The Real State of the Union

by David T. Bruce

income_inequality_chart_erAs the presidential election year looms over the political horizon, President Obama finally has something to say during the most recent State of the Union Address about income disparity in our country, as if the debate about the income gap and tax liability were new.  Most of us have devastatingly realized that the thirty-year economic experiment in this country has proven that Reaganomics works only for those citizens and companies that enjoy wealth and the power to augment that wealth.  No one in this country who has lost a job, lost a home, and struggled to get by during this perpetual recession is oblivious to the fact that it takes money to make money, and for those who do not have money, striving to break even is a way of life.  This is the reality of the American Dream, and this reality is unlikely to change any time soon.  During the battle to remain in power or obtain power, our elected officials choose now to acknowledge a problem that has been inherent in our capitalist society for many decades.

Republicans and Democrats posture and politic as they draw lines in the sand and point fingers across the aisle, each blaming the other for dividing the country and building a national debt in excess of $15 trillion.  These are the same leaders who enjoy a lifestyle at the expense of their constituents, a truth made painfully clear to American citizens now aware of Mr. Romney’s wealth and associated tax burden.  This not only highlights the disparity in income and tax liability between “the haves” and “the have-nots” in this country, but it also highlights how brutally out of touch our elected leaders are with the majority of the American public.  How can leaders argue on the behalf of a demographic of which they have no understanding?  How can we believe that our leaders will lobby to balance the country’s tax burden in favor of the lower- and middle-class when doing so would obviously raise their tax burden?

Burden: “something that is carried, something oppressive or worrisome.”

We are told by President Obama that the country is on the mend; we are told that the economy is bouncing back.  Please do not insult our intelligence.  According to GasBuddy, the median price for gas in 2012 is forecast to reach $3.95.  The USDA has projected that food prices will increase overall 2.5% to 3.5%.  An “alternative economic forecast” released by researchers in the White House suggest “an unemployment rate of 9% in 2012. These are not realities that suggest the country is mending or is bouncing back.  Those that live and thrive on Capitol Hill, those that are voted into office by their constituents do not want for food, healthcare, education, or a future.  Those that live and thrive on Capitol Hill have no idea what “burden” is.  They have created an economic disparity by their ignorance, their indifference, and their arrogance.

This is indeed class warfare, a battle that has been waged for centuries between “the haves” and “the have-nots.”  The malicious intent of the 1% – the “Mitt Romney’s” and the corporate “Goliath’s” of America – , however, is to convince those who have a bit more than “the have-nots” that those who have the least in the United States are trying to take away what they have earned.  In truth, the argument is that the tax system is structured as such that the “Mitt Romney’s” can conceivably pay less tax by percentage than those that earn minimum wage.  Major industries can relocate to foreign lands to avoid paying United States taxes.  The wealthiest citizens and companies of the United States need to pay their fair share.  This has nothing to do with Republican, Democrat, or American values.  This has everything to do with human values, and the majority of our elected officials value the citizens of the United States as humans only once every two or four years.  Beyond that, we are as insignificant as the pointless posturing and “policy prescriptions” presented as a way to placate a populace that is sick to death of the endless pandering by leaders who could not care less about our burden.

SOPA – Drafted and Encouraged by the TRUE Pirates

by David T. Bruce

stopsopaeu-800pxFrom the federal establishment that preaches the necessity of less government intervention (or interference, depending on your point of view), American citizens are being asked to support legislation that is said to minimize online piracy.  Provisions are embedded within the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), however, that potentially infringe upon First Amendment rights and shift the responsibility for online piracy from the perpetrators onto Internet administrators.

While Internet Service Providers and web site administrators should (and do) discourage online piracy, holding providers to 100% compliance with anti-piracy laws is unrealistic.  As well, shutting down entire Internet sites in the effort to purge pirated material from specific web pages is akin to penalizing car manufacturers or dealers for allowing an unlicensed driver to operate a vehicle.  We do not need more legislation to combat an issue that can be minimized with the tools and laws already at our disposal.  SOPA, masked as an effort to eliminate online piracy, is one that panders more to the entertainment industry than an altruistic sense of justice.

