What Makes A Nation Great — Part II

I began this three-part series with yesterday’s post in which I listed some criteria that, in my view, are in large part what makes a country great.  Let’s take a look at how the United States stacks up on some of those …

We have a right to vote, but those who live in poor or minority neighborhoods may find it hard to do so, for polling places may be prohibitively distant, or the hours shortened such that the working person hasn’t the ability to get there.  Restrictive voter ID laws are more likely to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. We’ve seen, in recent months, how hard our ‘leadership’ fights to deny us the right to vote by mail during this pandemic year.  Polling places on college campuses where voters may be more ‘enlightened’ are shuttered.  And, due to gerrymandered districting, every vote is not equal.

A series of Supreme Court rulings between 1990 and 2010, most notably Citizens United v FEC in 2010, made it possible for large corporations and lobbyists to contribute nearly unlimited amounts of cash to political campaigns.  Many of our politicians are in the pockets of various industries, notably the fossil fuel and gun industries, such that the decisions they make in the legislature are not necessarily in the best interests of the people of the nation, but rather of those who pay big bucks to keep them in office.

The U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of powers, a system of three equal branches of government and the responsibility of each to keep the other two honest.  Our legislative branch, Congress, has become so divided by political party that Congress is deadlocked on most every bill.  Checks on the executive office were proven to be null and void on February 5th when the U.S. Senate voted against the evidence, against their collective conscience, and acquitted a ‘president’ who is guilty of crimes far greater than any who came before him.  Even the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, is largely divided by loyalty to party.

As for an investment in shared infrastructure … think Flint, Michigan, and the water crisis that began in 2015 and continues to this day.  Need I say more?  More than a few times, states have been threatened with the withholding of federal funds if they didn’t accede to the wishes of the ‘president’.

And justice?  Let’s talk a minute about justice.  If you are Black, Muslin, Hispanic, or Native American, or poor, you might as well leave the room, for the justice that applies to you is different than that which applies to white, wealthy people.  Justice is for the wealthy in the United States of 2020.  Justice is for the friends of William Barr and Donald Trump.  I will pay a heftier price for a minor traffic violation than corrupt government officials will pay for robbing the citizens of this nation of millions of dollars.

Internally, we have a government that is doing everything in its power to deny affordable health care and education to its populace.  We have a government in favour of denying assistance to those in need.  We have a head of government who is racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic.  We have a government that is prejudiced against thinkers, prejudiced against so many groups that I cannot name them all.  We have, today, the wealthiest government in our history, yet their concern for our well-being is next to nil.

What makes a nation great is how well it functions for all the people, not just the few who are wealthy and powerful.  This nation fails that test miserably.  Our government favours those in large industries, gives them tax breaks, while 90% of us struggle to put food on the table, pay the rent/mortgage, and clothe our children.  Our government literally worships wealth and tells its citizens that the wealth of the 1% will somehow “trickle down” to them.  It doesn’t … never has … never will.  The prices of food, housing, and other commodities rise, but our wages do not rise at an equivalent rate, for the wealthy decided they needed to add another zero to their investment portfolios.  No, my friends, this is not what makes a nation great.

A great neighbor helps their friends in time of need.  We, instead, have largely abandoned our allies and instead have cozied up in bed with those bullies who would see the world relegated to only two or three great superpowers.  Our allies needed our help in such things as the Paris Climate Accords, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iran nuclear agreement … and we turned our backs.

A great neighbor takes care of its home, its neighborhood. They don’t throw their trash into their neighbor’s yard, but that is exactly what we are doing. Science has proven that we are destroying not only our own environment, but that of the entire planet.  Oh, the planet will go on, but much of life on earth will not.  We had only just begun, by 2017, to make inroads in controlling the CO2 we put into the atmosphere, and the amount of plastics and other garbage we put into our landfills and ultimately the oceans that belong to all nations.  Now, all the regulations have been ditched in favour of … again … profit for the few, and we are the pariah of the world for our lackadaisical response to climate change.

In the midst of a deadly worldwide pandemic, our government has told us lie, stacked upon lie, stacked upon lie.  The scientists warned governments early on, yet ours chose to tell us that it was nothing, nothing to worry about, nothing to see here.  The lies added up until today we account for over 26% of the world’s cases of the coronavirus, though we have just over 4% of the world’s population.  And still, our leaders are lying to us, telling us it’s nearly over (it isn’t, not by a long shot), and urging us to put ourselves and our children at risk to grow an economy, though it may cost us our very lives.  The scientists, the medical experts, are being criticized, demeaned, and their voices stifled by a government more concerned with remaining in power than with our lives.

