People's State of the Union

The Precarious State of Our Union - A Bipartisan Disaster We Can Fix

From the viewpoint of everyday Americans, the State of our Union, in point of fact, is not strong. In reality, we are in a state of historic crisis – for our economy, ecology, democracy and security.

Thankfully, these crises are still eminently solvable. With a majority of Americans disapproving of both establishment parties, there is unprecedented momentum for a new way forward, based on principles of democracy, justice and peace, towards an America and a world that works for all of us.

Republicans have long been recognized as unabashed servants of the economic elite, leading the charge against the public interest. But they have not been alone.

Democratic priorities were clear when President Obama had two Democratic Houses of Congress to support him, as the party went to bat for trillions in Wall Street bailouts, tax cuts for the rich, job-killing corporate trade agreements, austerity budgets, health care reform that locked single payer out and private profits in, mass deportations of hardworking immigrants, privatization of schools, expanding wars for oil and regime change, climate-killing “all of the above” energy policies, and unprecedented assaults on privacy and press freedoms.

As a result of this bipartisan assault, we have not had a recovery by any measure. One in two Americans remain in or near poverty including half of children in public schools. One in three seniors relies on Social Security to stay afloat. Wages are stagnant or declining, and real unemployment is nearly 10%, twice as high as the official rate. Forty-three million current and former students are locked in debt. Thirty-three million Americans are still uninsured, and up to a million more Americans will be thrown off food stamps (SNAP) this year, unbelievably, because they can’t find work.

Undocumented immigrants live in fear of deportation. And African Americans are threatened by racism and violence that permeates police departments, courts, prisons, schools and the economy.

And while working people struggle, over 90% of income gains have gone to the top 1%, corporate profits have tripled, and the richest 0.1% now owns more than the lower 90% of us combined. A mere 20 billionaires now own as much as the entire lower half of the US population. Globally, only 80 billionaires own as much as the entire lower half of the world’s population, 3.5 billion people.

This unconscionable state of affairs cannot simply be blamed on greedy Republicans. The President himself has been leading the charge, with bipartisan Congressional help, to slash food and medicine for the vulnerable, cut critical social programs by nearly a trillion dollars in 2011 alone, and repeatedly threaten Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile, Democrats oversaw a $16 trillion bailout for big banks and $5 trillion in tax favors for the wealthy. They made the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent just as they were about to expire, and locked in low capital gains and inheritance taxes. And Obama has long called for lower taxes on corporations, though many of the most profitable multinationals commonly pay little to no taxes or even get rebates – including GE, Duke Energy, PG&E, Verizon, and Apple.

The President is also leading the bipartisan effort to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a devastating secretive trade deal known as "NAFTA on steroids" because it will send jobs overseas, undermine wages at home, and roll back protections for workers, public health and the environment. It fundamentally attacks American democracy and sovereignty by allowing corporations to overturn and pre-empt our laws and regulations through a separate, non-US “investor-state” court system. Using highly paid corporate lawyers appointed by the World Bank to serve as judges, these courts can make us pay for a rich corporation’s lost future profits when we exercise our democratic rights to protect ourselves from predatory banks, pharmaceutical profiteering, the poisoning of our food and water supply, the destruction of our climate and more.

In a case filed last week in the same “investor-state” court system under NAFTA, the Canadian corporation Transcanada is suing US taxpayers for $15 billion dollars to cover lost future profits on their recently nixed $3 billion dollar Keystone pipeline project.

A similar travesty occurred last month, when an “investor-state” court threatened to charge US taxpayers billions for lost profits due to country-of-origin food labeling – providing critical food safety information about where our meat comes from. This threat forced Congress to repeal the law.  

In addition, the TPP is a staggering, full-on assault against climate action. It prohibits policies that reduce fossil fuel exports, or give domestic preference to renewable energy.

The President has already won from Congress “fast track authority”, with which he will try to ram the TPP through Congress with little debate and no amendments allowed.  

But word has gotten out about this massive betrayal of democracy and passage of the TPP has been repeatedly delayed for the past year. We must continue to mobilize to defeat the TPP.

Meanwhile, climate change is accelerating off the charts with record storms, heat, fires and floods across the country while California’s drought threatens the fruit and vegetable supply for the nation. Lethal impacts have already been set in motion that require emergency action - the breakup of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, permafrost melt, mass extinctions, and marine food chain disruption.   

