Issue of the Quarter
All Issue Papers were written by Al Usack, Social Justice Committee
Issue of the Quarter January-March 2019
US Immigration and Refugee Policies
When I agreed that I would write about immigration and refugee policies, I hadn’t thought much about how I could possibly cover such a complex issue in a couple of pages. After all, I had done so on the topic of immigration reform in the March, 2013 Issue of the Month! Finally, I decided that all I could possibly do was to summarize the issues again and to suggest how we, as a congregation, may be able to contribute to humanitarian solutions.
U.S. Immigration and Refugee Policies: Congress has been amiss for many years about any real changes in our policies which results in a mish-mash of laws, many of which are controversial and require legal interpretation. For example, attempts to allow a path to citizenship of undocumented immigrants or to allow children of these immigrants who were not born here but have gone through our education system to become citizens (the so-called dreamers) have never been passed. Also, present laws are skewed toward acceptance of Caucasians and Christians and against other races and those who are not Christian. There are laws, however, that do give protections to immigrants and especially to refugees. However, because of the strong anti-immigrant and anti-refugee feelings of many Americans these laws are constantly being challenged.
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The Present State of Affairs: Politicians – especially conservatives – have made immigration one of if not the major issue in the country. They have exaggerated harmful acts by immigrants, they have been less than truthful about causes of harmful activities involving aliens and they have called for measures that would have little impact on emigration to this country (the Great Wall). Also, they have promoted the idea that we are fast becoming a white minority nation and how bad this would be for our country. Some of the responses by their opposition also have been questionable. The result is a lot of conflicting dialogue but with little attempt to really fix the nation’s response to longstanding issues related to immigrants and refugees that make it even more difficult for those who have lived, worked and paid taxes here for years to become citizens.
Immigrants or Refugees?: First of all, we need to quit simplifying the problem and quit exaggerating the negative effects. For example many people and even some of our officials, ignore the difference between a person who wants to come to this country to get a better job or a higher standard of living (immigrants) and a person who wants to move out of their native land because of the danger to themselves or their loved ones if they remain there (refugees). Many of the immigrants have work permits (green cards) and have no intention of becoming citizens and remain loyal to the country they have left. A lot of them work on farms or do factory work that is distasteful to most Americans. However, if they are relatively young and they have children, the children automatically become citizens and often become acculturated as Americans and wish to stay here. Or they may bring children with them when they come to America who after being here for many years also want to stay here. Gradually many of the immigrants become accustomed to America and stay here as undocumented (illegal) immigrants.
The number of immigrants entering the U.S. during the Obama administration fell greatly, especially those crossing the southern border and this has continued in the Trump administration. This decline has been due mostly to improvements in border defense including a large increase in border patrol personnel. Also a large number of undocumented immigrants have been deported over the last 10 years. Nevertheless, there are still about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S and this number has remained stable for many years. Most of these immigrants simply stay in the country when their green cards or visas expired.
Our immigration laws make it almost impossible for most of these undocumented immigrants to become citizens because of stringent and conflicting immigration laws and the unwillingness of congress to revise such laws, The Cato Institute, a libertarian (and somewhat conservative) organization has published a “short list” of 26 ways that the legal immigration system is broken starting with “a far too restrictive system overall” and ending with “America has closed borders with a few holes”. It might be noted that #23 is: ”The President can ban any immigration that he doesn’t like”. Short summaries of each of the 26 ways is included in their report. A copy of their list is available in the folder on the Social Justice table and for more details on the difficulties check out “U.S. Citizenship Requirements” on the internet.
The number of refugees is much smaller. America has resettled a total of about 3 million refugees since 1980, but it lags far behind most countries in the number of refugees we accept per capita and the detention period often may last anywhere between 3 and 20 years due to the lack of sufficient expertise and the difficulty of collecting the required background material on the applicants. To get some perspective on this number, in 2016, alone, 17.2 million people were displaced from their homes due to conflict or persecution around the world. In the 1990’s most of the refugees in the U. S. came from Europe and Asia with hardly any from Latin America. Since then, a large portion were from Asia with about one-fourth from Latin America. One could argue that the larger influx from Latin America could be countered by efforts to reduce political and criminal tensions, especially in Central America and the northern countries of South America.
