Economic Development / Economics / Environment / News Commentary / Politics

Hear Hear for Encouraging Real Dialogue in America

Thanks to Politico for this sobering “Call to Conflict” but alas, I fear this entreaty will reach only deaf ears.  The political conscience is muffled by big money.  Accountability will not happen because this country is so polarized now and our politics is so full of empty rhetoric that few will stand up to advocate for policy or spending legislation that will make any dramatic difference.  The Supreme Court’s second decision loosening the money supply to campaigns makes matters worse.

The status quo gives credit to typical voter apathy.  And now, talk of impeachment or suing the president?  How ridiculous.  Remember, the GOP voted in large numbers to oppose Brown Vs. Board of Ed, Medicare and Social Security. The party also voted against President Roosevelt’s spending on The New Deal which ultimately put 3 million unemployed men to work creating infrastructure and national parks and planting trees–all of which endure to this day.

What would be constructive now would be to direct spending toward our infrastructure right here at home, putting people to work across the nation repairing crumbling bridges, roads, water systems, etc., as Roosevelt rightly did.  Instead, we’re throwing up our hands and allowing privatization of those systems that municipalities, states and the federal government should be funding and managing. We pay taxes but increasingly our infrastructure is built and maintained by business interests and businesses are in business to build value for their shareholders.  It’s a travesty of the public trust to see private equity funds and international conglomerates taking over water systems, electric grids, building toll roads and other infrastructure across the country as a whole new niche of profit opportunities by default– default of the federal government’s fiduciary and elected responsibility to serve the public.  Next time you pay a toll, remember that corporate investors such as Australia’s Macquarie Group invest for profit  in highway and other major capital infrastructure projects here in the U.S. and worldwide, including the controversial and expensive Greenway in Loudon County.  The county government may now buy back the Greenway since it has become an underutilized transportation artery because –much as they suffer in traffic– many drivers refuse to pay its high toll rate. A similar pattern of lower-than-projected use is also occurring on the new $1.4 billion Route 495 hot lanes–developed by Transurban,  another Australian private investment company.

Across other utility sectors, people may assume that corporate privatization of  water systems only happens in the third world (e.g. Bechtel in Cochabamba, Peru.) On the contrary, it’s happening in plain sight, right here at home in Atlanta, Michigan and other places.  For a good primer on the water industry–though a bit out of date now– I recommend the book “Blue Gold.” And, in the state of Virginia, one power company has the monopoly, so there is no choice of provider.  Nationally, the power grid and suppliers face increasing scrutiny for sustainability and efficiency so one would hope competition for consumer choice will eventually reach this state.  Private sector drives choice but the public sector needs to provide for that through regulation and not an abdication of  infrastructure to be built and maintained primarily by business interests.

We need government accountability–not partisan bickering.  We elect our representatives to govern, not to cater to PAC funds and obstruct legislation.  We need to unite as a country to do something constructive, instead of posturing for attention, while ignoring climate change and claiming economic inequality as a disguise for class warfare.  Elected officials are called to do “the people’s business,” not to follow choreographies directed by moneyed interests–like so many puppets on a stage.  Of course, it is the nature of our democracy that the system is open to influence, but the magnitude of the money supply has warped our philosophy of access to power.

Among the most egregious harm perpetrated against the long-term interests of the American people right now is the outflow of trillions of dollars we’re spending, arming people overseas who are not going to be reforming and peaceably self-governing any time soon. Then, too, to hear President Obama (for whom I voted) in the Rose Garden a couple of weeks ago cite Yemen as an example of a successfully reforming country could only be called spectacular hyperbole.  Though I wouldn’t have expected to think this years ago, I’m ready to embrace a bit of a dose of isolationism. Our global sheriffing for energy interests, other countries’ agendas and gaping security constructs is sapping this country of much needed resources which could be productively invested right here at home.

I join the Politico writer in raising three cheers(!) for the true-grit empirical analysis and bold policy proposals “provoked” by Thomas Picketty’s new book (Capital in the 21st Century) and the gutsy, logical policy platform of our very own Senator Elizabeth Warren whose bright light would surely be dimmed by the powers that be if she actually dared to embrace the big race.


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