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America at a crossroads

Cooperation and compromise or confrontation and gridlock; the route to Renaissance or Armageddon

Guest Commentary By Roy Eaton

We are at a crossroads in America. We are a polarized nation at a time when most civilizations with similar longevity began to falter. Former empires began to stumble when their leadership became indifferent to the needs of their populace, engaged in self-indulgence, lacked moral conviction, and waged war to expand markets and obtain natural resources. Most societies failed when the general public became overly materialistic, complacent, and inattentive to the needs of others and to the actions of their faltering government in which they had lost confidence.

Many Americans believe we are heading toward economic Armageddon because those who govern are unable to compromise in order to substantially cut expenditures, raise revenues, and put in place the structural changes needed to reduce our country’s annual deficits and spiraling massive national debt. America has numerous complex issues to address including an antiquated education system, escalating city and state budgets, and an aging population. We have failed to tackle our spiraling healthcare costs, infrastructure decay, depletion of farm lands, long-term structural unemployment and a fragmented energy policy. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, immigration, tax legislation, and campaign finance regulations are in dire need of long term reforms. However, instead of supporting efforts that would encourage the executive and legislative branches to work together and address these issues, a good number of influential legislators, corporate leaders, and prominent citizens have opted instead, to champion their own personal causes. To achieve their goals, they either target the low and lower middle income earners who tend to favor big government, or court the upper middle class and wealthy earners who generally support the business sector, thus dividing our people and severely restricting Congress’s ability to compromise and govern. History tells us that this polarization of the classes will not lead to a peaceful coexistence, but will instead promote social unrest, for, as in the case of Russia and China, there were far more members of the former two classes than the latter, and the end result was violent revolution.

Thomas Jefferson stated, “Every government degenerates when entrusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are the only safe depositories.” As Jefferson clearly understood, it is the duty of all Americans to continuously guard our constitution and our institutions, and it is our responsibility to intercede whenever stupidity, ignorance, intolerance, and complacency governs. As government misconduct continues to gain our attention, we must become far more proactive and persistent in our pursuit to rid the political system of those who possess such dishonorable traits and amateurish standards.

Jefferson best described our current state of political affairs over 200 years ago when he said, “If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I and Congress and assemblies, judges and Generals, shall become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.” Thomas Jefferson clearly understood ‘Man’s’ weaknesses and corruptibility. He clearly warned the American people how our apathy and negligence would encourage corruption, and create a predatory mindset that breeds greed and cruelty. We failed to heed his advice and we are feeling the consequences of our neglect.

When a nation’s people are prosperous and content, they have a tendency to become inattentive and complacent. This too, is human nature. Until impacted by our current economic downturn, many Americans had become overly complacent, because many believed the trickle down theory had enabled them to experience ‘the good life.’ Only when our personal lives were adversely affected by the actions of those within the public and private sectors, did we tend to become thoughtful and responsive and begin to scrutinize the actions of our governing authority.

Thankfully, our current business cycle and two wars have begun to awaken the dormant spirit that, in the past, has given our nation and its people the will and ability to challenge inept government and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Our economic implosion provided the hindsight and insight required to enlighten and re-energize the American voter who has just begun to clearly demonstrate a propensity to send representatives who fail to responsibly govern to the unemployment line they helped create. We have trusted our elected representatives to guard our interests and safeguard our future, and they have failed to meet our expectations. They have been unable to compromise and govern sensibly and effectively. One of the best examples of our representatives’ total disregard for the consumer and their inability to responsibly govern, was their repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagell Act passed during the ‘Great Depression’ of the thirties. Created to protect depositors (and taxpayers) from the risks of commercial bank collaboration with investment firms and their speculative investment in securities, the dismantling likely created, or at least exacerbated, the conditions that led to our current economic crises.

Unfortunately, government has not gotten the message. Congress lacks the will and courage to act, as illustrated by its recent failure to guarantee equal pay for equal work for women. Although our current economy may not be able to absorb the shock of such an immediate rectification, the equalization of wages should have been approved and phased in over a period of time as the economy improves. The failure to do so continues to foster unacceptable discrimination that is in contrast to what our country preaches to nations that fail to honor the civil rights of their citizens.

Americans often forget that our President is an administrator and blame him exclusively for the lack of legislative progress. Congress is an independent legislative branch of government and its inability to function as such and to compromise has been pathetic. But, there is no need to point fingers at one another. There is plenty of blame to go around. In order to provide a system of checks and balances, our forefathers divided government into three sectors; the Administrative Branch to provide leadership, the Legislative Branch to pass legislation, and the Judicial Branch to uphold the law of the land. What our forefathers did not anticipate was the failure of all three branches to respond in an appropriate manner. We did not develop trillion dollar deficits, or amass a 17 trillion dollar national debt because of one administration or one congress. It was a concerted effort over a prolonged period of time that caused our current debacle. Our Administrative Branch failed to provide adequate leadership, our Congress failed to protect the interests of its constituents, and the Judicial Branch failed to penalize to the full extent of the law those whose fraudulent actions created or exacerbated our current crises.

What our country needs is fewer bureaucrats and more ‘statesmen.’ This fall, voters must present a clear mandate to our representatives in Washington to work together to introduce constructive legislation that will continue to streamline government, strengthen our defenses, encourage economic growth, and lead to the development of a long-term, comprehensive plan that will address our primary areas of concern including, once our economy begins to fully recover, the reduction in annual deficits and in our spiraling debt. As the General Accounting Office showed during their lavishly obscene Las Vegas convention antics, much needs to be done to eliminate waste and deceit.