Both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) flaunt their lofty objective of protecting the First Amendment rights of artists and distributors, this from an organization that offers up a mere 13% of music sales to the recording artist, allowing the record label to keep 63% of the earnings.  The income for actors in general is not stellar either.  Both organizations, however, are headquartered in Washington D.C., spending time and money to gather support for SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) from the Obama and Bush administrations to the tune of over $400,000 this past year and $2 million in 2007, respectively, seeking additional revenue lost perhaps as a result of the shrinking economy and lackluster entertainment products.  As pointed out by Professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, the measure of the loss to the entertainment industry is unsubstantiated.

Piracy will not vanish as a result of tight-fisted legislation that punishes honest Internet users.  Those people inclined to provide and obtain copyrighted materials illegally will continue to do so, driving the industry further underground.  Those of us who oppose SOPA do not support online piracy or copyright theft.  We can, however, oppose legislation that does not directly target the issue at hand, but instead uses a single issue (albeit an important one) as a façade to introduce additional insidious government oversights that bring us ever closer to a future envisioned by George Orwell.  Online pirates will continue to plunder the Internet, while the majority of us find ourselves victims of a government that takes its cues (and money) from the entertainment industry and other large business conglomerates.

From the federal establishment that preaches the necessity of less government intervention (or interference, depending on your point of view), American citizens are being asked to support legislation that is said to minimize online piracy.  Provisions are embedded within the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), however, that potentially infringe upon First Amendment rights and shift the responsibility for online piracy from the perpetrators onto Internet administrators.

While Internet Service Providers and web site administrators should (and do) discourage online piracy, holding providers to 100% compliance with anti-piracy laws is unrealistic.  As well, shutting down entire Internet sites in the effort to purge pirated material from specific web pages is akin to penalizing car manufacturers or dealers for allowing an unlicensed driver to operate a vehicle.  We do not need more legislation to combat an issue that can be minimized with the tools and laws already at our disposal.  SOPA, masked as an effort to eliminate online piracy, is one that panders more to the entertainment industry than an altruistic sense of justice.

Both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) flaunt their lofty objective of protecting the First Amendment rights of artists and distributors, this from an organization that offers up a mere 13% of music sales to the recording artist, allowing the record label to keep 63% of the earnings.  The income for actors in general is not stellar either.  Both organizations, however, are headquartered in Washington D.C., spending time and money to gather support for SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) from the Obama and Bush administrations to the tune of over $400,000 this past year and $2 million in 2007, respectively, seeking additional revenue lost perhaps as a result of the shrinking economy and lackluster entertainment products.  As pointed out by Professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, the measure of the loss to the entertainment industry is unsubstantiated.

Piracy will not vanish as a result of tight-fisted legislation that punishes honest Internet users. Those people inclined to provide and obtain copyrighted materials illegally will continue to do so, driving the industry further underground.  Those of us who oppose SOPA do not support online piracy or copyright theft.  We can, however, oppose legislation that does not directly target the issue at hand, but instead uses a single issue (albeit an important one) as a façade to introduce additional insidious government oversights that bring us ever closer to a future envisioned by George Orwell.  Online pirates will continue to plunder the Internet, while the majority of us find ourselves victims of a government that takes its cues (and money) from the entertainment industry and other large business conglomerates.

Why College Is a Waste of Time and Money

The Fleecing of American College Students

by Shadra Bruce

When I was in high school in the late 80s, it was just beginning to be expected that college was more of a norm than getting a job straight away. The promise was tangible – get your degree, and you’ll definitely get a high paying job and be able to jump right in to living the American Dream.

The college recruiters came into the high schools and pedaled their wares like snake oil salesman:

College graduates make 62% more than their uneducated counterparts.”

“No need to worry about how to pay for college. Our financial aid department can help you get all the money you need to pay for college.”

“You get a six month grace period while you find a job!”

“Our career center places 90% of our graduates after graduation.”

Sound familiar?

So we swallowed the bait; a lot of us did. And if we started having kids, we have probably been feeding them the same line of crap we heard, grooming our kids to be prepared for college, not for life.

