At 10, #Opportunity Shows Us Where Our Priorities Ought to Be

The next time someone talks about cutting NASA’s budget either because we can’t afford it or we need to spend the money elsewhere, please show them this.

Opportunity

NASA’s Opportunity at 10: New Findings from Old Rover
(http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/mer/mer-news-20140123/#.UuU7wRAo5D-)

It’s an incredible testament to the vision, genius, and engineering expertise of the people who work at NASA. Imagine the world we might live in if we insisted that our government invest more of our tax dollars with the people and the science capable of designing, building, launching, and operating a rover that was sent to Mars on a 90-day mission and that is still operating without any direct human contact 10 years later.

We’re a curious species. It’s in our nature. It’s how we turned stones into tools, tamed fire, taught ourselves agriculture, and for the last 57 years have been capable of sending machines and people into space.

I’m all for spending money on exploration and learning. It’s how we’re going to expand our knowledge and (hopefully) improve everyone’s lives. I find it to be both fascinating and disturbing that such statements might be controversial in some quarters.

What I am not for is the universal idea that characterizes mostly the GOP today; that every government expenditure ought to be done only if, a) an equal and opposite cut is made elsewhere or, b) there’s some immediate and measurable monetary return-on-investment.

What Opportunity’s 10th Birthday Also Tells Us

Sometimes we just need to spend money on exploration for the sake of exploring, secure in the knowledge that it’s the path to the future. We already know what’s behind us. We’ll never know what’s ahead if we don’t explore. Maybe that’s why I consider the label “progressive” to be a compliment. I’m all for progress.

Yes, we have lots of problems to solve here at home. Yes, we need to spend money wisely.

That said, I believe – and the people at NASA celebrating Opportunity’s 10th birthday are living proof of this – that there are lots of smart people on the planet capable of doing anything, including solving the biggest problems imaginable, if only they are properly funded.

Beyond NASA; Beyond Austerity

With all due respect to those good and fine and smart people, this post is about more than NASA.

It’s very reasonable to ask the question, “Where are we going to get the funding for <fill-in-the-blank>?”

What is unreasonable is to always condition this question with a demand for more and more and more austerity.

We don’t have a money problem in America. What we have are moral and ethical problems created by the selfishness and greed of the rich and powerful in this country, including the people in elected offices who represent them and not us in our government.

Money to spend solving our big problems is readily available. In my opinion, it comes from 3 places:

1. Raising taxes on the wealthy.
They are the only ones left with any money. Frankly, if they don’t like it I invite them to live out their Randian fantasy of being some modern-day John Galt and just leave. The big problems in our society are because of them, not because of the poor and the middle class. I’ll even help them to pack if their patriotism is limited to the size of their personal bank accounts – be they onshore or off.

2. Reforming the tax code to plug tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and profitable corporations.
Once again, let me speak plainly to the rich and powerful. You’re not trickling anything down to us anyway, so you might as well stop suckling my tax dollars from the teat of the federal government and take your accumulated wealth to another country. We aren’t going to miss what you hoard and already don’t contribute back to society anyway.

3. Reallocating tax subsidies that go to profitable corporations, starting with the fossil fuel industries.
This one alone was worth about $70 billion – that’s a 7 followed by 10 zeros – between 2002 and 2008. (Source: Environmental Law Institute; Energy Subsidies Black, Not Green)

Who is to Blame, and What Do We Do?

To put #3 into some perspective, that $70 billion would have funded 64.5% of NASA’s *ENTIRE* budget over that same time period.

NASA has never been more than 4.4% of the federal budget, and that was during the race to the Moon in the Cold War days of the LBJ administration. It was never more than 0.72% (yes, that’s zero-point-seven-two percent) in that 2002 to 2008 period, and it averaged just 0.63% during that time.

Want to talk austerity? Going from 4.4% to 0.63% is an 86% budget cut.

The point is this: We can’t live in a civil and advancing society without pooling our funds (taxes) and demanding good governance in how they are spent, right?

So, isn’t it obvious by now that trickle-down economics is a lie? And while absolutely appropriate for bloated budgets like the DoD’s and for unwarranted expenditures like subsidies to wealthy and profitable corporations, isn’t it clear to everyone that austerity is *not* an appropriate strategy for everything?

I’m not referring only to NASA now.

I’m much more concerned at this moment in time with the GOP and the conservative movement that demands more and more austerity in social safety net programs.

How much more are we going to punish the poor and the unemployed for conditions they did not create and for mistakes they did not make?

The rich and powerful – the people who make up the Big Money in this country – are the ones to blame for the economic collapse and the anemic recovery. There’s simply no other conclusion borne out by the facts.

So, shouldn’t the rest of us be working together to get the corrupting influence of Big and Dark Money out of our politics so that we can take back our government and actually have our elected leaders represent us?