Yes, the United States needs a strong centralized government to protect our citizens from all threats, foreign and domestic, and to assist our citizens who are truly incapable of caring for themselves. But, we also need a rational government that recognizes we shouldn’t waste our limited resources aiding countries like Pakistan, which pose a danger to our country, and acknowledges that it is immoral to provide for those abroad while we neglect our own at home.

It is time that political parties set aside personal differences and select a path that is best for all our people. We have spent most of the past 100 years involved in war or some form of police action which has cost us dearly in American lives and resources. During the last fifty years, misrepresentations and miscalculations have engaged our men and women in several prolonged conflicts such as Vietnam and Iraq even though their governments posed little or no direct threat to the United States. America must be far more discreet when we place our soldiers in harms way, and it should not be for resources, conflicting ideology, or regime change.

Our government must learn to regard history and not repeat the same mistakes. Unfettered greed, impaired judgments, and questionable business practices resulted in the collapse of large institutions that nearly led to the insolvency of our great nation and the economies of many of our allies. Unfortunately, inept government has again allowed similar mammoth corporations to become bigger by absorbing these failed institutions that were once considered ‘too big to fail,’ thus increasing the risk in the future of a reoccurrence of similar events, but with much more dire consequences. Americans must never again assume that in either the public or private sectors, big is necessarily better. ‘Too big to fail’ is an absurd assumption. Big government and many of our big institutions have failed the American people, and their actions and inactions have led to our current crises.

We can no longer allow greed to dominate our market place and create bubbles that inevitably burst and result in severe economic downturns that destroy lives and wreak havoc on our economy. We must demand regulation that discourages abuses that distort business cycles and cripple our economy. We must never fail to hold governments and businesses accountable for immoral, unethical, and illegal behavior that disrupts and hinders economic expansion. And, we can no longer tolerate the political gridlock which continues to foster fiscal uncertainty.

To sustain our historically high standard of living and prominent status among other nations, our administrative and legislative branches of government must find a way to work together not only with one another, but in guarded harmony with the business sector of the economy. To do any less will result in an America that is far different than we anticipate and deserve. This is not an easy task, for all three sectors seem to have their own agendas, all of which, if approached with an unbiased view, could be tempered into legislation that would address most concerns and, in the long run, benefit all Americans. The private and public sectors need to realize that they are not in opposition for it is the business sector in a healthy robust economy that provides the capital required for the development of technologies and the creation of the millions of jobs we so desperately need, including those in the public sector. But, in a weak economy, it is the public sector that helps sustain the minimal growth that prevents a total collapse of the economy.

At the end of 2012, the American economy will bear the burden of spending cuts of $109 billion, substantial tax increases across all income sectors, and a reduction in unemployment benefits. Yet, Congress continues to fail to address these issues, while simultaneously proclaiming that investors and corporations require fiscal certainty before allocating capital for growth. We can no longer permit our representatives to abstain from expeditiously introducing and implementing fair and rational graduated reforms by allowing them to question our resolve to accept the hardship ramifications of comprehensive structural change.

The time has come to elect officials who have the courage to act on behalf of the majority of their constituents regardless of their own personal belief, party line, or third party coercion, because their obligation is to those they represent, not to private interests, special interest groups, or donors. If our politicians choose to take the lower path and dishonor their office and the people they serve, we must hold those who govern accountable for this breach of faith, because it is our duty to continually remind them they are our collective voice and not an instrument of a singular party or group. We must also remind them we are merely temporarily entrusting them for a specific period of time with our vote and not electing self-promoting career politicians who seek to amass fame and fortune.

‘Big businesses’ must get ‘the message,’ as well. We have trusted business to behave in an ethical and responsible manner, but they too have failed the American people. Several of our largest corporations have forgotten that their purpose is twofold; to generate a profit and to provide an exceptional product or professional service.

Many executives oppose legislation such as the Dodd-Frank Reform Act that was enacted to safeguard the consumer from inappropriate and fraudulent business practices and restore responsibility, accountability, and confidence in our financial system. Many of our larger corporations have yet to earnestly rid themselves of the waste and excesses and the opulent lifestyle afforded a select few within their upper management. The overseers of these excesses and improprieties should be their boards of directors who often fail to reign in the executives of the companies they serve, and the stockholders who, in the past, have been far too complacent. Recent headlines suggest that structural changes in business may be on the horizon. Investments firms and major shareholders have become proactive, often voicing opposition to managerial actions and executive compensation they believe are not in the best interests of companies or their stockholders. Change will be slow coming, however, for far too many top executives within the corporate sector still believe that greed is good. One corporate leader, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, actually stated he was doing God’s work!

The next thirty years will tell if we have learned from our past mistakes and from those of the former great civilizations that preceded the formation of our United States. Through a collective effort, Americans developed most of the revolutionary technologies of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, placed men on the moon, eradicated many of the viruses and diseases that infected children and plagued mankind, and thwarted the collapse of moral civilization by rampant Twentieth Century madmen like Hitler, who attempted to dehumanize ‘Mankind’ and gain world dominance. If our ancestors were able to come together to conquer what many perceived as insurmountable obstacles, then we should be ashamed of our misgivings regarding our ability to overcome our current crises.

As we celebrate our independence this Fourth of July, we must remember that our founding fathers jeopardized their welfare and material possessions to guarantee our freedoms for they fully understood the greatness of the nation they helped create. We must understand that we will only maintain our sovereignty as a nation if we are able to rid our government of gridlock, and force an alliance of cooperation and compromise that will enable all branches of government to operate effectively. We will only remain a beacon to the world if we continue to be innovative, productive, industrious, attentive, righteous, selfless, and tolerant. The nations of the world have admired the American people for these very characteristics. Perhaps it is time that all Americans rediscover the honorable traits we possess and others strive to inherit. We are the greatest nation on earth and it is time we act accordingly. Yes, America is at a cross roads, and the time has come to choose the correct path.


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