Despite much hot air about climate change, Democrats’ “all of the above” energy policy has actually put fossil fuels above all. While Obama’s policies increased renewables to a scant 5% of the US energy supply, this small portion has been overwhelmed by Obama’s massive expansion of fracking and oil and gas extraction, both offshore and on public lands. Even as Obama boasted about the toothless Paris agreement that would allow a catastrophic 3 degrees Celsius temperature rise, Democrats – as well as Republicans –  were trashing the climate by lifting the ban on oil exports (equivalent to building 135 new coal power plants), and expediting permits for fracking. Without any help from the Republicans, Obama alone gave a secret executive thumbs up to the major new fracked gas Gulf Trace Pipeline.

Fortunately, the economic and climate crises can be solved together, with a Green New Deal – an emergency WWII-style mobilization to revive the economy, turn the tide on climate change, and make wars for oil obsolete. It creates 20 million jobs to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030. It creates efficient public transportation and local sustainable food systems, repairs critical infrastructure, and restores ecosystems. It immediately ends all new fossil fuel infrastructure, exploration and extraction - including fracking, offshore drilling, extraction on public lands and in the Arctic. And it creates a planned, orderly transition to a decentralized, democratically controlled energy system, including public ownership of energy resources and infrastructure. And it ensures protection of workers in fossil fuels and nuclear energy, providing them with employment in renewable energy industries that are far healthier for workers as well as the environment.

The Green New Deal will fund itself through massive health savings by ending pollution and improving food quality, with military savings from making wars for oil obsolete, and with savings from reductions in the cost of energy. Additional funding could also come from a carbon tax.

Another travesty we can fix with the stroke of a pen is the crisis of student debt. Currently 43 million current and former students are locked in debt that they can’t repay in the low wage economy - which is here for the foreseeable future. It’s unconscionable to allow our younger generation to be the victims of this predatory debt. Average debt for the class of 2015 is over $35,000 per student, and 70% of students are affected.

It’s no surprise 80% of young people stayed home in the 2014 mid-term elections, given that they have been locked out of our economy and thrown under the bus. It’s time to bring them back from debt servitude so they can be full participants in our society and lead the way forward, as the younger generation always has.

It’s time to simply cancel this debt, as was done for the Wall Street criminals whose waste, fraud and abuse crashed the economy. We owe our students – the victims of that crash – at least as much. 

The bailout for students can be accomplished through quantitative easing, the finance tool used to bail out the banks. This would be a huge stimulus for the economy, as young people are enabled to follow their dreams and re-imagine our future – as every new generation must.

And we must make public higher education free. It pays for itself by a seven fold margin, as we saw with the GI bill following World War II. And it’s the right thing to do. Just as a high school education was essential for a young person’s economic security in the 20th century, higher education is essential now in the 21st century - and should be provided for free as well.  

The immigration crisis also needs an immediate remedy. In addition to deporting a record 2.5 million immigrants, more than any past president, Obama’s recent night raids and deportations of Central American families and children are inhumane and morally reprehensible. These families came here as refugees from violence, poverty and chaos created by US policies like NAFTA, the war on drugs, and political and military interventions. It’s no coincidence that the three most violent countries in central America – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – are failed states resulting from US interventions that overthrew democratically elected progressive governments.

Deportation of these vulnerable, abused refugees is morally abhorrent. We are all immigrants in this country – with the exception of native Americans. The diversity of multicultural immigrant America has always been the core strength of our nation. Our 12 million undocumented immigrants are hardworking, tax-paying community residents who take the hardest and worst paid jobs. They should be celebrated, not intimidated with the threat of deportation. It’s time to create a welcoming path to citizenship and put an immediate end to the shameful era of deportations and detentions. Fundamentally, the immigration crisis must be resolved by ending the harmful US policies (including drug wars, predatory trade agreements, and political and military interventions) that are turning whole populations into refugees to start with.

The assault on public education has also been led by Obama and the Democrats – including the targeted closures of schools in communities of color, high stakes testing abuse, and the demonization of teachers and their unions. Incentives for privatization/charters built into No Child Left Behind and the Every Child Achieves Act should be repealed. High stakes testing should be ended in favor of limited testing for diagnostic purposes only. It’s time to fully fund public education, respect and support our teachers, and teach to the whole student for lifetime learning.

The stories of racist killings have become tragically commonplace – from Trayvon Martin to Eric Garner, Freddy Gray, the Emmanuel nine, Quintonio LeGrier and so many more. While the publicity may be unprecedented, racial violence in America is neither new, nor confined to police. It is the latest phase in a living legacy that runs from the criminal institution of slavery through the era of lynchings and Jim Crow, into the age of drug wars, the prison state, judicial racism, housing and school resegregation, the denial of voting rights, the school to prison pipeline, targeted school closures under the guise of “education reform”, and police violence and militarization.