I invite you to learn more about what we can do together and where our priorities ought to be by visiting these web sites:

http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/
http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/
https://represent.us/
https://represent.us/
https://movetoamend.org/
https://movetoamend.org/
http://anticorruptionact.org/
http://anticorruptionact.org/
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It’s On #MiddleClass America to Save America

I can’t imagine anyone arguing that America does not need a healthier, more economically viable, active, and growing middle class. Sadly, I also can’t imagine much argument that the exact opposite is dramatically evident.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10

The question now is what are we in the middle class prepared and willing to do about it?

I ask that question because I am completely convinced that the decline of the American middle class is reversible. I’m also completely convinced that the responsibility rests almost entirely and exclusively with all of us in the middle class. We can and we must do more to stop and then to reverse our decline.

Facebook posts and yelling at the TV might feel cathartic, but they don’t accomplish much. Let’s resolve in 2014 to do more and to take real action to take our democracy back from the corrupting influence of money.

What Can Be Done

It’s my opinion that we in America’s middle class need to do two things:

1. Stop waiting around for someone else to do something about it for us

2. Stop digging the hole deeper by no longer voting against our own economic self-interests

Let’s Stop Digging

I’ve written a lot over the years about point number 2, most recently herehere, and here.

There’s no other way to say it. All of the responsibility for point number 2 rests with Americans outside the wealthiest 2% who insist on voting against the economic interests of the middle class by voting FOR Republicans and tea party candidates who want to turn over control of our government and our economy to the very people and industries who got us into this mess.

The mess we’re in started with Reagan and his Rand/Friedman/Greenspan-inspired lies of trickle-down economics and the canard that government is somehow the only source of our problems. So long as some of us keep voting for the people representing those lies, we’ll keep digging the American middle class into a deeper and deeper hole.

I’m not saying we should never vote for another Republican. I have voted for Republicans in the past. I’m just asking – pleading, really – that we please just stop voting for the extremists in the Republican party.

We know – or we should know – who’s on that list. We know – or we should know – that it includes people selling us the fairy tales of unfettered free markets coupled with the failed economic and governmental philosophies of Milton Friedman, a.k.a. Reaganomics, a.k.a voodoo economics (thanks, btw, to G.H.W. Bush for that one), a.k.a. trickle-down economics.

Today, this describes one party and only one party. Anyone wishing to offer evidence to the contrary is invited to do so.

The Dangers of Being Kept In The Dark

To some extent and in a world where people still watch, listen to, and believe the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and a whole plethora of ideologues masquerading as news media and opinion “journalism” (a very liberal use of that term, btw), it’s kind of understandable how so many middle class Americans can be duped into believing the lie of trickle-down economics.

Traditional corporate news media is almost as guilty. (In case you’re wondering, the answer is, “No, outside of a weather report, I do not count anything broadcast by Fox to be unbiased news.”) Corporate media spends almost no time or energy informing us about how and why the middle class is in decline. What time is spent on the subject is spent mostly with people meant more to drive ratings than to inform us about what the decline of the middle class actually means to America and to our geopolitical power and influence in the world on a long-term basis.

The reason for their silence seems clear. It’s not in their corporate economic self-interest for us to understand it, nor is it in the interest of the wealthy and powerful who run those corporations. They are beholden to their investors. Collectively, they exercise control over our government more than ever by funding campaigns with little-to-no oversight thanks to Citizens United.

Even worse for the vast majority of Americans, these are people who already seem to demonstrate little-to-no appreciation for the ramifications of their actions and that of a declining middle class. They are either willfully ignoring or inexplicably discounting in a dangerous and short-sighted way what a declining American middle class means for our economy, our country, and for the world.

If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of its geopolitical power.

(Read more: The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor)

Winners… and Even Bigger Winners

Every society throughout history has its ‘winners’ and its ‘losers’ in whatever terms each society chooses to define those words. Of late, it’s perfectly clear who the winners and losers are in America.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10

When it comes to the American middle class, the facts are in. The data are undeniable. The American middle class is in decline while the wealthiest accumulate even greater wealth and prosperity. This imbalance spells only trouble for us as a people and as a country.

Badly Tipped Scales

Source: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/a_graph_im_trying_to_understan.html
Source: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/a_graph_im_trying_to_understan.html

The balance that once existed between the income gains and the relative prosperity of the middle class and the wealthy – and which ought to exist again between free market capitalism and representative government – have tipped in dangerous and disturbing ways.

The scale seems to have tipped not between middle class and rich or between “corporatists” and “statists”, but instead in a third direction; Big Money.

Big Money, Bums, and Parties

Take a close look at the following chart. Appreciate and understand that it represents the average wealth of ALL of our representatives in Congress.

