The State of the Union is strong.
Its politicians, however, are stupid and bought off by everybody from Oil Billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Saudi sheiks, to transnational corporations and defense contractors.
Which is problem one. Our Supreme Court has said that money is the same thing as speech. It’s not. It’s money.
Our Supreme Court has also said that corporations are persons. They are not. They are voluntary associations. The Bill of Rights was not written to protect the East India Company – it was written to protect individual people.
So we need to amend our Constitution to clearly and explicitly say that “Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.”
Problem two is at the core of why we have a government. Why did those guys two-and-a-half centuries ago put their lives on the line, and fight and die, to create the United States? And why have people fought and died over and over again in the intervening years to keep this nation?
Jefferson put it quite simply in the Declaration of Independence that “governments are instituted among Men” to “secure” the “unalienable” rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So, the question: Why do we have government?
Easy answer: To provide life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Does that mean government should be hysterical about its budget deficit, when there is no problem created by that deficit? No, that’s stupid.
Does it mean that government should be hysterical about how much it’s spending, when our government is spending about half as much of its GDP as most other developed nations, and our own spending compared to ourselves is at levels lower than in most of the past half-century? No, that’s stupid, too.
Those are manufactured hysterias to get our government to do things that will further destroy the middle class and enrich the banksters and billionaires. They have nothing to do with the purpose of government.
If the job of government is to protect the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – what the Constitution repeatedly refers to as the “General Welfare” – then the real issue government should be laser-focused on is obvious. It’s jobs.
In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt suggested that we should put into law a Second Bill of Rights that would codify what he was already doing with the New Deal. And one of the most important among those was the right to a job.
When capitalism fails to provide for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, when the so-called “free market” fails to provide for the General Welfare – which happens constantly, because those things are not the job of capitalism – then logically those responsibilities fall to government. It’s why we created our government.
And that means making the government the employer of last resort.
There are over $2.5 trillion worth of infrastructure repair we need just to bring ourselves back to being in the same shape we were in when Reagan became President and began ignoring infrastructure. That’s a hell of a lot of jobs. Additionally, we need to be building out 21st century versions of our four most important forms of infrastructure. Those four are our intellectual infrastructure, our communications infrastructure, our energy infrastructure, and our transportation infrastructure.
To build out our intellectual infrastructure we need to go back to our government policies of free education. These were first proposed by Thomas Jefferson when he created the University of Virginia as a free college, then advanced by Abraham Lincoln when he granted huge swaths of land to create tuition-free Land Grant colleges across America. They saw a large fulfillment during the Truman and Eisenhower years with the GI bill, which raised the percentage of Americans who’d attended college from around six percent to over twenty percent. That intellectual infrastructure, built in the 1950s, was the basis of the invention explosion of the 60s and 70s and 80s that brought us the modern computer age. It’s time to fully fund our public schools, and to make college and trade schools free for any high school graduate who wants to attend.
To build out our communications infrastructure, we need to lay a national fiber-optic internet system. And open it up to competition – any company can use it, so we can have competitive pricing of high-speed broadband like Europe, Japan, South Korea and other countries do. Where you can get – literally – internet access at ten times faster than in the US for about twenty dollars a month.
To build out our energy infrastructure, we need to take a lesson from Germany and backstop banks to loan every homeowner in America enough to put solar panels on their homes. Meanwhile, we need to build a national energy smart-grid to handle all this new – and localized – power. Additionally, we need to backstop local communities and states in building wind farms, solar farms, wave-power installations, and other forms of renewable energy.
And, like Europe, we need to make this all competitive by making the Carbon Industry pay for their own externalities – the cost of the military to protect their oil lines, the cost of healthcare to pay for their cancers, the cost of environmental destruction. We make them pay for this with a simple carbon tax, which then also instantly makes renewable energies less expensive than 19th century fossil fuels.
To build out our transportation infrastructure, we need to take a lesson from Europe and China and build a national high-speed rail system. As CSX loves to remind us in their TV ads, they can move a ton of freight – or a ton of people – over 500 miles on a single gallon of fuel. We once had a rail system that was the envy of the world, and it was the staging ground for our industrial revolution. We need to build it anew.
And all of this brings us to the third opportunity, which is also a threat, to our great Union. That’s global warming. Scientists tell us that our current burn rate of fossil fuels will raise the temperature of our planet 5 degrees Celsius. That, in turn, will warm our oceans enough to release trillions of tons of methane hydrate that’s currently frozen along our continental shelves, and those greenhouse gasses will raise the temperature of our planet another five degrees. Ten degrees total.
The last time that happened was 250 million years ago when continents were being torn apart and a massive lava flow that covered most of what is now Siberia raised the Earth’s temperature 5 degrees, triggering a melt of the methane crystals that raised it another five degrees.
That ten degree increase in temperature is what geologists now refer to as the Permian Extinction. Ninety-five percent of all life on Earth, both on land and sea, died off. It was the worst of all of the five major extinctions our planet has seen. It took 80,000 years for life to begin to bounce back, and ushered in the age of the dinosaurs.
We are creating our own Permian Extinction, and we need to stop it now. That carbon tax will be a great first step. And there’s much more to do beyond that.
So that’s the state of our nation. We are not broke – we are the richest nation in the world. We don’t have a deficit or a spending problem – we have a jobs problem. And we are not any longer going to let trickle-down economics turn us into a Third World nation – we are going to rebuild and then update our critical infrastructures.
And, in the process, we will save ourselves from making ourselves extinct.
These are the challenges before us, and we can meet them. If you, the people, will get behind the effort now. Time’s a’ wasting…