What can we do to help ensure a humanitarian response to this issue both as a congregation and as individuals. One thing we could do would be to go back to the Study/Action Issue that was passed at the UU General Assembly in Louisville in 2014. The study guide suggested a 6-week curriculum on immigration which included: causes of migration, history of immigration in the U.S., economics of (im)migration, security/enforcement of human rights, who benefits from broken system, and seeking solutions. We also can help immigrants learn English (MUUF member Chris MacCormack is always looking for help here in Bradenton) and MUUF member Bernita Franzel is very savvy on local Latina organizations and groups that could use help. We all can support the Immokalee Workers in their Fair Food efforts and other activities that they are involved in. Perhaps we could contact local schools to find out where and how help might be needed And, perhaps most important we could help by political advocacy – by voting, by helping minority voters to register, and by demonstrating for human rights for immigrants. And, we can contact our senators and representatives and urge them to support humanitarian immigrant and refugee reform.
I have put together a folder that includes a number of reports and comments on our immigration and refugee system. Please feel free to peruse these items but do return them to the folder when you have finished with them.
Issue of the Quarter, September-November 2018 Prepare For, Beware of, Amendments
When you vote in the General Election this November, besides voting for candidates of your choice, you will be asked to vote for or against 13 amendments to the Florida constitution. Among the amendments the first 5 are pretty straightforward (2 of these were placed there through citizen petition drives and 3 were recommended by the state legislature). Amendments 6-13 are the result of bundling of some 20 recommendations by the Constitution Revision Commission that had its once every 20 years meeting this year. Many of these are very difficult to vote on because in the bundling process one or two recommendations in each amendment tend to be changes that would be popular while the other one or two may be unpopular or concerns of only a small portion of voters.
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All of this is too complex for detailed evaluation in this short report, and, in fact will probably lead to long long lines at the voting booths as people try to figure out how to vote. Also, because a 60% plurality is required for passage, it will probably be very difficult to pass any of the amendments, some of which might make useful changes and cover long sought needs.
Before you vote, I would suggest that you look up the pros and cons on the internet and/or look at the recommendations of the LWV (League of Women Voters). For those who do not use the internet or would like to limit their own research time, the following is a very brief summary of each proposed amendment and the position of the League on each. Also, at the Share a Dish on October 12, we will have presentations and discussion concerning the amendments.
Amendment 1, Increased Homestead Property Exemption – This legislative referred amendment would raise the tax exemption amount for homes valued at $125,000 or more by $25,000. I see no good reason to provide reduction in taxes for homes that are worth the most. Also, it has been pointed out that the tax saving though only about $200 per household would have a negative impact on the tax income for local jurisdictions. The LWV says vote no on this amendment.
Amendment 2, Limitations on Property Tax Assessments – This legislative referred amendment would cement any property tax assessment increase to10% over the previous year’s assessment. The LWV also opposes this amendment. If anything, this should be a legislative action rather than an amendment related to a highly unlikely occurrence.
Amendment 3, Voter Control of Gambling in Florida – This citizen initiated amendment would give voters the exclusive right to decide to authorize expansions of casino gambling in Florida through a constitutional amendment. The LWV which has taken a stand against gambling favors this amendment and I personally agree with their position. If the amendment passes it will mean that casino-type gambling will be limited to tribal facilities per federal legal mandate as it is at present and the state legislature will not be able to approve non-tribal facilities.
Amendment 4 , Voting Restoration Amendment – I strongly support the LWV’s position to vote yes on this citizen initiated amendment which would automatically restore voting rights to most ex-felons in Florida. See my last Issue of the month for more detail about this amendment.
Amendment 5, Super-majority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees –This legislative referred amendment would require a two-thirds majority to raise taxes or fees. I agree with the LWV position to oppose this amendment which could stymie legislative action due to emergencies and its ability to pass a reasonable budget.
The rest of the amendments are the result of bundling some 20 recommendations of the Constitution Revision Commission.
Amendment 6 expands victims rights under the state Constitution: I agree with LWV’s opposition of this amendment which increases the retirement age of judges, expands victim rights and forces courts and judges to interpret laws and rules for themselves rather than rely on interpretations by government agencies.
Amendment 7, First Responder and Military Member Survival Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities: The LWV opposes this amendment because they oppose a supermajority vote to increase fees or taxes. They also indicate that the survivor of a military person who died in the line of service is already compensated through the federal government. This is a terrible combination that tries to give legislators control over student fees along with an additional death benefit to the main survivor of a person who has been killed while serving in the military. I agree with LWV.
Amendment 8, School Board Term Limits and Duties, Public Schools: Again, this is an effort to combine some terrible objectives (that is, public support of private schools) with at least one that sounds pretty good (requirement for civics education in schools), with a third thing most people probably couldn’t care less about (term limits and duties of school board members). I feel that LWV is right to oppose this amendment.