Wealth of Congress
Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/averages.php

As of 2011, that’s an estimated average wealth of $11.7million for a Senator and $6.5million for a Representative.

What, exactly, are we supposed to have in common with these people?

What, exactly, do we think motivates them and what, exactly, should we expect from them when it comes to the resultant policy and law they make?

Isn’t it clear that all of the opportunity, privilege, and entitlements – yes, entitlements – now flow almost exclusively to the wealthy and, by extension, to their Big Money interests in both the private and public sectors?

How’s that possible? How does one come to such conclusions? Simple. Take another look at the chart above. We are governed today almost exclusively by the rich.

We need to stop deluding ourselves about whom they serve. Our elected representatives represent the interests of Big Money. That means they do not represent the vast majority of Americans.

And, yes, both parties are guilty but it must be stated emphatically that they are NOT both guilty in equal measure. I’ve also grown weary of false equivalencies like that, too. Again, anyone wishing to offer credible citations to the contrary are invited to do so.

That said, the evidence is clear.

If the average Senator’s wealth is nearly $12million and the average House Rep is worth a cool $6.5million, then it stands to reason that these elected representatives don’t come from and don’t represent the middle class or the lower middle class or the working poor or the impoverished.

They represent Big Money, and without Big Money they can’t fund their campaigns.

The average winner in a Senate race <in 2012> spent $10.2 million, compared to $8.3 million in 2010 and just $7.5 million in 2008. That’s an increase of 19 percent since 2010. Senate Democrats seemed to have to work particular hard to win their seats, spending an average of $11.9 million, compared to the average Republican winner who spent $7.1 million.

On the House side, there was a smaller but still quantifiable increase in the cost of winning. On average, a winner in the House spent $1.5 million, compared $1.4 million in 2010 and $1.3 million in 2008. In the House, it was Republicans who had to work a bit harder: The average winning House Republican had to spend $1.59 million to win a seat, a bit more than the $1.53 million spent by the average Democratic victor.
(Source: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/06/2012-overview.html)

Once in office, they are well on their way to amassing serious wealth. It begins on Capitol Hill with legislation and regulation (or more accurately, deregulation) in favor of the very industries they are supposed to be watching over for our benefit and protection. That’s just the start. Much bigger paydays await.

Being elected to office or appointed to one of the myriad departments or agencies is merely the step necessary before twirling through the revolving door that opens onto K Street and the private sector where their real rewards await them.

That is the heart of it. Money that concerns itself only with more money and not with the concerns and well-being of ordinary citizens.

This closed circle of money between government and private enterprise is precisely why a “throw the bums out” or even the dream of more viable third, fourth, and fifth political parties will not work to change anything.

Let me repeat that.

Simply replacing the current crop of politicians with a new group of elected officials – either from the current 2-party system or from a whole host of additional political parties – will serve to change very little if the underlying and fundamental campaign finance process and electoral systems by which these people are elected and reelected does not change.

Where We Come In

If we’re going to make our voices and our concerns heard, if we’re going to have a democracy that works for us, then we’re going to have to take the actions that serve to get Big Money out of politics.

The wealthy, both in and out of government, are continuing to prove that, outside of people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, we have very, very few people in Congress actually representing us.

It’s not just national politics, either. We need to be examining and pressuring our local and state governments about whom they actually represent. Is it us or their Big Money backers?

What we can’t expect politicians to do on their own is to work very hard at tearing down and rebuilding the very systems that got them elected and which make them rich (or richer) in the process.

There are lots of groups and lots ways for you to get involved and to add your voice to growing chorus. The ones that I endorse and that I strongly encourage you to learn more about and to get behind are listed below. Together, we can make our voices heard and we can make a difference.

We can save America. We’re the only ones who can.

http://anticorruptionact.org/
http://anticorruptionact.org/

The American Anti-Corruption Act (http://unitedrepublic.actionkit.com/event/cosponsor/9815/)

https://represent.us/
https://represent.us/

Represent.us (https://represent.us/)

https://movetoamend.org/
https://movetoamend.org/

Move To Amend (https://movetoamend.org/)

http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/

Coffee Party USA no longer has my support or endorsement. Click here if you’re curious as to why that is, and please drop me a Comment if you see any links to them on this site I may have missed.

 

Sources:

The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power,
http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/crisis-middle-class-and-american-power

Average Wealth of Members of Congress,
http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/averages.php

The Decline Of The US Middle Class Is Getting Even Worse [CHARTS],
http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-theus-middle-class-2013-10

Some thoughts — and graphs — on inequality and income,
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/a_graph_im_trying_to_understan.html

Election 2012: The Big Picture Shows Record Cost of Winning a Seat in Congress,
http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/06/2012-overview.html