Thursday, March 19, 2015

WAKE UP AMERICA! : A COMPLACENT NATION SLEEPWALKS INTO DANGER

Our nation is undoubtedly exceptional, and in many ways that are highly positive. At this time in our history, however, an extremely negative quality seems to have paralyzed much of our leadership, a significant majority of our population, and creates a type of  "exceptionalism" that is incredibly undesirable and potentially deadly to the well-being of our society and our nation. Denial of danger, refusing to act to counter growing perils, carrying on with life and pleasures as usual, choosing to ignore multiple signs of escalating problems, all are life-endangering tendencies which seem to have transfixed much of our nation. We are acting as one literally sleepwalking into danger. Let me list some of the obvious, all-too-real dangers, and how they are being ignored by our leadership and much of our society.

1)  Growing income and wealth inequality.

     For the past 35 years the disparity in income and wealth in our nation has been increasing. With the middle class shrinking in size, more individuals and households are falling into poverty levels, the wealth of those at or near the top is skyrocketing to virtually obscene levels, and many of the real strengths of our nation are being severely threatened. The equality of opportunity, the sense of community, that we are all a part of one vibrant society, is being torn apart. It was hoped that the economic collapse of 2008 might be a wake-up call,  trigger some institutional reforms, correct some of the blatant financial corporation abuses that wrecked havoc on so many citizens, and return us to a more level economic playing field that serves us all well. It failed miserably to achieve this, the wake-up call was never answered by the powers that be. Only the most wealthy have fully recovered from the decline, and they have continued their inordinate accumulation  of wealth, while the overall economic well-being of the lower 80% of our population has not increased their relative wealth or standard of living over the past 30 years, all while our stock market has reached all-time highs repeatedly.  None of the perpetrators of the mortgage crisis and financial manipulation failures have been penalized, in fact, corporations were bailed out, considered too big to fail, and their officers often rewarded, even with high government positions. Congress refuses to act to intervene on this scenario, the Citizens United decision ensures that the wealthy really control our elections, and with that, the nation. So no end in sight for growing inequality in wealth and income in our nation.

2)  Growing militarization and resort to violence, both at home and abroad

     With the dawning of a new century 15 years ago, it was believed that a more peaceful, less violent century than the past one might ensue. The opposite has clearly occurred, both domestically and in our foreign relations. Our necessary response to 9-11 and al Qaeda was tragically compounded by an ill-advised attack on Iraq, and the conflict ravaging the Middle East metastasized enormously and unnecessarily. A contagion of conflict was unleashed, Libya, Syria, Yemen, even into a handful of African states. A resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has defied attempts for a just, reasonable solution for almost 70 years, became even less likely as the government of Israel, under Netanyahu, has become increasing right-wing and adamant against allowing a two-state solution. Israel, and some leaders in the US Congress, would apparently block a negotiated settlement with Iran concerning their nuclear development, even seemingly preferring war, with their "bomb, bomb, bomb" comments. In the Ukraine conflict, our leaders suggest sending military supplies and advisors to one of the competing sides, even as our primary European allies are attempting to facilitate a negotiated settlement between the Kiev government and the eastern Ukraine separatist forces. As the strongest nation in the world militarily, there are powerful forces in our government and defense establishment that turn to military solutions as an early response, rather than as a last resort when our vital interests are at stake and all diplomatic solutions fail.

     Domestically also, violence and a partial militarization of law enforcement is rampant. As crime, especially in impoverished areas of our society, and threat of terrorism, both from domestic and foreign sources, are escalating, many local police departments are becoming more militarized in the equipment and in the manner of their response to suspected wrong-doing.  The NSA is collecting and potentially overseeing much of our personal data and activities that would have been unheard of, and illegal, several decades ago. Guns are prevalent, more available for purchase and use by virtually everyone than ever, and the frequency of police firing prematurely, often unnecessarily, is also becoming more frequent.  Jails and prisons are full to capacity, to the point where early release is at time mandated by the court, not by reduced threat or terms being completed, but just because the prison is overly crowded. Rehabilitation efforts are stifled in such an environment, and the threat of criminal activity on the streets and violent encounters with law enforcement mushroom.  Funds to deal with the many root causes of violence are routinely rejected, as if our powers that be are blind to the ever-increasing problems.


