider. Next, Robinson said:
They dragged her, kicking and screaming hysterically, off the bus. Still half-dragging, half-pushing, they forced her into a patrol car that had been summoned, put handcuffs on her wrists so she would do no physical harm to the arresting police, and drove her to jail. There she was charged with misconduct, resisting arrest, and violating the city segregation laws (Garrow 1987).
Claudette Colvin was later found guilty and released on probation. The conviction enraged the African-American community. Six months after the Colvin incident, Mary Louise Smith, 18, was arrested on a similar charge. Smith was fined.
Then, on December 1, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat. She gives quite a different reason for her intransigence than has commonly been reported:
People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
The driver of the bus saw me still sitting there, and he asked was I going to stand up. I said, “No.” He said, “Well, I’m going to have you arrested.” Then I said, “You may do that.” These were the only words we said to each other.
… People have asked me if it occurred to me that I could be the test case the NAACP had been looking for. I did not think about that at all. In fact if I had let myself think too deeply about what might happen to me, I might have gotten off the bus. But I chose to remain.
Fed up with mistreatment, the African-American women of Montgomery, led by their council, called for a boycott of city buses. Robinson described the preparations for the boycott:
I sat down and quickly drafted a message and then called a good friend and colleague, John Cannon, chairman of the business department of the college, who had access to the college’s mimeograph equipment. When I told him that the WPC was staging a boycott and needed to run off the notices, he told me that he too had suffered embarrassment on the city buses. Like myself, he had been hurt and angry. He said that he would happily assist me.
Along with two of my most trusted students, we quickly agreed to meet almost immediately, in the middle of the night, at the college’s duplicating room. We were able to get three messages to a page, greatly reducing the number of pages that had to be mimeographed in order to produce the tens of thousands of leaflets we knew would be needed. By 4 a. m. on Friday, the sheets had been duplicated, cut in thirds, and bundled (Garrow 1987).
Part of Robinson’s leaflets read:
Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down…. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights, too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negroes, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop the arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere else on Monday (Garrow 1987).
Reinterpreting the Past
Robinson’s and Parks’ accounts of the Montgomery bus boycott reveal that significant players in historical events can be virtually ignored in written history. For instance, most textbook accounts of the Montgomery bus boycott emphasize the work of men (like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph D. Abernathy) or organizations headed by men. The work of women like Robinson and her female colleagues in the Women’s Political Council simply cannot be found in most textbooks.
Further, Rosa Parks’ stated reason for refusing to give up her seat helps students understand that recorded history can be wrong. Students can also see that when people who have been excluded from the construction of historical knowledge begin to play active roles in interpreting history, the resulting accounts can be strikingly different and much more accurate. As Robert Merton (1972) observed, insiders and outsiders often have different perspectives on the same events, and both perspectives are needed to give the total picture of social and historical reality.
Incorporating New Scholarship
Since the 1970s, people of color—who have historically been outsiders and transformative scholars—have produced a prodigious amount of scholarship on multicultural education. Their thoughtful and informative works include Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993); John Hope Franklin’s The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-First Century (1993); Gloria Anzaldua’sBorderlands: La Frontera (1987); Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (1991); and Paula Gunn Allen’s The Sacred Hoop(1986).
Because men of color have often been as silent on women’s issues as white men have been (hooks [sic] and West 1991), a special effort should be made to include works by women (such as those by Anzaldua, Collins, and Allen). Two important new books edited by women are Carol Dubois and Vicki Ruiz’s Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U. S. Women’s History (1990) and Darlene Clark Hine and her colleagues’ Black Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia (1993).
Teaching Civic Action
One of multicultural education’s important goals is to help students acquire the knowledge and commitment needed to think, decide, and take personal, social, and civic action. Activism helps students apply what they have learned and develop a sense of personal and civic efficacy (Banks with Clegg 1990).
Action activities and projects should be practical, feasible, and attuned to the developmental levels of students. For instance, students in the primary grades can take action by refusing to laugh at ethnic jokes. Students in the early and middle grades can read about and make friends with people from other racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. Upper-grade students can participate in community projects that help people with special needs. Lewis (1991) has written a helpful guide that describes ways to plan and initiate social action activities and projects for students.
When content, concepts, and events are studied from many points of view, all of our students will be ready to play their roles in the life of the nation. They can help to transform the United States from what it is to what it could and should be—many groups working together to build a strong nation that celebrates its diversity.
Aronson, E., and A. Gonzalez. (1988). “Desegregation, Jigsaw, and the Mexican-American Experience.” In Eliminating Racism: Profiles in Controversy, edited by P. A. Katz and D. A. Taylor. New York: Plenum Press.