Amendment 9, Prohibits Offshore Oil andGas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces: LWV supports this amendment because they feel that defeat of the amendment sends a signal to federal authorities indicating voters do not care about off-shore drilling. This is certainly a strange combination but I personally am leaning toward voting for the amendment.
Amendment 10. State and Local Government Structure and Operation: This amendment combines four proposals – setting a starting date of January for the start of the State legislator’s session (currently the date changes by statute), the creation of a state counter-terrorism office, a requirement for a state veterans affairs department, and a proposal to make the election of five county-level offices a requirement. All of these offices are now being elected in all counties except in Dade (Miami) where the sheriff presently is appointed. I agree with LWVs opposition to this amendment. All of these matters are already taken care of (except the Miami sheriff that certainly is a local and not a state-wide issue) and the entire amendment appears to be an attempt to limit the power of local governments.
Amendment 11, Property Rights: Removal of Obsolete Provision: Criminal Statutes: LWV is neutral on this amendment – they feel that obsolete language should be removed from the constitution but say there is much more that is not included in this amendment. I see no reason to vote on an amendment that I feel could be taken care of by hiring a few experts to update the obsolete language and present it for State congressional approval.
Amendment 12, Lobbying and Abuse by Public Officers: This amendment expands ethics rules for elected officials, notably by expanding the time they can lobby the state government after they have left their position from two to six years. LWV takes no position on this amendment though they think that six years may be too onerous and that the amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns. I certainly agree with the last – The real problem is that the whole nation (including Florida) needs to find ways to reduce the impact of big money in politics. I have addressed this in previous Issue studies and especially in the one on Move to Amend.
Amendment 13, Ends Dog Racing: This amendment would end commercial dog racing involving wagering by 2020. LWV supports this amendment. It is still under litigation because of a suit by the Florida Greyhound Association and a judge’s ruling supporting the suit. I feel this is pretty straightforward and leave it up to you, the voter, and how you feel about animal rights and gambling.
Just a short note in conclusion: Many people have said “vote for 4 and no more” and this may be the way you want to handle the many complex issues that are covered in the 13 amendments
Issue of the Quarter July to September 2018 YES V0TE FOR AMENDMENT FOUR
Amendment 4 called Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative” is a citizen’s-initiated amendment that will appear on the ballot at the November 6 election. Passage of the amendment will automatically restore the voting rights of Floridians with Felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole and probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor or Cabinet approve the restoration of their voting rights on a case by case basis.
More than 1.2 million people in Florida (some 10% of Florida’s potential voters and including many veterans) are presently permanently excluded from voting because of a prior felony conviction. Florida is one of only four states that still has such a system. In the past, the only way that people who had already repaid their debt to society caused by a felony conviction was through a complicated political process which depended on the generosity of the Governor’s office. Under the four years of the Christ administration about 155,000 regained their right to vote but in the 7 years of the Scot administration when a 5-year waiting period was initiated along with the initiation of other obstacles, only 2,807 had their vote restored.
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What are the main arguments in favor the amendment?
1. A disproportionate number of the ineligible voters are black or Hispanic and this is but another way to exclude minorities from their voting rights.
2. In addition to voting rights, felons are often excluded from receiving help from government programs and private organizations, thus making it even more difficult to adjust to life when they get out of prison and recidivism is likely to be greater under these conditions.
3. Most people believe that folks who have made a mistake deserve a second chance. The right to vote is an important step in becoming full members of their community.
4. My own feeling is that if you are a citizen, you should have the right to vote so obviously if you served your time for committing a felony your reentrance into the community should entitle you to have the right to vote.
How did the amendment come about? Florida is one of only 4 states that do not automatically restore voting rights to felons who have been released from prison. Legal challenges including a judicial ruling earlier this year have fallen short and the present governor and legislature have been especially reluctant to provide voting rights to minorities, including ex-felons. Therefore, an organization called Floridians for a Fair Democracy was formed to collected signatures of state citizens to support a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights. Enough signatures were collected to include the amendment on the ballot this year.
Floridians for a Fair Democracy is leading the campaign to support the initiative. Desmond Meade is chairman of the organization and ACLU is the largest financial supporter. Officials who support the amendment include U.S. Representative Charlie Crist and gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine and Christopher King. So far Florida Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post have provided media support. As of early July, no media sources have opposed the Amendment. Opponents of the amendment include gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran. More details on the amendment including financial support from supporters and opponents is available on line — just check out Florida Amendment 4.
