Big Oil Subsidies Squeeze the Middle Class

by David T. Bruce

oil_earthIn a recent Congressional debate, the majority of Republicans argued that the five largest oil companies were entitled to a $2 billion annual subsidy to offset the $35 billion they earned (?) in the first quarter of 2011.  One particular senator sarcastically stated that making money in America must now be unacceptable, specifically targeting the Democrats’ proposal to eliminate these subsidies.

According to a recent article in The Washington Times, wages in America are up 1.7%, whereas the rate of inflation is up 2%.  Statistically, households with the lowest income in the United States spend approximately twice as much on food, relatively speaking, as households with the highest income.  Obviously, the dramatic increase in the cost of fuel limits the spending power of the average American.  It is estimated that the tax cuts recently approved by Congress will be absorbed by the increased cost of gasoline.  Yes, apparently making money in America is indeed no longer acceptable . . . unless you live and work on Capitol Hill or unless you are a CEO or COO of the aforementioned oil companies.

Recent polls show that public opinion in favor of Congress is significantly low.  According to recent Gallup polls, Congress has achieved an approval rating as low as 13% over the past year.  If this is indeed the case, then perhaps as a society, we should consider placing more emphasis on the state representatives we elect and less emphasis on the executive office that is often provided with speed bumps and road blocks by the opposing party anyway.  We must give careful consideration and close scrutiny to those people we elect at the state level, who are charged to represent the interest of their constituents.  Right now, many representatives seem to represent only the interests of the oil companies (and other major industries) and by extension their own individual interests, forsaking the interests of those that elected them to office. For example: the only three Democrats to side with the Republicans in the Oil Subsidy vote were from Louisiana, Nebraska, and Alaska, all big oil states.

The greater majority of the voting public has not made a substantial living in years.  While our government bails out the banking industry and subsidizes the oil industry, that which is left of the middle class struggles daily to raise a family and support their communities, as they slowly merge with the lower class.  How can the majority of Republicans dare to compare the plight of the average American with that of the incomparable benefits that the corporate giants enjoy with the blessings of Congress?

In fairness to Congress, we as a society share a measure of responsibility in creating this dependence on fuel.  Many Americans insist on the value of SUVs, 4X4 pickup trucks, and similar gas-guzzling automotive apparatuses.  We are not sending the message that we care about fuel consumption, fuel waste, or the environment.  We continue to put money into the coffers of the oil industry instead of alternative energy sources.  We continue to pursue off-shore drilling instead of cultivating wind farms or solar power.  We can respond to the oil companies by supporting alternate energy options, and we can respond to our representatives by sending them home.  Maybe then they will understand what it really means to not make money in America.

Domestic Nonlethal Assistance Repealed

by David T. Bruce

discretionary-spending-2011
Source: Mother Jones

As a society, we may have become numb to the reality that we have spent almost ten years in the Middle East, engaged in conflicts with Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now we find that we are compelled to join NATO in support of Libyan rebels.  To support our troops (an admirable incentive) and our habit, billions of dollars must be allocated for defense.

According to information provided by the National Journal, the Pentagon has requested $708.3 billion for this year, including $159.3 billion to continue our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  During the first day of operation in Libya, the United States spent approximately $100 million.  Following the initial attacks on the forces of Colonel Gaddifi, we have recently pledged additional military assistance by sending armed drone aircraft into Libya.  This amounts to an additional $25 million of “nonlethal” [really?] military assistance.

At the same time, our representatives want to eliminate $1 trillion from the Medicaid program over the next ten years, or $84 billion a year.  This suggests that much of the money once used for healthcare in the United States is to be reallocated to support the habits of the Pentagon.

We have money enough to send “nonlethal” assistance to foreign countries, while we simultaneously propose cutbacks in what our representatives call “entitlements.”  The result of denying the disabled, elderly, and low-income citizens of America from having these “entitlements” is indeed lethal.  Apparently, saving lives of citizens in other countries is humane, while saving the lives of Americans at home is an entitlement.  Yes, we need to make changes to the Medicaid (and Medicare) programs, but perhaps the fault of the misuse or abuse is less of an indictment against the patients.

It is remarkable and yet interesting to journey down Constitution Avenue in Washington D. C.  Observe and take note of the buildings that line either side of the street: the Federal Trade Commission, the National Archives, the Department of Justice, the National Museum of Natural History, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Commerce, the National Aquarium, the Federal Reserve, the Albert Einstein Memorial, and . . . the American Pharmaceutical Association? . . . yes, the American Pharmaceutical Association.

Is it possible that the problem is not abuse of the system by the patients and more of an abuse of the system by providers and pharmaceutical companies?  Many incidents may be cited in which service was provided for no reason other than the bill was covered by Medicaid.  The cost of medication is on the rise, and I question whether or not pressure is being put on the pharmaceutical companies to keep their costs down.  Instead, patients are targeted.  At some point, voters must realize that our elected representatives lobby for large businesses when they should be lobbying for their constituents.