Our oldest joined the Army (a story for another day), but our second child headed straight to college, first to a community college, and now to a state university. She is attending Buffalo State College. It’s part of the SUNY system, what we feel is representative of a typical college. For each semester she attends, she pays

Tuition $2635
Athletic Fee – $133
Activity – $75
College Fee – $12.50
Health Fee – $130
Technology Fee – $160
Transportation Fee – $31
Books, which average $500 a semester
Meal plan $1,510
Housing $3,369

Her total semester cost: $8555.50

Yes, that’s right: in order to get $2600 worth of education, she has to pay almost $9000.

You see, colleges figured out (and perhaps drove) the fabulous racket that is student loans:

  • Loans cover the cost of tuition, books and related expenses, as well as room and board.
  • Poor people (the 99% of us who can’t make $10,000 casual bets) have been conditioned to see a college education as a way up and out.
  • Colleges profit by requiring students to live on campus and eat in dining halls

Our daughter pays far more for room and board ($4879) than for tuition and books ($3135).

What does she get for it? Her housing cost of $3,369 pays for a walk-in closet-sized room that she is required to share with another human being, often a stranger, in such close quarters that their feet nearly touch when they’re stretched out on their beds, in pods that house six students who all must share a bathroom with little to no control over who or how many house guests they have, how late or loud they are, or how much drinking or drug use happens.

Her housing cost includes her being kicked out of the dorm for five days over Thanksgiving (no choice) and being required to vacate for the six weeks of Christmas break (within 24 hours of the last final).

She is on campus a total of 106 days for the semester, so her housing costs her $31.78 per day – which would be $950 a month in the real world. And her closet-sized $950 a month room doesn’t even include the cost of Internet or a gym, as most thousand-dollar-a-month apartments with three times the space would.

She is required to also pay (whether she uses them or not) an athletic fee of $133 and a technology fee of $160.

But the real kicker is the food plan, which all on-campus college students except seniors are required to have. She has to pay $1,510 per semester to eat. That averages out to $14 per day, or $98 per week, for one person.

It’s downright criminal.  For $98 a week, she could feed a family of four at the grocery store!!

You would think it would be enough to get her through the semester, but the food plan only works at the college-provided dining hall. The average meal costs around $10; a small cup of oatmeal costs $1. Choices are limited, prices are high, quality is low…and the dining hall knows the kids are going to run out of money before the semester is over, pushing Mom and Dad to spend even more by adding money to their spending cards.

The students are locked into these meal plans and housing arrangements because they are a huge boon to the profits of the college or university, whose contracts with the vendors include kickbacks to the school or restrict the student’s spending to college-sanctioned locations.

It is so profitable for the colleges that many of them have gone from requiring just freshmen to live on campus to requiring all underclassmen to live on campus, locked into their private-world profit centers.  And it’s all funded by student loans, which kids willingly take with the promise of a brighter future.

To add insult to injury, the Federal government will not let you file bankruptcy on student loans, no matter how bad things get, and when you cannot afford to pay your loans (even for reasons such as no income or receiving public assistance), the student loan lenders have their own capitalized interest profit center going.

And as the latest unemployment numbers indicate, there are few jobs for all these kids the universities are pushing out the doors, yet the snake oil salesman are still coming to the high schools from the college campuses, promising a brighter future, while dumbing down education standards and admitting anyone with a pulse in order to fatten their coffers.

So as our own kids move through the public school system (we can’t afford anything else), we counter the brainwashing the school and society provides them about how important it is to go to college with our own advice:

            don’t go to college, don’t borrow from the government, don’t do anything but
            make it on your own merit, and don’t get yourself trapped in a college-bound,
            corporate track pursuit of this non-existent American dream.


Instead, we encourage them to be individuals and critical thinkers who are politically active and aware.  They can build their own dreams.

Recycling Is Great for Plastic, Not Politicians

by David T. Bruce

1994 - 2011 What's changed? Nothing!
1994 – 2011 What’s changed? Nothing!

