Tag Archives: Income Inequality

What is the State of the Union?

In what is considered a time-honored tradition, the President of the United States took to the airwaves last night as he addressed Congress and the people concerning the state of affairs currently befalling the country.

For a full text transcript of the SOTU address, click here.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

I’d stopped watching the SOTU address many years ago as I’m unable to get my head around all the partisan clapping and applauding (a total of 90 instances of extended cheers and applause) that goes on as if it’s a live audience for Happy Days or Saturday Night Live rather than the solemn and serious venue that it is.  Besides, with all the thumping, it sometimes makes for a long night.  I’d rather read it, get my highlighter out and that way be able to digest better what’s being said, and what’s being done.

I gathered last night’s content fearing the worst; that despite this president’s attempts to put forth an agenda that benefits a majority of Americans of all races, seemingly very little had been accomplished in that regard.  For most of us, I think, time-honored or not, it’s a tradition that is more pomp than circumstance because truthfully, if you want to know the state of the union, you need only look in the mirror.

That’s because we, each of us, are the Union.  We make or break this country and if a majority of us are doing badly then the Union, aka the country, is failing as well.  Mere words on paper I know but at its essence, it’s a profound statement and one that I think this President, more so than many of the others, gets.

“It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.”

There were other statements made that I think were noteworthy, as the President listed his administration’s past accomplishments and detailed his wish list for the coming year.  Everything including, income inequality, the state of the middle class, the export of jobs overseas, energy self-sufficiency, pre-K education, drone use, the war in Afghanistan, the health of returning veterans, Guantanamo,  NSA spying and voting rights was on the table, as it should be during such a disclosure.  Here are some I thought significant.

“Climate change is a fact.”  Finally, it’s being said, and better still, believed.

To his Republican friends concerning the ACA, “If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently.  Let’s see if the numbers add up…We owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”   Again, it’s finally being said.

On the newly enacted changes that diminish the Voting Rights Act, “Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote…It should be the power of our vote that drives our democracy.”

On Guantanamo (closing it) and NSA spying (amending the program), “…we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

And finally, on veteran’s affairs, “We’ll keep slashing that backlog (of returning vets) so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned and our wounded warriors receive the health care-including the mental health care-that they need.”  It’s a sentiment that’s been said before by others but now, it’s time to fulfill the promise, past time even.

Of course, not everyone agrees with what the POTUS said.  You can read a fact check of the SOTU address, provided by the Washington Post by clicking here.

Still, after reading the full text and even though I was not expecting much, I came away feeling buoyed and optimistic for the future; mainly because of the feeling that I got from a few sentences that stuck in my mind.

“…what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.  Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But America does not stand still, and neither will I.  So whenever and wherever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

It’s like I said before, finally it’s being said.  Now comes the hard part; doing so.

Sources:  Full transcript of the SOTU came from the Washington Post, published January 28, courtesy of the Federal News Service; Fact Checking the 2014 State of the Union address, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 28.

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My Christmas Wish for America

Earlier in the year, the subject of poverty came up on one of those televised news program discussions.  I forget which consonant cluster it was; CNN, MSNBC or one of those others.  The discussion, however, was short-lived as talk petered out after only a day or two.

Now, everyone is concerned with income inequality.  It seems we’ve refrained from calling such conditions poverty.  It just doesn’t appear to make for much prolonged discussion anymore when depicted as such.

Maybe it’s because poverty is too “heavy” a word, implying the necessity of extreme and costly steps in order to eradicate it.  And we know that in this entitlement and government reduction climate that seemingly grips our American Congress, taking steps to improve the lives of the many at the risk of the few is something that’s probably not in the current cards.

Whatever the reasons, eliminating poverty appears to be shelved in favor of the less harsh idea of eradicating disparities that exist in wealth and income.   And even doing or discussing that is an issue.

The truth is to do one is to do the other.  And I have an idea on exactly where to start.  It’s my Christmas wish for America.

America can begin to eliminate poverty and income disparities by calling a cessation to the drug war and reforming the country’s current policy on illegal substances, primarily marijuana.

The harsh reality is that America’s War on Drugs has not worked.  It’s basically a cash cow for law enforcement that stigmatizes an entire social group, causing their undue incarceration, which in turn, swells the numbers in our already over-crowded penal system.