3)  Growing man-induced environmental threats  

      While those in our government debate whether climate change is real, Arctic ice melts, low-lying islands are inundated, weather pattern changes cause immeasurable damage, ozone depletion in our atmosphere continues, and polar bears and other species battle to maintain their life patterns and avoid the threat of extinction.  With less rainfall in some areas, water shortage threatens to reach critical levels, and widespread fracking for oil adds to the problem by polluting underground water sources. Continuing overuse of oil and coal for both civilian and industrial purposes adds to the toxins that we are all exposed to daily, with no relief in sight although the dangers are well accepted by most scientists. Add to that the chemicals that we all ingest through food that is well incorporated into most of our daily diets, all for the purpose of added ease, convenience, and profits in the growth, processing, and sale of our food supplies. No one can be sure of the full extent of the dangers  in the myriad environmental threats we face, or in the timelines involved, but a lot is known of the forces amassed to resist even a recognition by government of the existence of the  threats--massive amounts of corporate money for lobbying to influence conservative legislators to block even basic remedial steps to intervene on known developing concerns. And, of course,  Fox News  continues to mislead the public as to the reality of the threats. So the threats continue virtually unchecked.




4)  Growing political polarization causing gridlock and stagnation in all three branches of government. 

     Little needs be said about the polarization, gridlock, and stagnation that has stymied effective governmental action in the US during the past 6 years, it is all a matter of public record for those following the course of political events in Washington DC.  Even the few major successes of the Obama administration, like the passage of the Affordable Care Act, continue to be highly contentious and subject to threat of termination. Up until several decades ago, there has typically been a core of moderates in both parties who, during non-election years, could cooperate fairly well in negotiating and compromising to pass legislation that was of vital interest to the well-being of the nation. That ability to work together has evaporated in recent years.  Most moderates have left the Republican Party, they could not win in primary elections against the more conservative candidate.  Many Democrats with progressive leanings have had to compromise and tilt towards the right to satisfy their more wealthy political donors, to meet the funding necessities required due to the Citizens United decision, further weakening the ability of Congress to take effective steps to deal with the challenges of the times. And the Supreme Court itself adds to the gridlock, being politically polarized in its current constitution, tending to often make decisions based on political grounds rather than on sheer judicial and constitutional grounds.


5) Growing breakdown in our educational, human resources, and social safety network.

     The daily news reports give full evidence of the degree to which our nation's human safety net is increasingly failing us.  More of our teenagers are having trouble completing high school, and even those graduating are often performing below acceptable levels on achievement tests.  While our universities continue to function at high standards compared with those in other advanced nations, our nation's public secondary school educational system  has slipped to near the bottom in achievement scores relative to those of other advanced nations.  Unemployment among young people is high, adding to poverty, homelessness, and mental distress, which public resources lack the funding to respond to adequately. Crime, drugs, mental breakdown, violent outbursts, and suicide are too frequently the result, for the young as well as those of more advanced ages, as even very well-intended human resource services are over-extended in their attempts to meet the growing needs. Health resources are still unavailable or too expensive for some, and the cost of treatment that is uncovered by insurance can lead to bankruptcy for a percentage of those with limited means who do take the risk of pursuing high cost, uncovered treatment. The reality of returning veterans waiting months to receive treatment in Veterans Administration hospitals, even when dealing with conflict-related injuries, is a national disgrace. Heroes when they serve overseas; untreated, even at times homeless when they return.  Obviously not right, but what is the government doing about it. With congress's tight purse strings, virtually nothing. Money available for defense, and for foreign wars, but for human needs at home, forget it! So the dysfunction and suffering continues to mount.


These are just a sampling of the growing concerns our nation faces but is clearly not adequately handling.  A governmental sea change may be required to fully address and institute some of the monumental changes necessary to deal with them. Facilitating these changes will obviously not be easy, will require concerted citizen action at a time when a majority of our population is just struggling to maintain their family's financial and emotional well-being, and others seek whatever relief from the stresses they can find in whatever diversions and pleasures may be most readily available. One thing for certain, our elected leaders will not institute the changes unless it is demanded by the public that votes. Increased public awareness, fuller public voting, more pressure on the media to present the facts, not as favored by corporate media voices but as seen by respected, responsible, scientific and well-educated sources. The best defense against breakdown and failure within a society is a well-informed, well-educated, engaged public. Perhaps that is why self-serving, short-sighted vested interests are so intent on denying adequate funding for public education, on misinforming the public on key issues, and on promoting diversions and difficulties restricting full public participation in democracy. The lines are drawn.  Will the distress signals, the wake-up call, be responded to this time. Time will tell, but the time to sound the alarm, and to speak up, is now.