One of my favorite year end rituals is watching the photojournalism pieces that appear on various news programs between Christmas and the New Year. These visual reminders replay the year’s highs and lows and cause us to pause to honor those we lost. Sadly, this year I felt heaviness as I viewed many of the images reflecting back at me. I couldn’t help but think of the following quote from Gandhi who believed that there are seven deadly societal sins. "Politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice." If societal sin is simply not living up to the best version of our collective selves, we are guilty of them all.
Unbalanced corporatism has polluted our political landscape. Second only to AARP, the most powerful lobbying group in Washington is tied to a foreign government. Both congress and the senate are recording the lowest approval ratings in recent years and have cost the US taxpayers a downgraded S&P rating. Peak oil is rarely discussed and our fragile planet receives only marginal attention from main stream media. Our education system has fallen well behind its global competition. Our young adults are indentured servants because of paralyzing debt. Our election system is under attack with the GOP’s deceptive claims of voter fraud. Our food supply is largely controlled by Monsanto - the former supplier of Agent Orange and now the number one manufacturer of genetically modified corn and soy. Our healthcare system is inadequate and pharmaceutical companies spend billions to thwart any real effort for healthcare change. Additionally, Wall Street crooks exploit the masses and our economy remains challenged. Social Security is in jeopardy while four hundred people have more wealth than half of America combined. Worse, many who make up this small subset in society do not pay taxes. Warren Buffett was correct, "There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war and we’re winning."
Clearly, level heads need to prevail in the 2012 election cycle. The world is waiting on our leadership. Unfortunately, we have lost much of our global respect as a presidential assassination ring is now legal, torture remains an option, and the ambiguous use of the word "terrorist" or "terrorism" is all that is needed to declare war or allow someone to go to prison for the rest of his or her life. As Guantanamo Bay reminds us, this can be done without the right to a fair trial. We continue to have massive attacks on Constitutional rights and privacy laws and the Bush era "signing statement" is alarmingly still being used. It is time for this generation of American’s to take a good, hard, long look in the mirror and determine how we want the world’s children to think of us. The threat of a nuclear war with Iran or North Korea looms over us while continuing tensions and humanitarian crisis in Israel, Palestine, Yemen, Haiti, Syria, and Sudan remain. How do we want to be remembered? Will we be a country of peace or a country that remains hungry for war?
While we may no longer be in Iraq and Afghanistan and Bin Laden, Gaddafi, and Saddam Hussein have been killed, the cost of these war efforts has been tremendous. CostofWar.com reports 137,000 innocent Iraqi and Afghanistan civilians have been killed. The 2011 death toll for US/Allied troops and contractors in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq was 31,741. Over 70,000 Allied Troops have been wounded. As of the fall of 2010, the Veterans Administration reports over 550,000 Veteran Disability Claims have been filed and over 26% of our new veterans report some kind of mental illness. Are we surprised that Project Censored is reporting that for the second year in a row, more US soldiers died of suicide than in battle? Furthermore, I would be remiss if I did not mention the uncounted journalist who have been killed or wounded while they covered the war. Clearly, the human cost of war far exceeds the $1.28 trillion dollar price tag. Even still, that total does not include the $2.3 trillion dollars that Rumsfeld declared missing from the Pentagon on September 10, 2001. CBS Evening News-Eye on America reporter Vince Gonzales, states "the $2.3 trillion dollar figure amounts to $8,000.00 for every man, woman, and child in America!" That money was missing prior to the war; can you image what the total individual dollar figure is now?
Meanwhile, here in Maine, for those who have good credit, a nearby bank is advertising a 6% home heating loan. The minimum per capita income is approximately $25,000.00. 1 in 3 jobs in Maine does not provide a livable wage, and over 200,000 individuals are food inadequate. Students are leaving college with paralyzing debt, and many of our elders are dangerously close to losing Medicaid funding. In Maine, undisclosed, out of state, corporate influence is corrupting our political process and helped elect a governor who thinks it is appropriate to tell the NAACP to "kiss his butt." Is it any wonder that the Occupy Movement has taken hold?