The United States has the highest level of income inequality of all the G7 nations.  The median black household income is only 61% of that of the median white household.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, where it has been since July 24th, 2009.  More than eleven years since the minimum wage was raised!  Meanwhile, many of the wealthiest in the nation pay taxes at a far lower rate than the middle-income earners, if they pay taxes at all!  In 2016, the CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms earned on average $15.6 million.  The annual average pay of the typical American worker, by comparison, was $58,000.

There are other factors, of course, that could be considered, but I think that you can see by this assessment what a long way we have before this country can be considered ‘great’.  Given the divisiveness within our society today, it becomes obvious we are not successfully addressing our problems … a contented nation has no need for hatred and violence.

However, lest you think I am blind to what is actually good in this nation, I will have a third part to this series to talk a bit about the positive, what keeps us from being one of those “shithole” countries, and why there is hope for us yet.  So, I hope you’ll stay tuned for that!

Discord & Dissension – Part IX – The Courts

Today, Jeff has outdone himself on Part IX of our project, Discord & Dissension — The Courts. Many people don’t give much thought to the courts as a rule, but Jeff shows us just why it is so very important to consider the impact a president can have on the Judiciary. Thanks Jeff … this one is a real eye-opener!

On The Fence Voters

Now that Super Tuesday is behind us, and we’re down to a two-person race between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, it’s time to start thinking about what it’s going to take to get out the vote. If yesterday is any indication, with massive turnout all around the country, it’s apparent that defeating Donald Trump is on everybody’s mind. But it can’t be the only reason.

Jill and I began our project several weeks ago, and it’s still evolving. But, we’ve indeed entered a new phase in the campaign to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. And today, with Part 9 in our series, I’m going to discuss a subject that rarely gets covered, especially in Democratic circles: The Courts.

And, in my view, it’s time for both of our Democratic candidates to start addressing how important it’s going to be to not only win the presidency but also take back the…

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The Downward Slide …

I ask you to watch the following short (just over 3 minutes) video clip by Robert Reich, explaining six ways in which the United States is becoming less like an industrialized nation and more like a third world, or developing nation.  Take a look, and then we’ll talk a bit about it.

To that, I would add a couple:

  • Gun violence – The U.S. leads the developed world in firearm-related murders, and the difference isn’t a slight gap – more like a chasm. According to United Nations data, the U.S. has 20 times more murders than the developed world average. Our murder rate also dwarfs many developing nations, like Iraq, which has a murder rate less than half ours. More than half of the deadliest mass shootings documented in the past 50 years around the world occurred in the United States, and 73 percent of the killers in the U.S. obtained their weapons legally.

  • Healthcare – In many areas of the U.S., especially in the deep South, life expectancy is lower than in Algeria, Nicaragua or Bangladesh. The U.S. is the only developed country that does not guarantee health care to its citizens; even after the Affordable Care Act, millions of poor remained uninsured because governors, mainly Republicans, refused to expand Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income Americans. And now, of course, Trump has chipped away at ACA such that it covers far fewer people than it did three years ago.

  • Education – The U.S. education system is plagued with structural racial biases, like the fact that schools are funded at the local, rather than national level. That means that schools attended by poor black people get far less funding than the schools attended by wealthier students. The Department of Education has confirmed that schools with high concentrations of poor students have lower levels of funding. It’s no wonder the U.S. has one of the highest achievement gaps between upper income and low-income students, as measured by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Schools today are actually more racially segregated than they were in the 1970s. Our higher education system is unique among developed nations in that is funded almost entirely privately, by debt.

Truth is, I could probably think of more, but Mr. Reich’s clip pretty much cover the worst of the problems in this country.  Most of the situations described by Mr. Reich and listed above did not happen overnight but have been building up for years or even decades.  The gun culture has been with us since the start, but has become worse with the enhanced influence of the NRA and legal access by civilians to military-style assault weapons.

Reich’s first point, that political power is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, is a direct result of the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ ruling in 2010, when the Court ruled that to limit donations to political campaigns was an infringement on the 1st Amendment right to free speech.  Thus, large corporations with money to burn can now effectively buy our politicians.