Our Most Powerful Right

…we are oblivious to what the government is doing in terms of promoting corporate rights over individual rights. We ignore government policies that do little to curb deterioration of the environment. We ignore the federal government’s lack of response in answer to unemployment, poor health care, and inflation.

by David T. Bruce

usa-1327105_1280The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution will soon be the subject of debate again in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The amendment stating that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Following the decision that prevented Washington D.C. from legislating gun control within that district, the Supreme Court endeavors to determine if individual states can legislate gun control.

The issue of gun control is regularly and hotly contested.  Proponents vehemently uphold the Second Amendment, and opponents catalogue lives lost as a result of a person who lawfully owned a handgun and used that handgun unlawfully.  I argue that we do indeed have a right to own a gun, but we do not have a right to take a life as we see fit or endanger our neighbors and communities.  How do we balance this right with reality, though?

Essentially, Second-Amendment advocates demand that they have the right to own a gun because our forefathers said so.  Yes, the forefathers did state in the amendment that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  However, the amendment also reads that it was and is necessary to have “a well regulated Militia.”  What well regulated indicates is that in all likelihood, the militia should have leadership.  The intent was not for everyone to have a weapon and shoot as they please.  In the twenty-first century, this is precisely what we have.

As well, the intent was to prevent the government from impeding on the individual rights of a citizen by entering the home without just cause and to prevent a foreign militia from detaining United States citizens.  While we can argue that the likelihood of the latter is possible, we can also argue that the lack of the aforementioned well regulated militia would prevent any one person from being reasonably successful at deterring such an attack.  In respect to the likelihood of a government official entering a home without just cause, that too is remote.

Of all the challenges we currently face in the United States, I am often amazed at what comes to the forefront for debate.  We seem to put a great deal of emphasis on these “rights” that were handed down to us over two-hundred years ago, yet we ignore what our local, state, and federal officials are doing to our rights one day at a time.  We seem so worried about what the federal government is doing to trample on our Constitutional rights, but we are oblivious to what the government is doing in terms of promoting corporate rights over individual rights.  We ignore government policies that do little to curb deterioration of the environment.  We ignore the federal government’s lack of response in answer to unemployment, poor health care, and inflation.

The most powerful right we have as citizens of the United States is the right to vote, and maybe . . . maybe . . . one-half of our population exercises that right at any given time.  The rest of us don’t even pick up that weapon, let alone pull the trigger.  We can minimize or eliminate blatantly corrupt officials from the government by paying attention to what these officials are doing, paying attention to how they are voting on pertinent issues, and voting them out of office when their term is due.  In extreme cases, we have the right to remove corrupt officials from office before their term is over.  Yet we dismiss this right every single day. Our voice is as strong as any weapon, if we collectively choose to use our right to vote.

Religion Does Not Equal Morality

I am troubled by that kind of willingness to pass judgment based solely on religious differences.

by Shadra Bruce

love-1221444_1280Our daughter is a college student and a part-time employee at a fast food restaurant. While at work the other day, she and a co-worker somehow got on the subject of religion. My daughter is an atheist. She does not believe in any god; she does not go to church. When one of her co-workers heard this, he confronted her and told her that her choice was wrong, that one had to be religious in order to be moral.

We have raised our children to have open minds and to be tolerant of others no matter what kind of belief system they have. We have taught them that they need to make good choices, be honest, and treat others kindly—not because their god demands it, but because that is what human beings do. While we have not raised them with a specific religion, we have encouraged them to explore all religions and to choose a path that is most meaningful to them, and we support whatever path they choose to follow as long as they are truthful to themselves and others and treat people with decency.

Kira may not always consider herself an atheist. She is only 19. She has a lot of life experience yet to gain. Luckily, her co-worker is also young. Hopefully he will learn that people are more than their faith.

The hypocrisy of this situation is that the message of Jesus was one of tolerance. My daughter is not immoral. She does not treat people badly or judge them for having a different set of beliefs than her own. She treats people with kindness, making friends easily and helping others in times of need.

I am troubled by that kind of willingness to pass judgment based solely on religious differences.  I believe that this willingness to judge those who are different from ourselves is what has brought us to the point of warring against each other instead of treating each other like global neighbors. Regardless of individual belief, we are all one society of human beings, sharing one small planet.

President Obama Wants All of Us to Learn

I am equally concerned that a growing number of citizens are being spoon-fed their opinions from the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck.

by David T. Bruce

obama-2009America has been divided for some time in terms of political agendas and in respect to opinions governing in what direction our country should grow, with Republicans and Democrats (and their constituents) often reaching an impasse, accomplishing nothing.  Yet the recent clash over President Obama’s scheduled address to school children is infantile at best, showing a lack of concern about issues that truly affect the nation as a whole.

I honestly doubt that the speech is an attempt to inject the federal government too far into public school business.  No Child Left Behind was such an attempt (and on many levels, a failed attempt), and other than school faculty and administration, I do not hear or read of the general public being outraged about that dandy piece of legislation.  In all likelihood, the opponents of the President’s address would say nothing, if the Commander-in-Chief were Republican, and vice-versa.