It prevents these same individuals from getting meaningful employment with above average pay, rather relegating them to the lower minimum wage jobs existing primarily in the service sector.

And the prohibitions that exist for this class are somewhat discriminatory as they do not exist for other individuals such as cigarette smokers or drinkers.  These folks can still find above average employment in spite of their habits.

The problem centers on the use of and the need for urinalysis; the erroneous way the testing is required and the reasons behind such requisite.

Is it truly necessary for someone who will stock shelves in a Home Depot or Lowes to submit to a urinalysis test?  Obviously, where matters of public safety are a concern, the tests should stand.  But to pre-determine that someone will steal from you to feed a drug habit simply because they fail a urinalysis test, without considering any other factors-background check, references or work history-is wrong and alienates many more than it should.

Recently, Uruguay became the first nation to legalize marijuana.  The states of Colorado and Washington have done the same.  It’s time for the entire country to recognize the amount of money that’s been wasted over the years and start to consider the amount of funds that could be saved and better put to good use.

Simply put, ending the drug war means greater access to better paying jobs for a larger segment of Americans.  It won’t totally end poverty or income disparities in the country but it will be a better than average place to start.


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A lesson we’ve heard before

This papal brouhaha that Rush Limbaugh is stoking surprises me, somewhat.

As the self-proclaimed spokesperson for the far right wing, one would think that he would be less taunting of the Pope’s Exhortation.  I mean, the Republican Party has always struck me as thinking they’re the only political party that believes in God and the rest of us are just heathens bent on spending eternity in the bowels of hell.  But his latest statements professing that Pope Francis is not only wrong about capitalism but is also Marxist in his views makes me think that he not only has no idea of what Christianity is about, he also doesn’t truly know who Jesus was or what he stood for.

If he did, he’d know that Jesus was concerned for the every day plight of the common man, those who’d been cast aside and forgotten, the poor.  He wondered if they had enough to eat, about the well being of their children.  This is the premise that Christianity is supposed to be based on; an always present helping hand reaching out to aid others, without strings or any desire for reward.  Instead, we have the modern reality of dog eat dog

53. …Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

You can see how such thoughts clash violently with the Right’s notion of a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps America.  And with battles raging in the House on the ACA, immigration reform, affording people a livable wage or anything that remotely resembles something that would benefit the shrinking middle class, it should also be easy to see why the Pope is saying what he is.

The problem lies in that Rush and his bunch have no choice but to attack parts of the Evangeli Gaudium because they cut directly to the heart of all that conservatives extol as the right and true path America needs to be on in order to find prosperity for all.  Only thing is that it’s a path that protects big business and the interests of a few at the expense of the many; and the many are the ones who need the help.

56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so to is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. 

 I’ve read the transcript of Rush’s show, It’s Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is (Unless It’s a Deliberate Mistranslation by Leftists) and I did find something that I could agree with him on.  Rush called the Catholic Church out as being something of a bastion of capitalism itself, taking shots at its wealth as well as the Vatican’s.  And that’s a valid point.

Thing is, it was the only valid point I read as the rest of his shtick ranged from American exceptionalism, the marvel of trickle-down theory, unrecognizable Communism and the latest BBC attack on capitalism, all rolled up into a treatise against the Evangeli Gaudium.

On the other hand, Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Chapter Two, Section I, Some Challenges of Today’s World, 52-75, speaks, I thought, succinctly to the plight of the many; the forgotten, the set-asides and the cast-offs.

53. …those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”. 

 It debunks bogus economic theories put forth to justify years of waiting for some magical turnaround that will never happen.

 54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. 

 It even addresses the gun violence that’s threatening to tear our cities apart and continues to send our young men either to prison or their graves.

60. … Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamoring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts.

 Is all this Marxist?  While I’m no theologian or even a “devout” catholic (it’s been many a moon since I’ve been to Mass) and as much as I consider Jesus to have been a revolutionary, I’d have to say no.  Trouble is that when you start speaking “inequality” to republicans, the only thing they can think of to counter your argument with is to call you a communist.

In truth, what we’ve been given are guidelines that hopefully lead to something of a better world; lessons, if that floats your boat better.  Maybe it’d all go down easier with conservatives if they’d only realize that in fact, they’re lessons we’ve heard before, a long, long time ago.

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