“Let us not talk falsely now. The hour’s getting late.” Bob Dylan (All Along the Watchtower)
[NOTE: This post first ran in March 2019 shortly after the State of the Union address by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Well, I do name him here. I wrestled with the idea of updating all the references, but decided in the end to leave the post exactly as I wrote it. After all, does it matter that I referred to the Green New Deal rather than the Build Back Better Act? Neither made it past the death grip of the Gas/Coal/Oil conglomerate of fossil fuel billionaires. We are still facing/failing at the concerns I raise here. Plus a new slew of threats. A Supreme Court bent on destroying both the environment and our human rights. A far-right slate of candidates who threaten to upend our elections and render null any votes/voters who oppose their fascist march to power. November 8 is election day. In the face of this onslaught, I implore you to get out there and VOTE. The left has a poor track record when it comes to voting in the midterms. This year must be different. If we lose now—the state attorneys-general offices, the governorships, all those little down-ballot races that are too often viewed as inconsequential, not to mention the House and the Senate—if we lose now, we may not have a second chance. We are facing an uphill struggle, I won’t sugarcoat it. But the record-turnout, landslide vote in Kansas last August to save abortion rights gives me hope. So, please, VOTE, VOTE, VOTE. A democracy is a terrible thing to lose.]
Perhaps, with the title of this post, I’m setting the bar too high, implying that we are anywhere in the same galaxy, let alone neighborhood, of something approximating a true democracy, a swamp-less America. On the other hand, at this point almost any little uptick in our nation’s health, unprompted by greed or outright corruption, would be a step toward a better, if still far from perfect, union. It’s gotten so that when I hear some pundit put two coherent sentences together, I find myself thinking they could be president.
Well, if any clown can grow up to be president, as TheRUMP proves daily, then I feel it’s only fair that I get my 2¢ in and deliver my own State of the Union address here. Without the hyenas who applauded every syllable, garbled or not, out of the OrangeOne’s mouth. Without their annoying, puerile chant USA, USA, USA!
Actually, my SOTU is not so much about what is (sad, as our twittering POTUS likes to tweet), but more about what could be. Therefore, having established my right to blather on (isn’t that how things are done these days?), I’m delivering my 10-point plan for an America that represents the many rather than the few, a more humane and democratic nation and, by extension, a better world.
1. Number one, front and center, VOTERS RULE, and everyone gets to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be fully restored, Citizens United will be dumped outright, and anyone caught gerrymandering districts or closing polling stations (as happened with Dodge City in the 2018 elections) or “tinkering” with voting machines will find themselves booked on a one-way trip to Deep Space. Byeee! The days when a thug like Brian Kemp could delete some 800,000 voters from the rolls as Georgia’s Secretary of State, thereby stealing the governorship for himself, are OVER. In my America, Stacey Abrams is the rightful governor of the Peach State.
One person, one vote. No more electoral college (which, hilariously enough, was designed in part to prevent “unqualified” persons, like the one we have now, from becoming president). No more voter suppression: No impossible/ridiculous ID requirements. No lines out the door and around the block at polling stations. No intimidation tactics.
And I want to see a big, clear PAPER trail. No white-out.
2. We can achieve #1 because all citizens will be first-class citizens, and everyone will enjoy EQUAL RIGHTS and OPPORTUNITIES. Gay, black, brown, Muslim, female, Jew, atheist, transgender, teacher, garbage collector, unemployed steel worker, 7-11 counter person. We will stop this nonsense about a level playing field, and officially recognize, and legislate for the fact that billionaires and their kids, jetting off from their private helipads to one of their many homes, don’t quite face the same hurdles in life that, say, a single mom working at Mickey D’s and her kids must navigate. We will do everything we can to knock the support props out from under the privileged few and level that damn field for the struggling many.
Equal rights for everyone also means that everyone enjoys EQUAL PROTECTION under the law. The next racist cop who shoots a black teen for looking at his cell phone funny, that cop is going to Sing-Sing for life. Without parole. [I do want to note that I have met many a decent cop, most touchingly, a couple of officers in New York’s Little Italy, who were very protective of and sympathetic to the poverty, addictions, and visible struggles of their peeps. If we want good community policing, we should use them as our model.]
3. FREE PUBLIC EDUCATION for everyone through college or trade school. If we throw up our hands at people so ignorant/uninformed that they continually vote against their own true interests, consider this: We are a country who puts up road blocks to a literate, thinking citizenry at every juncture of education. Underfunded public schools. Overcrowded classrooms staffed by underpaid teachers. Ridiculous college costs, which leave students staggering under debt for years, and prevent many more from even attending.
And it’s getting worse. The push for charter schools at the expense of public schools by the DeVos wing of TheRUMP regime has closed many of our public schools already, and tends to favor no separation of church and state. At least six states—Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia—have pending legislation that would make “Bible literacy classes” part of the public school curriculum.