And a final reminder – in order to pass the amendment: people need to register and vote and efforts to help supporters register and remind them to vote will be appreciated.
Special report from Jana on the Share A Dish Program in June 2018 on PLASTIC!
Want to reduce your plastic consumption, but not sure where to start? A new group, “Rethinking Plastic Sarasota” holds quarterly meetings to educate the public about plastic consumption, reduction and legislation. Co-founder Jana Hoefling will be our program speaker at the June Share-a-Dish on June 8. To be prepared, here are some Facts About Plastic
What is plastic? A simple definition could be: any of a group of synthetic or natural organic materials that may be shaped when soft and then hardened, including many types of resins, resinoids, polymers, cellulose derivatives, casein materials, and proteins: used in
place of other materials, as glass, wood, and metals, in construction and decoration, for making many articles, as coatings, and, drawn into filaments, for weaving. They are often known by trademark names, as Bakelite, Vinylite, or Lucite.
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In chemistry, plastics are large molecules, called polymers, composed of repeated segments, called monomers, with carbon backbones. A polymer is simply a very large molecule made up of many smaller units joined together, generally end to end, to create a long chain. The smallest building block of a polymer is called a monomer. Polymers are divided into two distinct groups: thermoplastics (moldable) and thermosets (not). The word “plastics” generally applies to the synthetic products of chemistry.
Alexander Parkes created the first man-made plastic and publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material, called parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that, once heated, could be molded and retained its shape when cooled. Many, but not all, plastic products have a number –the resin identification code – molded, formed or
imprinted in or on the container, often on the bottom. This system of coding was developed in 1988 by the U.S.-based Society of the Plastics Industry to facilitate the recycling of post-consumer plastics. It is indeed, quite interesting to go through the fine lines.
1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) – Used in soft drink, juice, water, beer, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing,
detergent, and cleaner containers. Leaches antimony trioxide and (2ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP).
2. DEHP is an endocrine disruptor that mimics the female hormone estrogen. It has been strongly linked to asthma and allergies in
children. It may cause certain types of cancer and it has been linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation, and body weight. In Europe, DEHP has been banned since 1999 from use in plastic toys for children under the age of three.
3. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) – Used in opaque milk, water, and juice containers, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles,
garbage bags, yogurt and margarine tubs, and cereal box liners. Considered a safer plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.
4. Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC) – Used in toys, clear food and non-food packaging (e.g., cling wrap), some squeeze
bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles, shower curtains, medical
tubing, and numerous construction products (e.g., pipes, siding). PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer
products ever created. Leaches di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used
as the plasticizer or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen;
have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; and linked to negative
effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation, and body weight. In Europe, DEHP, BBzP, and other dangerous phthalates have
been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999. Not so elsewhere, including Canada and the United States.
Dioxins are unintentionally, but unavoidably, produced during the manufacture of materials containing chlorine, including PVC and other chlorinated plastic feedstocks. Dioxin is a known human carcinogen and the most potent synthetic carcinogen ever tested in laboratory animals. A characterization by the National Institute of Standards and Technology of cancer causing potential evaluated dioxin as over 10,000 times more potent than the next highest chemical (diethanol amine), half a million times more than arsenic, and a million or more times greater than all others.
5. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) – Used in grocery store, dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, most plastic wraps, and squeezable bottles (honey, mustard). Considered a safer plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.
6. Polypropylene (PP) – Used in ketchup bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, medicine and syrup bottles, straws, and Rubbermaid
and other opaque plastic containers, including baby bottles. Considered a safer plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.
7. Polystyrene (PS) – Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic
cutlery, and compact disc cases. Leaches styrene, an endocrine disruptor mimicking the female hormone estrogen, and thus has
the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems. Long-term exposure by workers has shown brain and nervous system effects and adverse effects on red blood cells, liver, kidneys, and stomach in animal studies. Also present in secondhand
cigarette smoke, off gassing of building materials, car exhaust, and possibly drinking water. Styrene migrates significantly from
polystyrene containers into the container’s contents when oily foods are heated in such containers.
8. Other – This is a catchall category that includes anything that does not come within the other six categories. As such, one must be
careful in interpreting this category because it includes polycarbonate – a dangerous plastic – but it also includes the new, safer,
biodegradable bio-based plastics made from renewable resources such as corn and potato starch and sugar cane. Polycarbonate is used in many plastic baby bottles, clear plastic sippy cups, sports water bottles, three and five-gallon large water storage containers,
metal food can liners, some juice and ketchup containers, compact discs, cell phones, computers. Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol
A (some effects described above) and numerous studies have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from lowlevel
exposure to Bisphenol A: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty,
various behavioral changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs. Rob Krebs of the American Plastics Council notes
that people value plastics for exactly what creates the most problems at sea and on lands: their durability.