His third point, that those in power stoke racial, ethnic and religious tensions, is the one that I lay directly at the door of Donald Trump, for he has been doing just this since the day he announced his candidacy back in 2015.  He has stoked fear of ‘other’, has played into the hands of the religious right, has adopted policies that are discriminatory by nature.  Divide and conquer.

All in all, while the U.S. economy appears to be stable, while Trump has touted the economy as his accomplishment (it isn’t, for the current economic upswing started with the Obama administration after the 2007-2008 financial crisis), and while unemployment is very low, the average working class family is no better off today than they were ten years, or even twenty years ago.  The wealthy, on the other hand, are reaping the fruits of our labours in lower taxes and increased wealth.

Meanwhile … since the wealthy and giant corporations are paying almost no taxes, benefits to the rest of us are being cut, and still the national debt continues to grow.  Folks, this is not sustainable.  This nation cannot simply keep on giving money to the rich, cutting benefits to the poor, and owing more and more money to both its citizens and other nations.  The U.S. was once respected by other nations and appreciated by its citizens.  Overall, neither of those things are true today. banana republic-4The question becomes, then, how do We the People make the necessary changes to put this country back on the right path?  There is no simple panacea, but we start by voting out those politicians who are indebted to special interests and the wealthy.  We stop supporting politicians who are in the pockets of the NRA, fossil fuel industries, and others.  We use our vote to express our displeasure, to make changes.  If we don’t, then I promise you we will continue on this downhill slide toward a banana republic, as Mr. Reich said.

Think about it.

Discord & Dissension – Part II – “How did we get here? – Part 2”

We proudly present the second part of this week’s ‘Discord and Dissension’ project … please feel free to comment and make any suggestions you may have … we want this project to make a difference! Thanks to all of you!

On The Fence Voters

Note to readers: This week’s post on our ‘Discord and Dissension’ project ended up being too long for a single post, and so it will be presented in two parts. The first part was presented earlier this morning, which you can read here. The following post is the second part. 

Bush v. Gore

The 2000 election was extremely close. In the end, it came down to the state of Florida. George W. Bush had a lead of only 500 votes over Al Gore, and a recount ensued. It was during this period where the partisan divide between the two parties was on full display. One of the closest and most contentious elections was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court when they settled in a 5-4 decision to halt the recount—a split decision which also reflected the conservative versus liberal ideological makeup of the court.

The fact that Al Gore ultimately…

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Discord & Dissension – Part II – “How did we get here? – Part 1”

As we promised last week, here is the first part of our project. We welcome all comments and suggestions and we hope you find this to be of value!

On The Fence Voters

Note to readers: This week’s post on our ‘Discord and Dissension’ project ended up being too long for a single post, and so it will be presented in two parts. This is the first part, the second will follow this afternoon. It seems we have a lot to say, and this is likely to happen from time to time. 😉

As my good friend Jill over at Filosofa’s Word pointed out in her excellent intro to this project last Friday, Wake Up America! 2020 is here, and if you thought 2016 was bad, buckle up your seat belts. Campaign 2020 promises to be one of the most divisive in history. As we speak, the current president of the United States is about to go on trial in the Senate for two articles of impeachment.

And he’s not happy about it.

But beyond the current chaos in Washington, our political…

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Wine Caves and Chandeliers

It is rare that our friend Jeff over at On the Fence Voters steps up on the ol’ soapbox and lets forth a rant, but when he does, he does it with far more grace than I do! Tonight’s rant is about how politicians finance their campaigns and what the ramifications are for We the People. Take a look …

On The Fence Voters

My good friend over at Filosofa’s Word, Jill Dennison, likes to warn when there’s a rant ahead. So, Jill, I hope you don’t mind, but I feel the need to notify of an impending rant.

Perhaps it’s the non-stop rain here in the Pacific Northwest, or maybe it’s the grey skies. Whatever the case, something got under my skin from the Democratic debate on Thursday night, and today it’s boiling over.

The whole thing started when Senator Elizabeth Warren went after Mayor Pete Buttigieg, bringing up a recent fundraiser he had in Napa Valley wine country at the lavish home of real estate developer Craig Hall and his wife, Kathryn. The property features a wine cave, with bottles selling for hundreds of dollars each. Photos of the event showed a long table decorated lavishly, with a large crystal chandelier hanging overhead.

