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Democracy in America Today

February 5, 2005
By Leah Allen

It's time to take a serious look at what we consider to be our democratic way of life and what it holds for us as we look into the future.

We have serious economic issues and disturbing socio-economic plans being presented as conclusions rather than proposals. Citizens of the United States are paying the price for having an international trade policy of war and empire-building with the fiasco in Iraq. On the domestic front, huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people only complicate the debt picture the war has created.

And then to add insult to injury, the government is feeding the public a daily dose of misinformation about Social Security and Medicare and plans to dissolve those quality-of-life commitments to the citizens. The reality, which leading economists have identified, is that if 1/5 of the tax break just given to the wealthiest Americans was repealed, Social Security would be solvent beyond the foreseeable future (beyond 2052). Another solution might be to allow the Social Security tax to be applied to incomes above $90,000. Ironically, these wealthy Americans would not be hurt by either of these measures.

The alternative plan now being offered by the Bush administration would add trillions of dollars of debt to our already burgeoning deficit, though it has been clearly identified that the people will not benefit for nearly half a century, even if they do have any success with the stock market. This plan is ignorant and immoral. The people need to figure out ways to fix the wobbling economy and stock market other than raiding Social Security, defaulting on commitments to citizens and enslaving ensuing generations with debt.

In cities across the country, we are readily trading scarce resources desperately needed to fix schools, roads, sewers and to create good jobs, for sports arenas and convention centers. In Indianapolis alone we are faced with an $800 million repair of our schools, which we will have to meet with property taxes. At the same time, plans are being finalized for an additional $800 million for a sports stadium and convention facility expansion to be financed with "gambling money."

The last time Hoosiers were given such a bait and switch was when they allowed the state lottery to be implemented, proceeds of which were promised to go to roads, bridges and schools. No one seems to know where the lottery profits are going. Taxes keep going up. The state is still broke and these basic infrastructure needs are continuing to grow.

Unemployment and under-employment are at record levels with no significant improvement in sight. Most good manufacturing jobs are limited, even high-tech jobs are being outsourced overseas. Crane Naval Center, a major employer in southern Indiana, even during this wartime buildup is at risk of closure.

Meanwhile the United States is losing its most precious resource, the young; lost in a malaise of menial jobs at best, drifting nowhere. Many even have post-econdary training or education but cannot find the jobs that match their skills. There are few from the upper class who will somehow wander like nomads from job to job as our economy continues to falter.

If one reads the paper on any given day, what is the most quoted indicator of economic health? Consumer confidence. So who will be the consumers in the future? Not the millions of unemployed, under-employed or seniors who are so on the edge with the current cost of healthcare that they have to cut their pills in half or stand in line for days for public assistance for food and heat.

Realize, America – most of the baby boomers, soon to be seniors, did not save or plan for going it alone without real social benefits. They’ve been busy growing the economy, being consumers.

The most distressing aspect of all of the above is that the citizens seem to have no legitimate public discourse on these very real, important issues. Endless discourse on gays, guns and God continue to take center stage in deference to seemingly everything else. The real discussions and decisions seem more often to be made in some cloistered back room and then summarily announced to the people. The media does very little to explore these issues, preferring to take up all of their airtime with reinforcing fear of terrorists, artfully crafted religious exhortations, and salacious stories of local and national murders.

What can be done? First, citizens must recognize that they have these problems. In order not to be victimized by them, people need to get involved. Who is your congressman? Who is your local precinct leader? How many different taxing agencies are affecting you and how are you represented? How are you, the citizen, monitoring what the government is really doing and spending? What do your schools, streets, and parks look like? Who is helping the homeless and how?

Secondly, it is time for real, unscripted town hall meetings on all government issues. It is time to get government back to work and accountable to the public, not just the wealthy few that want the public to pay for their enterprises. Public works projects could easily employ a lot of people in good jobs fixing our dilapidated schools, roads, sewers, and bridges. These are jobs that desperately need to be done to improve the economy, tax base and quality of life for all citizens.

Finally, the United States would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars if its governmental representatives would participate fairly and honestly in the international community instead of creating excuses to take advantage of others in order to steal their resources. The Greeks and Romans were also infamous empire builders and enjoyed great stadiums. Their economies at that time also operated on a two-tier structure of haves and have-nots (wealthy and poor). Our pre-Civil war society was also a two-class system as much of our economy was dependent on slaves. What can we learn from those legacies?

We must re-harness the power of democracy in America before we are thrown back into a two-class society, where most of us may become the nameless, faceless, voiceless and poor.

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