The collective consciousness that is the Republican Party is scrambling to select a viable candidate to run against President Obama in the 2012 elections.  With the relentless in-fighting that has laid bare the faults, idiosyncrasies, and past transgressions of each of the Republican presidential candidates, the new frontrunner for the GOP is former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Gingrich’s political resume has already been scrutinized by the general public, the Republican Party, and the global media.  Americans will be regularly reminded of his successes and his failures, as we are asked to recall how he demonstrated bipartisanship when balancing the nation’s budget and how he was ultimately compelled to resign for overt belligerence and infantile behavior.  Mr. Gingrich was fined for unethical behavior, a first for any Speaker of the House.  With the facts known, polls indicate that Mr. Gingrich is still potentially considered as the best choice for our new president.

At least some Republican leaders seem to remember why Mr. Gingrich was obliged to resign, and given the typical longevity of our elected officials, I suspect that many remember.  As voters, we tend to be fickle and forgetful (you can bet that Gingrich is counting on this).  Our representatives tend to be self-interested.  All of these qualities are human traits and are sometimes forgivable.  Such a combination, however, during an election year in which Party platforms promote cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans (as if they did not enjoy enough tax loopholes already) and cutting health care benefits for the poorest Americans, places our nation at rick of further stagnation on economic, academic, and environmental levels.

We talk of change, but all we see is regression.  When the Republican National Committee considers reclaiming a member of their party once shunned, we must question their motivation, if not their sanity.  If we are hoping to look forward as a nation, why are we looking backward?  Are there no fresh candidates that can speak their minds and not the stale rhetoric of the past few decades?  Are there no fresh ideas that offer some suggestion that we live in the 21st century and not the 19th century?  Is the 2012 Republican campaign about beating Obama or the Democratic Party in general, or is it about selecting a candidate that will unite and lead Americans?

Given President Obama’s lack of success in uniting both parties, and given his failure to employ a firmer hand when dealing with Congress, the desire to find new leadership is understandable.  The Democrats could indeed find another candidate, but they want to save face, thus becoming part of the problem as well.  Congress is part of the problem, and Newt Gingrich is representative of why Congress is part of the problem.  He has proven that much.

American voters must give up the mentality that we have to look to the past for answers.  We must give up the notion that our elected officials deserve to be reelected, including the President.  If these men and women are not doing their jobs effectively, we have the right to ask them to step down.  We have the right to elect new leaders.  The challenge for our elected officials is how to keep their jobs.  Our challenge as American voters is to unite ourselves in the endeavor to mold this country into what we want, not what career politicians want.

Recycling is great but the last thing we need to do is recycle old politicians. As a group, we need to get off our asses, educate ourselves, and begin recruiting people to hold office who are capable of putting the country ahead of their own personal agendas.

The Republicans Are After Your Money, Freedom, and Dignity

Especially if you are 50 or older, make less than $506,600 per year, or female.

by Shadra Bruce

2012-repugsThe Republican Party and Tea Party have declared an all-out war on Americans. In fact, it’s a bit ironic but most of their intended policies, legislation, and tax proposals would harm their own constituents as much as it would harm those who don’t swallow what they’re trying to peddle.

The three main attacks of their war are: Medicare, Taxes, and Healthcare, otherwise known as the war against the elderly, the poor, and women. Great way to protect their patriarchal, rich-man, corporations-are-people society, but bad for America.

The War Against Senior Citizens

As if it weren’t enough that Wisconsin is attempting to disenfranchise older voters and Missouri is trying to force the aged population to pay more taxes to provide additional cuts to corporations, but the Republican/Tea Party in general has targeted senior citizens – the same group who overwhelmingly voted them into power in 2010. First, Republicans voted down the $250 to adjust for no cost of living increase. Then, they started after Medicare – you know, that “entitlement” program that Republicans detest but that working Americans paid into for 20-30 years,  making false claims about the cost of the program and the savings provided under Obama’s healthcare plan. Their newest goal is to increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 and, in bed with for-profit insurance companies who would benefit from the plan, privatize the program.

The War Against the Poor

Cain, Perry, and other Republican hopefuls are all touting their flat tax plan. But according the Tax Policy Center, the biggest losers of a flat tax plan are the poor. Once again, the burden would be squarely placed on the backs of the poorest, hardest working Americans, while the rich would – you guessed it – get richer.