But my rant isn’t about Warren going after Mayor…

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The Conversation — Part II

This is Part II of the series I started yesterday afternoon, in response to a very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment I received from friend Mary on Tuesday.  Mary’s comments are in normal text, mine are in blue.  The conversation continues …

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1When I look around and see the support trump still has after 2 years, I believe it is hopeless … truly. I do hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling. 2Education is not getting better, 3politics are even more corrupt, greed is rampant, 4our government supports killers over their own intelligence agencies, selfishness is rampant, 5far right religion is out of control with their end times desires and pushing their own special brand of bigotry, 6fires being blamed on not raking leaves, wars without end, 7the real fake news (Fox and their ilk) are taking over the simple minded and on and on…  Let me take these one-by-one:

  1. Trump’s support is still the minority. His approval ratings have never, since his first week or two in office, come above about 43%, and typically run in the mid-to-high 30s, lower than any other president in modern times.  The thing about his supporters is that they are loud and obnoxious, have radical and hateful ideas, so, as the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”.  They are given the attention of the media, making them seem much larger than they actually are.

  2. Education has been in decline for more than a decade, though I agree that under Trump it is certain to decline further. Betsy DeVos would make college available to only those in the upper 1% of the income bracket and would siphon funds meant for public schools serving the many, into charter and religious schools serving only the elite few.  The problem, however, traces to parents who prefer their children to be schooled in a skill or a trade, so that they are prepared for a specific sort of job when they leave school, rather than receiving a liberal arts education that gives them a broad scope of knowledge, and most importantly, teaches them to think, to ask questions, to find solutions to problems.   Thus, the future leaders of this country, as well as the future scientists and inventors, will likely come only from among the very privileged.  It is a problem, certainly, but not one without a solution.  The solution is that we, as parents and grandparents, must step up to the plate, must demand that our children be given the same opportunity as the children of the Koch family. And we must motivate our children, for today’s youth is the future of this country.  Spend time with them, teach them what they need to know, teach them to reason, to ask questions, not to simply accept the easy answers.


  3. Yes, Mary, politics are as corrupt as they have ever been. The first thing that needs to be done is to take the money out of it.  Citizens United was the single worst decision ever made in terms of campaign finance, and even a few Supreme Court Justices have since regretted their vote.  It has left the door wide open for large corporations and lobbying groups, such as the fossil fuel and arms industries to buy members of Congress.  Today, it isn’t about the candidate’s platform and ideologies, but rather about how much money he can bring in.  I would personally like to see a system where donations are made to a central organization and divvied equally among all candidates.  Not going to happen, but it’s the only way we can ensure that our elected officials are truly representing us, We The People, and not in the pockets of the wealthy, industries, or the NRA.  Another suggestion I have is that we expand the current two-party system to either make it easier for an independent to get on the ballot, or to have a multi-party system such as many European nations have.  The United States is the only nation that has a duopoly, a two-party system where all power rests with those two parties.


  4. It appears that it is Trump’s decision alone to support Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and to ignore the evidence of his role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Members of both parties in Congress are displeased with this decision and I cannot imagine that any other president would be so unwilling to listen to his own intelligence agencies, but Trump … well, he thinks he knows more than anybody else.


  5. The far-right religion, the evangelicals, as a whole are a problem for our nation only to the extent that the government and the courts allow them to be. Trump promised his followers that he would nominate justices to the Supreme Court that would be willing to overturn Roe v Wade and Obergefell v Hodges, and thus far he has seated two such judges.  It is to be hoped that he does not get the opportunity to nominate others, and that the rest of the court has respect for the decisions of past courts.  Our laws call for separation of church and state for good reason.  Ours is a secular government and has no right to interfere in any religion, but by the same token, religions must not have the right to determine law.


  6. I agree that Trump’s response to the forest fires in California was abominable. The good news about that is he surely didn’t make any friends or find any new supporters in that state!  The only thing he did do was prove his own ignorance, as if we needed further proof.


  7. Trump’s close ties with Fox News are indeed worrisome, especially when he is said to call Sean Hannity for advice! And to add insult to injury is his demonization of the legitimate press, calling them the “Enemy of the People”.  I must admit that, while I see the danger quite clearly, I am at a loss as to how we can make people think for themselves, make them wake up and realize that Fox News is naught more than state-sponsored television that panders to Donald Trump.  I think we must rely on the organizations that are established for the purpose of being the watchdogs to monitor freedom of the press, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and hope they do their job and get the word out. 