An uninformed electorate may be easier to control through prejudice and baseless fears, but it doesn’t make for a strong, innovative society, and it doesn’t make for happiness either, if our high rates of depression and substance abuse are anything to go by.
4. We need to stop monkeying around and slap on MASSIVE MANDATORY ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS NOW. Nothing else matters if we don’t do this. Without this, we might as well be ordering donuts for our last cup of coffee.
The Green New Deal outlines broadly how the U.S. should combat climate change over the next decade, but we need specifics today. Here’s a few:
Zero tax breaks for companies who 1) directly pollute our land, water, or air; 2) whose production methods harm the planet (think anything that uses palm oil, which is created by destroying large swaths of rain forest and animal habitats); 3) whose end products pose peril to the earth and its oceans—plastic bags or straws, for example.
All corporations must transition 20% of their total operation each year to green energy and green/sustainable practices, for a 100% transition within five years, or we SHUT THEM DOWN. No more drilling, fracking, coal production, or factory farms. No more toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of so many products from foods to plastics to cosmetics. We need stuff we can eat, handle, and wear without fearing for our lives.
It’s insane that we’re not already doing these things, considering scientists are saying we have only a decade left to avert the worst climate disasters (our extinction being one of them), and ice at both poles is melting like a DQ snow cone at the height of July.
What gives with these high-pollutin’ fossil fuel billionaire morons, anyway? They could have transitioned to solar and wind power and every other green thing forty years ago. Become leaders in the green-tech field, and still raked in the big $$$. (QED: Being rich does NOT equal being smart.)
But they (and many other corporate entities) seem to be stuck in the 1950s, when steel was “king” and coal was the leading fuel for generating electricity. Stuck in the time-warp of a fabled all-powerful America where (white men) ruled the roost while (white) women fixed their dinners and birthed their babies, and all people of color rode under the bus.
Wake up boys. The heyday of the steel mills that employed 700,000 workers in 1948 is over. Today, those mills are down to 83,000 people. Other countries, less afraid of introducing new, more efficient technology, got the jump years ago. And burning coal, besides being an environmental nightmare, is no longer economically feasible. In mid-February, against TheRUMP’s expressed wishes, the Tennessee Valley Authority voted to close a large coal-fired power plant, Paradise #3, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky—a plant made famous by John Prine’s song “Where Paradise Lay.”
We need to be training coal miners and other displaced workers for the clean-energy jobs of the future. A future we must adopt NOW if we don’t want life on the planet to be just a memory tomorrow.
And no whining about how unaffordable it is to retool for a green planet. When Joy Reid asked Senator Ed Markey how the Green New Deal would be paid for, he reminded her that the cost of cleaning up from the rising number and worsening damage of climate-caused disasters will be in the trillions. And that doesn’t include the indefensible cost of lives lost. In short, we can’t afford not to go green.
I also don’t want to hear any lobbyist yammering about free enterprise or government interference in corporate rights. As far as I’m concerned, their rights end where endangering our lives begins. Clean energy. Clean water. Clean air.
5. UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE. I feel like I have been shouting this for 40 years (probably because I have been shouting this for 40 years) but AMERICA IS THE ONLY DEVELOPED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THAT LACKS UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE.
Everyone else is free to sleep peacefully and go about their day joyfully in these other countries, at least when it comes to knowing that they won’t be dumped by the wayside and left to rot, or completely bankrupted and made homeless if they develop something more serious than, say, a cold.
The U.S. ranks the highest in healthcare spending among the developed nations. Universal healthcare will bring down the cost for everyone. I’m betting the increase in my tax bill wouldn’t begin to equal the increase in my healthcare premiums since TheRUMP’s monkeyed with the ACA. And I’d rather pay taxes to fund healthcare than the slaughter of children in Yemen or building TheRUMP’s “mini-nukes.”
By the way, if you’ve ever wondered why our healthcare is so expensive, I have a little story a friend told me some 20 years ago. He was playing piano in a trio at a dinner bash for insurance company execs, who were merrily washing down their filet mignon with bottle after bottle of cognac—at $750 a pop. I’m guessing with inflation, those bottles now go for a grand-plus.
So, no more Big Pharma billing us twice what we earn in a month for a drug they sell elsewhere in the world at a fraction of the price (nearly all countries except the U.S. have policies, price controls, and regulations limiting drug company profits). No more pushing drugs on us we don’t need, thus rendering half the country opioid addicts. (The US makes up 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes approximately 80 percent of the world’s prescription opioid drugs.)
Our reps and senators enjoy stellar healthcare and we foot the bill for it. The way I see it, what’s good enough for them is good enough for the rest of us.