As I write the Iowa Caucus is underway. This event makes it clear that our national crisis of bullying and "mean girl syndrome" has made it into our political fabric. What political jabs the candidates refuse to voice, their supporting super PAC will. Take for example Mitt Romney whose super PAC, Restore Our America spent 2.8 million dollars in Iowa. All of that money was reportedly spent trying to defeat Newt Gingrich. Ironically, this super Pac is controlled by three former staffers on Romney’s failed 1998 Presidential Campaign. Additionally, as Amy Goodman reported for Truth-Dig, it is curious that Karl Rove, via Fox News, is responsible for declaring Romney’s win. Isn’t this the same fishy tactic that was used in the dubious 2000 Florida Presidential Campaign when George Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, a Fox News "consultant" declared Bush the winner? How convenient!
Regardless of who is considered the caucus victor, 2012 will no doubt be another year of toxic mudslinging, vitriol character attacks, and spins. It will be another year of unprecedented campaign funding and media manipulation. The same companies causing many of the problems previously stated will be funding the very campaigns that keep ineptitude and corporate greed in place.
While these facts are terribly depressing, I have hope! I see the strength of the woman in Emerge and I know that we women, standing together will rise to face the challenges. It is in our nature to thrive when odds are long. United together America has overcome so many difficulties: a Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s rights movement, the Vietnam era, and 9/11 to name a few. That same spirit is alive and well. We know that the tears of a mother in this country are no different than the tears of a mother in Afghanistan or Iraq. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we, the countries next political leaders, exercise wisdom, critical thinking, and character. We can make a difference and knowledge is power! We cannot allow corruption, fundamentalism, fear, and rhetoric filled diatribe to obscure facts and create revisionist history. Our greatness as a country is not in our military strength alone, but in the strength and beauty of our Constitution. A Constitution that I believe, in my lifetime, will face a Constitutional Convention. We, as democrats, need to fiercely protect the social justice values that define our party- the party that represents the backbone of America. Those are the values our men and women fight and die for. Those are the values that have made us the envy of the world.
In January 1961, while giving his farewell address, President Eisenhower cautioned us to the dangers of the "military industrial complex". He asked us to "avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow." He stated, "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow." Now, more than ever, his words resonate.
Today, we see the rise of the neoconservative movement and a frightening imperialistic agenda few citizens know anything about. We cannot allow the few, greedy corporatists and neoconservatives controlling the Republican Party, to manipulate well-meaning, but politically confused social conservatives who comprise their constituent base. While politics has never been for the faint of heart, today’s Republican Party is not the party of yesteryear. It’s far more virulent. Today, the few who control it have proven to be ruthless and greedy. These neoconservatives embrace the very spirit that President John F Kennedy fought against in his "President and the Press" and "American University" speeches. In these great historical documents, Kennedy reminded us of the dangers of secrecy and censorship. He cautioned against a war based economy and strived for peace. We have not heeded his advice but instead have suffered from historical amnesia. As Congressman Dennis Kucinich said at the 2008 Democratic Convention, "Wake Up America! Wake Up!"
For too long, far too many in society have willingly abdicated their responsibility to be active, informed citizens. While we live in the information age, we are too easily satisfied with sound bites, entertainment news, and cursory information that does little to provide us with depth of understanding and substance. We must engage: research, read, think, and act! Democracy requires this kind of vigilance. To compete in this global world, our youth need to be encouraged to learn foreign languages and to develop the ability to think resourcefully. As leaders we need to lead by example, know our history and become passionately curious. We are the agents of change. To be successful in this task, we need to create a well of knowledge to draw from.
Unfortunately, given that mainstream media in the United States, including most books, magazines, newspapers, radio, and television are now controlled by only six companies: General Electric, Walt Disney, News Corp, Time Warner, Viacom, and CBS, staying well informed is not an easy task. Furthermore, Extra magazine reports that media cites conservative think tanks 50% of the time, centrist think tanks 30% of the time, and left-leaning think tanks only 20% of the time. This is clearly not what Fox News would like its viewers to think when it states that the media is controlled by the "liberal media." Former Ambassador Chaz Freeman is right when he states, "We have think tanks that aren’t thinking". Clearly, censorship has arrived. It has become necessary, that we, as intelligent beings, protest the media oligarchy by frequenting and financially supporting alternative news websites like Commondreams, Rawstory, Truth-Out, Truth-Dig, Boiling Frogs, Greg Palast, Democracy Now, Sojo, PBS, and AlterNet. Let’s review foreign journalism sources such as Al-Jazerra, the Guardian, the BBC, RT, and Asian Times, that we may assess our reflection from another’s eyes. We might be surprised at their perception.