Sunday, January 6, 2013

Issue #95 January 6, 2013- Happy New Year?, Fiscal Cliff and More

Happy New? Year!!…
A new year always brings with it the hope for a fresh start.  Many of us choose this as the time to commit to making changes that, we hope, will improve our lives in some meaningful way.  We look inward to try and make improvements, but we also look at the "bigger picture" and hope for progress in our society as well.

What is often so frustrating to people is that after a short time, things often return to the previous state and we find ourselves reliving the same problems, conflicts or shortcomings over again.  We ask ourselves, why does this happen?  Yet we fail to realize that we are the same people in the same situations and our thoughts and actions often follow familiar paths.  "Old habits die hard", "The more things change the more they remain the same", and other similar sayings frequently ring true. 

The difficulty in making change lies not so much in our reality, but in how we approach making changes.  Most of us, from the very powerful down through the ranks, have little control over the conditions that we live and work in.  President Obama ran a campaign with the slogan of "Change" yet encountered entrenched resistance to his agenda.  Humans, by nature, often resist changes to what we find familiar and comfortable, even when we know the changes would be good for us. 

Insanity has been defined as the concept of repeating the same actions and expecting different results.  We find ourselves guilty of this on so many occasions, and yet are surprised when our efforts aren't successful.  This is true on a personal level as well as on a larger scale in groups or as a whole society.  If we truly want to see positive changes in our society this year we need to start looking at what is working and what needs to be altered, discarded or otherwise changed.  Then we must look for ways to make our efforts more effective and implement our ideas.         

Fiscal Cliff…
Millions of Americans breathed a sigh of relief as Congress voted to pass a bill that appeared to avert financial disaster for the nation.  Yet, a closer look at the last minute work that the Congress did shows us that this deal in many ways is more of the same. 

At the end of the day, the debate to avoid the "Fiscal Cliff" was an example of just how far removed our legislative and budgeting processes are from the lives of most of us.  It seems like most of our legislators live in a separate universe from those they represent.  For them, the tax increases and other aspects of the "Cliff" seemed almost secondary to the political points to be won or lost in the debate.  While they paid lip-service to the impact that their actions would have on a majority of Americans, the way the deal unfolded and much of the rhetoric around it showed where their true concerns were. 

This bill is also an example of just how confusing and convoluted our political system has become.  What we are told a bill says/does, and what it actually says/does are often very different.  Unless someone is willing, and able, to wade through the huge number of pages that any single bill consists of, we rely on the media and our politicians to tell us what it means.  Even if one reads a bill in its entirety, the language and context is often baffling to most of us.  This means that a majority of citizens are truly ignorant about what their legislators have done.   

The media gives us a "thumbnail sketch" of what a bill contains.  However, most bills deal with a significant number of topics and often have other issues inserted into them.  We know that most issues are interconnected and are difficult or impossible to separate cleanly from each other.  Virtually every part of our lives connects directly, or indirectly, to other parts and our legislation mirrors this reality. 

However, the reality is that many bills contain "hidden" features that are added to make it more palatable to legislators.  This is how we see simple ideas that could be dealt with in a straightforward manner become complex and often distorted.  It is also how lobbyists are able to get their client's interests served.  

This bill also provided another example of "Brinksmanship", where our elected officials wait until the last minute to broker a deal.  This maximizes their exposure and increases the amount of uncertainty that exists in our society.  It is a symptom of just how disengaged the public is in the "goings on" in politics.  The American people don't focus their attention on an issue until there is a crisis or deadline, then it becomes front-page news.  Congress had a very long time to deal with the issue of the "Fiscal Cliff" and yet needed "overtime" to come up with a compromise. 

I equate our legislative process with referees or officials in a sporting event.  Their job is to make things run smoothly for the players and make sure the rules are fair for all players.  If a referee is doing their job, they are rarely noticed and rarely the source of controversy.  The same should be true for our elected officials.  They are not the most important people in our political process, the people they represent are.  By drawing out negotiations to the last minute and using political or economic crises to increase their prestige, our politicians are neglecting the duties for which they were elected. 

Unless we, the people, hold our representatives accountable this type of gamesmanship will continue and the process will repeat itself (later this spring in the case of many of these issues).  We need to be engaged in the process immediately and put pressure on our representatives to act quickly and in the interests of the people. 

Politics, An Ugly Busine$$…
Need more evidence that our politicians are in business for someone other than the people they represent?  We are seeing a significant number of issues where the majority opinions of the citizens are being ignored in order for the needs of a few to be advanced.  Whether it's the NRA and their minority opinions about gun control and other weapons issues, or one of many other similar issues, we are seeing our legislative process co-opted by money and a small number of powerful individuals and groups.

While it is easy to place blame on the politicians, or on the system they work in, we as citizens must shoulder our responsibilities for the actions that our elected officials carry out while they represent us.  If we the people don't raise our voices in opposition to the tactics
and actions of those we elect, who will? 
  Unions in 2013…
With all that is happening in the world today, we need labor unions now more than ever.  While some would make the case that these organizations are obsolete, the reality is that they provide a counter-balance to the powerful forces that are acting in our political, social and economic realms.    

2013 is a crucial year for organized labor.  With all of the challenges that unions face it is important that those of us who value unions and who see the benefits of organized labor work diligently to preserve and protect the rights that have been won for workers in this nation.  Unions must work to reorganize themselves and prepare to operate in an increasingly hostile environment.  Each of us must do our part to insure that 2013 is the year where the labor movement is re-energized and not the year where it is dismantled.     

Education Reform- 2013…
In the same way that organized labor is under attack, public education is facing major challenges.  These assaults come from a variety of sources and are increasingly difficult to defend against.  

Just like worker's rights, public education needs our stalwart support or else it will be privatized and dismantled leaving many without educational opportunities.  Each of us can make a difference if we stand up for what we value.     

Buy Local…
As always, I encourage everyone to find local establishments that support labor and keep money in the local economy.  When you frequent a business, let them know why you have chosen them and that you support their efforts to promote fair business practices.  It is challenging to find these products and businesses.  The connections between companies is often difficult to unravel and sometimes local businesses don't necessarily promote progressive ideals.  What is important is that an effort is made to try and spend money in ways that promote the things that we value and to communicate with business owners about what your reasoning is behind your purchases.  If businesspeople know what their patrons are thinking then they will recognize that it is in there best interest to offer products and services that meet the needs of their community.

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