“Under the flat tax, low-income households would lose because they now pay no income tax and are eligible for a refundable EITC of up to $3,370. Although the flat tax is more progressive than a VAT, it is more regressive than the current system. A flat tax would provide huge gains for high-income households, both because their marginal tax rate would fall and because they consume relatively less of their income than do low-income households. As a result, if a flat tax were to raise as much revenue as the current one, the tax burden for the middle class would have to rise.”

The War Against Women

I’m not quite sure where to begin with this one. From attempting to defund Planned Parenthood to passing “personhood” laws that take away a woman’s choice by imposing a view that women are simply storage tanks for men’s babies to simply targeting women’s healthcare with outdated ideas and laws, the Republican Party and Tea Party have created a war against women that makes me wonder how any woman could choose to remain involved in the party.

While I’ve always been liberal, believing that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – not just the elite and corporations – I’ve never leaned so far left as I do today. I’m not a Democrat; I’m an uber liberal progressive (often referred to by those scared by their absorption of Fox News as the word of their God as a pinko commie insert expletives here). I lean further and further left by the desire to balance the pendulum that is trying so hard to swing so far to the right that the America I love will soon resemble countries we more closely associate with being targets of our special brand of democratic intervention.

If you are older than 50, make less than $506,600 per year, or female you should be thinking long and hard about who you want to represent you in Congress in 2012. Because the only “people” being represented by the Republican Party have the last name Inc.

Unemployment in America Is a CAPITOL Offense

by David T. Bruce

gechartThe same General Electric that is able to navigate enough tax loop holes to enjoy a zero dollar tax burden has also recently awarded American jobs to residents of Beijing, as the American Job Czar/GE CEO, Jeff Immelt, has opted to move the company’s X-ray technology headquarters to China.  The national unemployment rate remains at 9.1% (20 states have an unemployment rate of 9.0% or more), with over 44% of the unemployed measured as those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. While companies nationwide continue to layoff employees, major businesses such as GE look out for their own bottom line by sifting through tax code to avoid paying taxes and sending jobs overseas in the effort to save even more money.

In the effort to create jobs at home, the President has presented yet another jobs bill. A Wall Street Journal report compares two opposing scenarios regarding the possible result of spending $447 billion on this bill, suggesting that President Obama’s job bill will at best create 1.2 millions at the cost of $100,000, at worst $350,000. Of no surprise to anyone, the majority of Senate Democrats favored the bill, while enough Senate Republicans and a couple of Senate Democrats more concerned about their own jobs than the jobs of American citizens blocked the vote on this proposal.

Even as 63% of Americans are said to be in support of the American Jobs Act, Senators and Republicans continue to bicker over whether or not the bill should be passed, and if so, what parts of the bill should be passed and what parts of the bill should be eliminated.  The stalemate continues on Capitol Hill, with American citizens falling victim to the pathetic squabbling of pubescent bureaucrats in three-piece suits.  Democrats blame Republicans.  Republicans blame Obama.  In 2012, Senators and Representatives from across the aisle will blame a newly-elected president.  The rhetoric is the same.  The snowball affect, however, of a government waylaid by posturing and terminal campaigning is a constituency fed up with rising unemployment in tandem with rising food, energy, and health costs.

Admittedly, I do not know the inner-workings of Capitol Hill and the effort required to draft and promote a bill.  I suspect that our elected representatives make this process far more difficult than it needs to be, and I also suspect that they have their own selfish interests (and that of wealthy corporate donors) at heart.  When a bill is drafted to promote jobs, we would hope that this job targets promoting the growth of jobs, without various other frills, wants, or needs tagged onto the bill.  This is what happens, however.

Enough garbage is added to a bill that gives virtually every member of Congress a way to put a wedge into the promotion or passing of the bill. Congress: will you please adopt a “Schoolhouse Rock” method of passing a bill?  Pick a goal, write a plan, and get the job done.  The United States is not your personal Monopoly board, and American citizens are not a stack of Chance or Community Chest cards.  We have as much of a chance of winning at your game as we do of winning the grand prize playing McDonald’s Monopoly.  Americans are obviously losing, and many of us are tired of playing by your rules.

