Big decisions face Americans in the coming year. From the choice of who will be the next president, to budget debates over whether to slash spending that helps families in need while pouring more fuel into the military machine, the effects of political choices play out over time. A proposal is set to explode out of Congress that would give the president "fast-track" authority to sign massive trade deals that bind future Americans on issues like corporate power, environmental practices, and jobs.
The Bard of Oklahoma
Woody Guthrie left a legacy of wise words that came from the heart of a man who saw his country suffer drought, deep economic depression, famine for some among plenty for others, joblessness, homelessness and war. Remembered now as one of the greats of popular music in the 20th century, he was far from a successful musician in the current mold, living in isolated hotel rooms while on tour. He was a traveling poet who saw suffering and redemption of good people living hard lives.
In just 55 years of life Woody traveled, worked hard jobs, loved and married powerful women, and wrote and performed songs that have become part of the country's common language and story. He wrote songs that tell the stories of the Great Depression in rural mid-western America, and of the dust bowl of 1935 that sent countless people around him scattering across the country in search of work and opportunity for survival. His words in "Tom Joad" and "Dust Bowl Blues" are performed again and again by modern artists.
Peanut Butter and SNAP
In current federal budget debates, proposals will dramatically cut spending on federal programs that assist families in need of food in difficult economic times. Social experts note that the cuts proposed to such programs that provide life-saving food to needy children and families could be offset by the removal of a $38 billion increase in the military budget that the Pentagon did not request, or by returning $269 billion in lost revenue by retaining the inheritance tax that only affects the very richest families in the country.
Trade Agreements at the Backroom Table
Senator Bernie Sanders wonders about the need to push through fast-track authority to enter into the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. "Before we even consider relinquishing Congresses Constitutional authority 'to regulate commerce with foreign nations' to the executive branch," he said, he wanted responses to some pertinent enquiries:
- Have supporters of the TPP trade agreement calculated how many American jobs are estimated to be lost if American companies can easily move to Vietnam, where the wage is roughly 56 cents per hour, or Malaysia, where there are reports of slavery in the workforce?
- How might federal, state, or local governments be forced to pay damages to corporations who object to laws or regulations in an international system called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals that is proposed in the TPP?
- Why should major pharmaceutical companies be able to deny access to life-saving medications at reasonable prices in many countries in the Asia-Pacific area, such that Doctors Without Borders said that "the TPP has the potential to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines"?
Senator Elizabeth Warren has related concerns: "Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill the American people should get to see what's inside it."
Politics is more than just going in the voting booth once every few years to pick a president or governor. From federal budgets that threaten food security for the poorest American children while giving back billions to the richest families in estate tax elimination, to debate over trade agreements being negotiated out of sight, a lot goes on after politicians are elected that still requires the attention and involvement of citizens. Talking about issues with neighbors, family, and at church; finding the phone number to call a senator, representative, or city council member to discuss concerns; or even writing a letter to the editor to talk about what is on your mind, are all part of being an active citizen.