One woman interviewed by CNN stated that she is very scared to be in this country with the current leadership.  Was the administration of the past two terms satisfactory?  If so, then I am concerned about the population of this country who follow blindly, and I am equally concerned that a growing number of citizens are being spoon-fed their opinions from the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck.  The President is not forcing anyone to watch his address at school, any more than citizens are forced to watch an address at home.

Are students compelled to watch; are they a captive audience?  Perhaps. Still, the Obama administration is making the speech available prior to the address for families to preview in advance. Doing so gives families the opportunity to discuss the speech and decide how the message relates to their values and beliefs. Damage control, for lack of a better term, may be initiated before the address. Making the speech available prior to the address also is a show of good intention by the administration, a gesture that seems intended to alleviate concerns that some socialist plot to brainwash our children is not happening without our knowledge.

Can we take the President at face value? I think we should try. Can we, for a moment, put our politics and biases aside, and imagine that a father of two daughters with the ability to positively affect the lives of all children might avail himself the opportunity? To those who would choose to raise hell over this one moment in time, please get a grip and get over yourselves. With the unemployment rate just shy of 10% and an economy knee-deep in recession, with a poverty rate at about 12% (according to 2007 statistics), and with over 15% of our population without health insurance coverage, our country is challenged with issues that affect us all far more than words of inspiration from of a man trying to put a positive spin on the future for our children.

Love It or Leave It

For whatever the reason, we the people have been negligent in upholding our end of the Constitution. We have a right – and a duty – to speak out. When we become fearful of doing so, we need to take a long look at our leaders and how they govern. We need to reestablish jurisdiction over our elected officials.

by David T. Bruce

dissent_fb_picThe American Revolution resulted from the efforts of the British government to subject the colonists to taxes and commerce polices that would help the government pay for the costs associated with the funding of the French and Indian War. These taxes and policies were an attempt to raise revenue by taxing colonists for such items as legal documents and tea. When the colonists objected, boycotted and revolted, the British government sought to take away the rights and privileges once afforded to the colonists. The two sides went to war. The colonists had the fortitude to say what the government was doing was wrong, and following a yearlong struggle, the colonists sent the British home. The United States was born of these events.

Comparable to many countries in the world, we have prospered as a nation. The United States has the largest economy and one of the highest incomes per capita. Compared to other nations, we lag behind in terms of health care with the highest obesity rate in the world and a mortality rate that does not even rank in the top 20.

During the Bush/Cheney administration, our nation became one that condoned torture, wire-tapping, and racial profiling. Were we to ask for a show of hands from individuals to determine who would support the aforementioned behaviors, few would do so. However, by our show of apathy, almost all of us are guilty as charged. As citizens, we have watched while justifications for war were concocted; we have silently stood witness as unemployment and inflation have increased at the same time as the salaries of government officials and corporate CEOs did the same.

Those that dared to speak out against improprieties at the beginning of the Bush/Cheney administration were often labeled unpatriotic. Those who disagreed with the wars in the Middle East were told love our country or leave it. What has changed in more than 225 years? Where is our outrage over a government that systematically chips away at the freedoms the original colonists fought to secure?

The colonists loved their new home; they fought and died to acquire the rights we now enjoy, rights that we seldom take advantage of for fear of being labeled unpatriotic. To stand up for the rights of an individual is to be patriotic. To bring attention to behaviors of government officials that go beyond the boundaries established by the Constitution is patriotic. We – the people – govern, and while anarchy is not desired, we, as citizens, have every right to defend our rights from those who might impede them, whether the perpetrators are foreign or domestic.

During the 2008 election year, many Americans spoke out against the policies of the Bush/Cheney administration by electing Barack Obama. As poignant and noteworthy this national epiphany was, a measure of frustration remains in that we, as a collective group, did not voice our opinions sooner. Some of us may have indeed been fearful. Others may have believed they had no choice. Still others may have looked the other way, lost in their day-to-day routines. For whatever the reason, we the people have been negligent in upholding our end of the Constitution. We have a right – and a duty – to speak out. When we become fearful of doing so, we need to take a long look at our leaders and how they govern. We need to reestablish jurisdiction over our elected officials.

Physical attacks – a literal revolution on the scale of the American Revolution – are certainly not the answer. Yet like those colonists willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believed was wrong, we must be able to sacrifice a part of us (whether that be a lifestyle change, time, or money) to change what we believe is wrong. We cannot continue to watch our government make ludicrous, expensive decisions on our behalf and then beg forgiveness and ask for our vote later. For the love of our country, we must speak out.

To love our country does not mean that we should follow our leaders as the country loses respect around the world. To love our country does not mean that we should remain silent as the government and business leaders of our country lead us to financial ruin. We must practice tough love. We should not have to leave because we disagree. We should hold our leaders accountable, make them pay for their choices, and send them packing when they don’t do their jobs.