There’s a huge outcry in America about bringing in foreign workers to fill American jobs, but where’s the outcry for companies who outsource jobs to other countries? Corporations who outsource jobs should be heavily penalized for doing so, making the cost benefit of sending jobs overseas an expensive consideration.

ONE: Famine is the real F-Word

childWe are dedicating our space to a cause worthy of attention. Thanks, Bono and ONE for making a difference.

Drought is inevitable, but famine is not. The current crisis in the Horn of Africa is the result of a tragic combination of factors that are man-made, including abnormally high food prices, lack of governance and security in Somalia, and a historic lack of investment in long-term agricultural development in the Horn. Over the past few years, we lost the political will and public support necessary to prevent the famine – and its causes. As a consequence, tens of thousands of children have died.

We have also missed the opportunity to help 200 million people from poor farming families lift themselves out of poverty. Communities in Africa can cope with droughts and natural disasters. But we need donors to put resources toward seeds, irrigation and teaching farmers new growing techniques. We need leaders to invest in early warning systems and national social safety net programs.

Congress can help keep our commitment to farmers in developing countries by fully funding Feed the Future— a life-changing USAID initiative that is investing in long-term agricultural development and could help put an end to famine for good.

Please sign our petition to Congress calling on them to fund this vital program:

http://act.one.org/sign/hungry_no_more_us

Thank you!

Occupy Wall Street – Reclaim Our Independence

Only in America Can 1% Be The Majority

by David T. Bruce

occupytogether_poster07A small group of students are responsible for launching a campaign against the practices of Wall Street and the United States government, the fiscally brutal corporate tag-team that has launched their own campaign against the poorest Americans. In an Associated Press article, the events of the past two weeks surrounding the Wall Street Protests have been summarized, giving voice to the hundreds of citizens who are taking the time to exercise their power of speech during a time when millions of Americans feel powerless to do anything else. While the Republicans and Democrats continue pointing fingers at each other and the President (regardless of who holds the office), our federal government as a whole is demonstrating to an increasing number of American citizens that their health and welfare, their life and liberty, and their happiness mean nothing.

While 14 percent of Americans are relying on the food stamp program to feed themselves, the Republican Party is proposing for the 2012 budget plan that this program should be curtailed and restructured much in the same was as they are proposing to restructure the Medicaid program. Subsidies would be eliminated, replaced by federal grants. Capitol Hill has been relentless in their less-than-bipartisan efforts to shave billions of dollars from the deficit by cutting back on “entitlement” programs from the Americans who need assistance the most.

I am not writing of the small group of Americans who indeed enjoy taking something for nothing. I am writing of the Americans who have worked hard to build a life and raise a family and now find themselves without a job, without a home, and without money for food and healthcare – primarily because of a system that favored corporate greed and Wall Street corruption that led to a broken economy.  It is appalling that the government is cutting back on programs that these people paid taxes to help support while continuing to support tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and big oil.  I am writing of the Americans that are trying to get ahead and improve their lives but are trapped in a system that almost forces people to make less or go hungry, as food prices continue to rise.

While the Associated Press suggests that a clear objective is not apparent, the rallying cry is clear enough: “Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

This objective seems clear enough.

It is blatantly clear that the 1% does not get it – or does not want to. The objective does not need to be detailed or obtuse. The plan does not need to have a laundry list of stake holders and varied implementation strategies. The United States Constitution is the governing plan for this country, and our current government officials have spent at least the past few decades manipulating and twisting the words of the Constitution to satisfy their (im)moral, corporate, and personal agendas.

We have a right to speak out against such corruption, and the protestors on Wall Street are doing just that. We must speak out with words, with votes, and with dollars that work in support of Americans, not for a political party.

We may not be at Liberty Square with the protestors right now, but we stand firmly with them in every way, as members of the 99% who will no longer tolerate the disintegration of America over the greed, hypocrisy, and the corruption of Wall Street, Congress, and corporations.

Every year, our government asks that we donate $3 to the Presidential election campaign.  The instructions for the 1040 form specifically state that “the fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups.”

Please.

Candidates do not just depend on these contributions. They thrive on them, and the companies and groups that make these large contributions thrive on the support that their candidate gives to their cause.