Banks, J. A. (1991a). “Multicultural Education: Its Effects on Students’ Racial and Gender Role Attitudes.” In Handbook of Research on Social Teaching and Learning, edited by J. P. Shaver. New York: Macmillan.
Banks, J. A. (1991b). Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Banks, J. A. (1993). “Multicultural Education: Historical Development, Dimensions and Practice.” InReview of Research in Education, vol. 19, edited by L. Darling-Hammond. Washington, D. C.: American Educational Research Association.
Banks, J. A. (1994b). Multiethnic Education: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Banks, J. A., with A. A. Clegg Jr. (1990). Teaching Strategies for the Social Studies: Inquiry, Valuing, and Decision-Making. 4th ed. New York: Longman.
Banks, J. A., and C. A. McGee Banks, eds. (1992). Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Garrow, D. J., ed. (1987). The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press.
Higham, J. (1972). Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860–1925. New York: Atheneum.
hooks, b., and West, C. (1991) Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life. Boston: South End Press.
Lewis, B. A. (1991) The Kid’s Guide to Social Action. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Merton, R. K. (1972). “Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge.” The American Journal of Sociology 78, 1: 9–47.
Parks, R., with J. Haskins. (1992). Rosa Parks: My Story. New York: Dial Books.
Phinney, J. S., and M. J. Rotheram, eds. (1987). Children’s Ethnic Socialization: Pluralism and Development. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications.
James A. Banks is Professor of Education and Director, Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington, 110 Miller Hall DQ-12, Seattle, WA 98195. Banks’s most recent book is An Introduction to Multicultural Education (Allyn and Bacon). With Cherry A. McGee Banks, he is also co-editor of The Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, in press, Macmillan.
May 1994 | Volume 51 | Number 8
Educating for Diversity Pages 4-8
POSTED ON NOVEMBER 11, 2014 AT 2:40 PM UPDATED: NOVEMBER 12, 2014 AT 9:10 AM
Texas businesses would be allowed to fire LGBT employees and turn away LGBT customers under a new proposal issued Monday by state Sen. Donna Campbell (R).
Campbell’s proposal would strengthen existing protections in Texas for the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief,” a legal maneuver that critics have described as a “license to discriminate.” This year, many state legislatures have considered putting the religious rights of business owners over the civil rights of would-be customers. Similar proposals in Kansas, North Carolina, South Dakota,Arizona, and Oregon ultimately failed this year, while a number of other states have held that the law protects LGBT folks from discrimination even if that discrimination is based in scripture.
Mississippi signed a license to discriminate into law, and Kentucky lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto to put their own religious freedom law into effect. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers who are trying to extend non-discrimination protections to LGBT couples have so far been stymied.
These laws have come into vogue after numerous anti-LGBT small business owners have refused service to LGBT clients in Kentucky, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Iowa, Colorado, and other states in recent years. Many of these disputes involve bakeries and other vendors who refuse to contract for services at same-sex weddings, but some businesses have refused to print Pride t-shirts or put rainbow frosting on an order of cookies.
Conservative political forces have leaped to these companies’ aid, arguing that their religious convictions about sexuality trump everyone else’s civil rights against discrimination. Those calls grew louder after this summer’s Supreme Court decision that a retailer called Hobby Lobby did not have to provide health insurance that covers birth control due to the company’s religious views, a ruling that reversed decades of precedentwhereby legal protections tied to religious faith were limited to actions that did not impede other people’s rights.
Sen. Campbell’s new proposal in Texas is her second bite at the license-to-discriminate apple. Her first, in 2013, didn’t go very well. Critics pointed out that by amending the state constitution as she proposes, lawmakers would empower Westboro Baptist Church protesters to attend military funerals rather than protesting them from afar. One commentator applauded Campbell’s intentions but warned that the way her proposal was written might some day allow a person to claim a sincere religious belief in the right to an abortion, effectively legalizing abortion in Texas.
Her new proposal is “nearly identical” to the 2013 version, according to the Lone Star Q, which also notes that Texas already has a statute on the books that “provides strong protections for religious freedom.” Campbell’s proposal removes a key adverb from the legislative language, which a lawmaker who helped pass the existing religious freedom law says would render the protections far too expansive.
While many conservatives are convinced that the religious liberty to discriminate against LGBT coworkers and clients is under attack, there are still 29 states where it is completely legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. Workplace discrimination against transgendered people remains legal in 32 states. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed the Senate last year, but never had a chance of advancing in Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) House of Representatives.
Even before Republicans retook the Senate earlier this month, ENDA already lost significant support from progressive LGBT groups who feel that the laws carve-outs for religious employers are too broad. With ENDA politically dead for the time being, President Obama has used executive authority to provide workplace discrimination protections to federal workers and anyone employed by a business that contracts with the government, and has not provided religious carve-outs in those executive orders.