6. It’s beyond appalling how many two-faced GOP duffers, themselves the children and grandchildren of immigrants, are railing on about the (bogus) “threat at our southern border,” backing ICE, and denying people their legal right to apply for asylum. Way beyond appalling that thousands and thousands of children were ripped away from their families (with little or no record-keeping or a plan to reunite them). Unconscionable that ICE is dumping people in prison camps hastily erected by, and highly profitable for private company buddies of TheRUMP—an outright crime that has resulted in the deaths of several children.
So, listen up, we are having a total rededication to old Lady Liberty. In the words of Emma Lazarus:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
As for anyone seeking asylum, if you can make a reasonably compelling statement, whether it’s in English, Spanish, Mayan, Garifuna or Ewokese—say, Because U.S. foreign policy and CIA knavery of the past 60 years have made my country a hellhole—well, as far as I’m concerned, you’re in. Welcome to America. Care to learn the skills for a new green-energy job? We need you.
7. The issue of immigration, as I suggested in #6, brings up the whole question of foreign policy. So listen up, mighty OrangeOne and Blackwater and Exxon: No, you can’t take another country’s oil, topple their elected officials, suppress their protests, or cut off their trade with other countries. You can’t bomb other nations so you can steal their wealth or install your own dictators. After a century of talking up the right of nations to self-determination, we will finally walk the walk, honor self-determination, and keep our hands to ourselves. And our hands will not sell bombs and guns to nations who suppress other nations, commit genocide, or behead journalists.
8. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Well, begging the trigger-happy NRA’s pardon, the more than 1.5 million Americans who have died a gun-related death since 1968 might wish to differ, if only they could. One-point-five-million. That’s more Americans than have died in all the wars we’ve fought, including World War II.
There were 346 mass shootings in 2017—not 346 deaths, but 346 mass shootings. Another 340 occurred in 2018. Night clubs. Schools. Movie theaters. Concert venues. And then there’s those little domestic scenarios where the toddler shoots her mother, or the brother shoots his baby sister. Or Dad shoots the entire family. So, hear me good: No assault rifles. No handguns. No open carry. No concealed carry. No “stand your ground” laws. NO GUNS. AT ALL.
9. Total government TRANSPARENCY. No one we elect and/or pay the salary of hides from us what they spend our money on, or the findings of special investigations into, say, the corruption of the president, his cabinet cronies, fellow criminally-inclined congresspersons, and their various fixers. We are your constituents. We are your BOSSES. We elected you to represent us and to serve our best interests. We demand to know exactly what’s going on. And if you were appointed rather than elected, you were appointed to serve the interests of the country and uphold the Constitution, NOT to massage TheRUMP’s rump. Got that, William Barr?
One More Thing
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Geeze, Ame, you sound like the Green New Deal on steroids. How many decades and decades of Congressional sessions would it take to write up, introduce, and vote on all these proposals, and would there be anyone left on Earth by the time we got all this done, even if Mitch McConnell only lasts another 200 years?
Good question. Of course, we could knock most of this into a hat if we just adopted my tenth proposal, and went global with it:
10. NO ONE gets more than a million dollars until EVERYONE on the planet has a decent home and full healthcare. Until EVERYONE receives as much education/job training as they care to pursue. Until EVERYONE has clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and plenty of healthy food. Until EVERYONE has some fun money, time for regular vacations, and a secure retirement.
The main reason we are in such a huge mess domestically and globally is because a handful of billionaires are dictating the terms—no taxes for the rich, freedom to pollute the planet to death, low wages for workers, endless war—and choosing who gets into office and how they will vote. I guarantee you that if NO ONE is allowed to have more than a million dollars, our campaign finance problems—the Koch brothers/Shel Adelson/DeVos-family et al.—will be solved. You can’t donate $300 million or even $30 million if you have zero millions.
A couple of stats to underscore my point here:
- The 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the nation.
- Globally, 42 people have as much wealth as the 3.7 billion poorest folks. Yes, 42 people have as much wealth as the poorest HALF of the WORLD.
So, I repeat. No one gets more than a million dollars until everyone has what they need. All income over $1 million will be taxed, retroactively, at 99.99%. So sell those extra dozen houses, private jets, helipads, and pay up, you billionaires. There will be no more off-shore accounts. No tax havens. No tax loopholes like the ones that gave Amazon a free pass for federal taxes this year, despite the $11.2 billion in profits the company reaped for 2018.
The billions and billions and billions that we who work have made for the planet’s richest 42 people? That money comes back to us. Then we won’t have to worry about Social Security or Medicare or public school funding or the cost of infrastructure. The people in the world’s poorest countries will have running water and homes and schools and healthcare—a chance to live their lives rather than merely trying to survive starvation day to day.
Perhaps it is the Green New Deal on steroids. I make no apologies. Instead, I’ll sign off with the words of George Bernard Shaw, tweaked by Robert Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not?”
Why not, indeed?