Our federal government, led by either party, has done little or nothing for us over the past few decades – and little or nothing to change what is broken within the system. What little they have done has been to further their own interests and that of the major companies that have been filling and continue to fill the coffers of our elected representatives.

If any taxpayer is at all compelled to check the box that allows candidates to have any more money, please give the money to Occupy Wall Street or similar movements. Give $3 to a homeless person. Help feed a neighbor. Those people are the Americans that are fighting for the rights of all Americans, and they do so without massive contributions or media attention.

Take heed, Wall Street. Someday – perhaps soon – American citizens will have nothing left to lose and will gleefully sit by and watch while your economic empire crumbles.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. – Declaration of Independence

We Cannot Afford the Death Penalty for a Number of Reasons

by David T. Bruce

death penaltyTroy Davis, convicted of the fatal shooting of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989, was put to death on September 21, 2011 in the state of Georgia.  Davis was convicted, although no gun was found, and no DNA evidence was produced unquestionably linking the accused to the crime.

A recent Reuters news article pointed out that in 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Davis receive a new hearing to examine new evidence that would support his innocence.  Furthermore, “former FBI Director William Sessions called for Davis’ sentence to be commuted to life in prison, saying the case was ‘permeated in doubt.’”  The new evidence, however, was rejected by the U.S. District Court in Georgia a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the review.  Last-minute appeals to the county court and pardons board were likewise rejected.  With significant cause to doubt the validity of Davis’ conviction, why were the survivors and the Georgia officials hell-bent on executing a potentially innocent man?

An article in the Huffington Post describes an incident reported in the New Yorker that shows an innocent man was wrongly accused of a murder and subsequently executed following 12 years on death row.  The investigative reporter, David Grann, points out that “experts who testified [against the accused] should have known” that the forensic evidence was “completely invalid.”  A forensic research consultant submitted data from the Death Penalty Information Center illustrating that prior to the 1972 Furman moratorium (overturned in 1976), approximately 14,489 executions were recorded, and since 1977, 1,118 (1,267 as of September 18, 2011) have been executed.  Of those sentenced to death since 1977, 139 have been exonerated; an estimated 39 inmates found to be innocent were wrongly executed.  Based on data collected in 2009 approximately 11% of the people convicted of a crime warranting the death penalty have been found to be innocent.  Such a failure rate suggests that the system is flawed, and this also suggests that the fate of Troy Davis is not isolated nor the argument in favor of his innocence uncalled for.

A brief review of recent statistics related to the death penalty illustrate that the United States is the only industrialized nation other than Japan that tolerates the death penalty, and seemingly in spite of evidence suggesting innocence or mental retardation.  Thirty-four states currently allow for executions, typically by lethal injection; however, the use of the electric chair is legal.  How can this be, when according to a Lake Research Partners 2010 poll, 61% of voters believed that a punishment other than the death penalty should be used against those convicted of murder?

I cannot begin to fathom the grief that survivors must endure when a loved one is murdered.  At the same time, I cannot reconcile in my own mind how we can present ourselves to the rest of the world as a society and a country that is evolved and against cruelty to man, while we can put a person to death based on circumstantial evidence.  How can we as a nation persistently tout the rights of the unborn child, while we look the other way as inmates are put to death for crimes that may not have committed?  Frighteningly, how many of us can look onward as those on death row are executed?  How many of us demand retribution?  Why were the Georgia officials and the survivors hell-bent on the execution of Troy Davis?

Revenge.

Is this human emotion understandable?  Yes.  Does this help us understand why officials looked the other way or ignored evidence suggesting the innocence of the convicted?  No.  Should we search for an alternative to execution?  Yes.

If we cannot rationalize the moral and ethical implications associated with the death penalty, then let’s talk about something that we can rationalize: the cost, especially as the fate of our global economy is also in question.  The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice reported that an additional $90,000 is spent per inmate sentenced to death per year, compared to that of inmates serving life sentences. The 670 inmates on death row in California cost the state an additional $63.3 million annually.  The commission estimates the annual cost of the current death penalty system to be $137 million. With suggested reforms, that cost would rise to $232.7 million per year. To impose a lifetime of incarceration instead of the death penalty would cost $11.5 million per year. That’s a savings of $125 million or more per year, just in California.