Racial violence is not only physical. It permeates most social institutions, where it has real effects with life-and-death consequences. Racism in the prison system is reflected in the one out of three young African American men in prison, on parole or on probation; and a rate of incarceration that’s six times as high as whites, having increased 4-fold since 1980.

Economic racism is seen in the staggering wealth disparity that doubled on Obama’s watch.

Racial violence is seen in health statistics, wherein people of color have much greater risk of asthma, child mortality and other diseases, and years of shortened lifespan.

These broad societal issues must be addressed comprehensively in a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice Now. This begins immediately with citizen police review boards and standing investigators to review all deaths at the hands of police and hold perpetrators accountable. We must demilitarize police, end the disastrous war on drugs and treat non-violent drug use as a public health issue, not a criminal issue. That includes releasing nonviolent drug offenders with pre and post-release support.  We must also end the routine use of solitary confinement, remove children from adult prisons, and close juvenile prisons in favor of residential education and rehabilitation.

It’s time for a foreign policy based on international law, human rights and diplomacy. Currently US foreign policy is an exercise in economic and military domination. Wars for oil and regime change over the past 14 years have been a colossal failure, costing $6 trillion dollars, $75,000 per US household, with over 1 million people killed in Iraq alone, and tens of thousands of US soldiers killed or maimed. And what has resulted? Failed states, mass refugee migrations, and growing terrorist threats. In fact, the war on terror has globalized Al Qaeda, expanded the Taliban, created ISIS and spawned innumerable, rapidly shifting hybrids of local resistance fighters, brutal warlords and violent religious extremists.

Since collaborating with Saudi Arabia to support the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, the US has been funding and arming extremist opposition groups - whether brutal war lords or violent religious zealots - to sabotage governments resistant to US interests. This pattern, repeated throughout the Middle East and around the world, is a colossal failure on both moral and strategic grounds. It’s time to stop the US wars for oil. It’s time to end the collaboration with the Saudis and other extremists. Fortunately, a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy makes this possible, just as the climate crisis makes getting off fossil fuels essential for our survival in the first place.  

Global peace and stability, and the solution to ISIS, will not come from more US violence, occupation and militarism that created ISIS in the first place.

It’s time to lead the way on an international Peace Offensive that can prevent these catastrophic wars and stop ISIS in its tracks. This includes:

·  A weapons embargo to the Middle East, where we have been supplying arms - whether purposefully or inadvertently - to all sides. We should work to engage the Russians on this, as well as our allies and theirs.

·  Canceling the pending arms sale and all future arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

·  Imposing sanctions against countries that continue to fund terrorism, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. This should include freezing or seizing their bank accounts.

· Ending the purchase of ISIS' oil by Turkey.

· Closing Turkey's border to crossings by jihadi militias into Syria.

· Pushing for a ceasefire in Syria and inclusive peace talks.

· Requiring the NSA, FBI and CIA to disclose what is known about who is funding international terrorism, including releasing the 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 report.

More broadly, the US must bring its foreign policy into compliance with international law and human rights. The US must stop violating international law by invading countries whose regimes our leadership doesn’t like. We must also stop providing weapons and/or financing to countries who are committing war crimes or in flagrant violation of international law and human rights. This includes Saudi Arabia, to whom the US has sold over $50 billion in weapons over the past decade, and Israel, to whom the US provides $8 million dollars a day in military assistance for war crimes and illegal occupation.

In summary, the stakes couldn’t be higher. We face converging crises that call for transformational solutions. These solutions won’t come from political parties funded by predatory banks, fossil fuel giants and war profiteers. It will come from we the people, breaking away from the failed corporate political parties.

Contrary to the President’s message, the Democrats have utterly failed to move us in the right direction.

This is a time for the politics of courage, to assert the power of our vision, our values, and our numbers. It’s time to vote for our deeply held beliefs, not against what we fear. That politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons we were told to vote for the lesser evil - to avert the offshoring of our jobs, the meltdown of the climate, the expanding wars, the attack on immigrants, the assault on our civil liberties - we’ve gotten them all by the droves.

It’s time to forget the lesser evil and fight for the greater good.  Because our democracy, our lives, and the future of our planet depend on it.

Together we can build a world that puts people, planet and peace over profit. The power to create this world is not in our hopes. It's not in our dreams. It’s in our hands!

-Dr. Jill Stein, January 12, 2016

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