And once again I am at over 1,000 words, so I shall stop here and wrap up with Part III later today.  Please feel free to join in the conversation with your own ideas!  And thanks for not throwing those rotten tomatoes!  🍅 🍅 🍅

Link to Part I in case you missed it:  The Conversation — Part I

Dear Republicans, Your Dark Money Days Are About To Hit A Roadblock

In 2010, with the Citizens United decision that removed limits on how much money corporations could contribute to political campaigns, we saw the beginning of an era whereby wealthy corporations are pretty much able to buy elections. The ruling was the beginning of the end of election integrity. But this week, a small step was taken that may be a start toward returning a bit of integrity to the U.S. elections, and our friend Gronda has written an excellent, informative piece explaining it. Thank you, Gronda, for keeping us informed!

Gronda Morin

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Could the Republican Party be in receipt for even more negative news? Yes, as many donors of dark monies, (monies they can donate for political purposes anonymously), will have the cloak of anonymity taken away. Again, the courts have stepped in to rule that many of these donors will have to reveal their names to the public, even before the November 2018 elections.

Here is the rest of the story… 

On September 18, 2018, Paul Blumenthal of HuffPost penned the following report, “Dark Money Groups Will Have To Disclose Their Donors In Time For The Midterms” (“A court order invalidating a rule that kept some election spending secret is going into effect.”)

Excerpts:

“There may be a whole lot less dark money in federal elections after the Supreme Court allowed a lower court decision to go into effect on Tuesday invalidating a key regulation that created a loophole for…

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Score One For We The People

Today We The People had a victory.  Oh, to be sure, it was a small victory and only a baby step at that, but a victory, nonetheless.  I hope that more steps in this direction will soon follow.

The issue?  Citizens United.  First, a brief explanation of Citizens United, for those who may not be quite clear on what it is.

Citizens United is a conservative political advocacy organization, founded in 1988, whose stated mission is to “reassert the traditional American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.”  Sounds harmless enough, right?

What they actually do, using donations from wealthy republican supporters, is create and produce advertisements and documentary films critical of republican opponents, primarily democratic candidates, but also certain media outlets, such as Mother Jones, and in 2016, they produced a film critical of the United Nations.

iaauw'In 2016, Citizens United president David Bossie, a long-time friend of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, took leave to become Trump’s deputy campaign manager.  As such, he made personal and television appearances and produced ads mainly unfavourable to Hillary Clinton.

we the corporationsBut the real impact of Citizens United came from their lawsuit in 2009-2010, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC).  To make a very long story short, in that case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.  In other words, there are no limits to what any business, individual, union, PAC or other organization can contribute to a political campaign.  It is the ruling that opened the door for such organizations as the NRA to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of members of Congress. So, if you’ve got the money, you can basically buy a candidate.

Now, fast forward to today.  The State of New York has a requirement that nonprofits must disclose their donors each year.  Citizens United challenged that law, claiming it violated the First Amendment, and that to disclose the names  of donors would inhibit some, who wished to remain anonymous, from donating.  Today, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected those claims. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said New York has important interests in stopping fraud and abuse by charities, and requiring them to disclose names, addresses and contributions of their largest donors makes enforcement easier.

Okay, granted it may not seem like much of a win, but I think it is the first step on a path to greater transparency in political campaign funding.  The ultimate goal, of course, should be to severely limit campaign funding, for when a company, say a coal company, can spend unlimited amounts of money to fund the republican candidate’s political campaign, then that company no doubt expects something in return.  We are seeing that today, with the fossil fuel industry having contributed heavily to, not only Donald Trump, but also certain pliable members of Congress, and now those who received the benefit are providing the payback.

Michael Boos, one of the attorneys for Citizens United, has indicated that they will be considering an appeal to today’s ruling.

On March 27, 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, aka BCRA, aka McCain–Feingold Act, that regulated the financing of political campaigns.

I generally give the U.S. Supreme Court a thumbs-up for their diligence, their sense of fairness and non-partisan decision-making.  However, the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Committee is the exception, for I believe they made a grievous error in allowing unlimited donations to political campaigns.  I hope that today’s decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court is upheld, and that it is merely the first step toward implementing common-sense rules over campaign financing.  Every November, we each put on our patriotic hats and go to the polls to vote according to our beliefs and our consciences.  But, in recent years, our elections have been tampered in many ways, and by many nefarious players, not the least of which are those whose corporate greed far outweighs any consideration for We The Pople.  It is time for that to change.