During a period of time when our nation is struggling to make ends meet, we have no valid fiscal excuse for executing prisoners.  Not that we have a good excuse to begin with.  “An eye for an eye” has a nice barbaric ring to it, but we as a society must find some resolve for our need for revenge.  We are not doing ourselves any justice by putting someone to death.  A piece of us is lost when we turn our backs to this bias. There must be far better punishments than the death penalty.

Lawfully convicted murderers should live with their crimes and suffer a lifetime of incarceration without hope for parole.  This is obviously a less expensive alternative.  Execution is more expensive, sets convicted murderers free (death can indeed be construed as freedom), and presents the risk of executing an innocent person (thereby committing murder – who answers for that crime?).  Ultimately, execution is for the benefit of the survivors.  We are giving in to the basest part of ourselves, and we are kidding ourselves by arguing otherwise.

An innocent man was executed on September 21, 2011.  Many innocent people have been executed before him, and many more will follow.  We speak of change.  This is a change we must make – for our own humanity.

The United States Government – A Burden on Society

by David T. Bruce

A recent article from the Associated Press asks the question: Is it the responsibility of the government to fix the economy? Presidential candidate hopefuls maintain that if the federal government steps back, “[t]he economy will thrive.” If the government would learn how to balance a budget and manage its own spending, we could argue that we would not be suffering the crisis that we are today.  As much as the majority of the Republican Party would like to deny association with the constituents they so proudly embrace every two to four years, our government and the people are intertwined.

If people are employed and prospering financially, then the government does well. This can be measured by an increase in spending and a subsequent increase in tax revenue. We recently had a brief reminder of what might happen were the government to shut down: military veterans and social security recipients may not receive benefits, and many federal employees may find themselves temporarily unemployed. We rely on the government, and the government relies on the populace. As is asked in the AP analysis, “[w]hat is the right balance?”

When debating about balancing the budget, the question is not whether or not our nation has money. The question is what to do with the money we have. We obviously have money enough to engage in at least two (arguably three) land conflicts. An analysis by Chris Hellman illustrates that the funds requested for nuclear weapons in 2007 surpassed “the average amount spent by the Pentagon during the Cold War, for a military that is one-third smaller than it was just over a decade ago.” Bill Boyarsky points out in his study that “the total bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to CostofWar.com, is now $1.24 trillion.” Adding the cost of movements in Pakistan, the cost to Americans for these conflicts will total between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. We have enough money to wage war perpetually.

We also have money enough to bail out businesses that fail in their professional and fiduciary responsibilities. Bailout figures show that $2.7 billion was spent in 2009, while $445 billion was spent in 2007 and $1.7 trillion was spent in 2008 under Republicans. These numbers and the numbers illustrating expenditures on military endeavors over the past several years demonstrate that the government does not want to give money to help the voting constituents they feign to adore. They do, however, want to provide money in abundance to the big companies, thereby securing the votes for which they truly care.

When our elected officials gather together to balance the budget, a gesture on their part to balance how these billions and trillions of dollars are allocated would be a step towards truly appreciating those people who are the foundation of America. Certainly, there are those people (of the smallest minority) that make bad decisions and choose to live solely under the umbrella of services that local and federal governments provide. The majority, however, are suffering as the result of bad decisions made by our elected officials.

Is it the responsibility of these officials to fix the economy? Yes! They screwed it up!

I am tired of the government reneging on what they think citizens are not entitled to, while they give companies trillions of dollars in entitlements, rewards for making bad choices.  I think many Americans feel the same way.  As citizens of this country, we are expected to manage our affairs in such a way that we do not become a burden on society. This election year, and every election year from now on, our mandate to Capitol Hill must be that our elected officials keep their houses in order.

Judging from what we are witnessing, they are the burden on our society.

Enough is enough. Stop bickering. Start doing your jobs. Fix your mess. Fix the economy. Step down from your pedestals and podiums and get your hands dirty. This is not about you and the next election. This is about today, and this is about the future of our country.