Plastic debris, of all sizes and shapes, is a trans-boundary pollution problem with a powerful vehicle, the ocean.
Recent Attacks on LGBTQ Rights
In the ten years or so before the present administration came into power, LGBTQ (from here on I will simply say “gay”) rights made phenomenal gains. Perhaps the biggest advance was in politics from a period of using gays as the fall people in order to get votes to promoting gay rights to get votes, especially in northern and western states. Many states passed laws providing equal rights to gays including marriage with the culmination of the Supreme Court decision making gay marriages legal throughout the country. And, a clear majority of Americans supported the decision.
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However, there have been naysayers, especially in the Southern states and many states have attempted to find ways to limit the gains made for equal rights. For example, even in the 2016 election cycle, the Republican party platform advocated the passage of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). This act says that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Also, efforts have shifted to attempts to limit rights by claiming that providing rights to gays was limiting the rights of those who had issues (mostly religious) with providing services to gay people. Added to this was the issue of whether transgender folks could use the bathroom of their choice or not. Also, there is the precedent of the Hobby Lobby case which ruled that organizations could seek religious exemption from the contraception-coverage benefit of the Affordable Care Act for their employees. President Trump appointee, Judge Gorsuch, was instrumental in moving this issue to the Supreme Court. And, it should be noted that equal employment or housing rights legislation for gays has never been passed by congress.
What is really happening under the Trump administration? First and foremost is the so-called cake case the Supreme Court is presently hearing. The decision on this case should be announced in June. It is based on whether a cake baker in Colorado had the right to refuse to bake a cake for a homosexual couple because of his religious objection to gay folks. If the Supreme Court decides that he has that right it means that religious rights are more important than gay rights and it is perfectly ok to discriminate against people because of your religious views. This will have far reaching impacts. Already, Attorney General Sessions has issued a directive to Federal agencies to “do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated.” For example, it would allow medical professionals to refuse to treat gay patients, employers to fire gay folks, hotels to refuse gays, etc.etc. Some of the States are already passing illiberal laws regarding gay rights based on religious objection.
And, it gets no better in that the new administration will be filling more than 120 Federal Court vacancies. Many of the positions were not filled in the last year of the Obama administration because congress refused to approve his nominations. Many of the judges being nominated now have been approved by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The ADF is a Christian-right organization founded 24 years ago by Alan Sears who once said “the homosexual agenda threatens religious freedom.” Needless to say, nearly all of the nominations have a very conservative agenda and a number of them have been active in deciding against gay rights. And another requirement is that they are young so these appointments will impact judicial decisions for many years.
Other areas of concern are cuts in the national AIDs assistance program and the continued discrimination against transgender people, especially at the State and Local levels.
What can you do to help the gay community retain and expand equal rights? The Unitarian Universalist Association has been a leading force in the civil rights front. They were especially important in attaining acceptance of gay marriage and other rights that have been gained at the State and National level. For example, Ed (Kobee) and myself and others from UU churches in Maryland and the Washington Baltimore area with the help of a matching grant from UUA founded an organization called the Religious Coalition for LGBT Rights. This organization working with the Maryland political organization helped to make Maryland the first state where the legislature passed a gay marriage bill.
How can you help in this battle for equal rights for gay people? First, it is always helpful if our friends are knowledgeable about what it means to be gay in this country and what actions are needed to ensure equal rights. Thanks to Joan Butcher and AJ Wolff we just had a program on updating our Welcoming Congregation status. If you were unable to attend, I’m sure that any of the gay people in the MUUF would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Also, we had a very successful Booth at the Manatee Gay Pride Festival. And there are a number of major organizations such as ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, The National LGBTQ Task force, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality Florida, and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund that can always use your financial contributions.
Unfortunately, the actions affecting gay people, women, and minorities by the administration are not given very extensive TV press coverage because of their fixation on Trump tweets and statements.
Therefore, in order to get information on what is happening you need to follow the written word, mainly from the liberal press. Even in the last election cycle, actual issues were hardly discussed as the press emphasized personalities and sensational news rather than such mundane things as party platforms and candidates stands on issues. In a separate folder, I have included some items on gay issues that you may find of interest.
Environmental Issues and the New U.S. Administration
This paper will be an attempt to evaluate the impact on environmental issues of the recent election both nationally and in many states of a large number of far right activists, many of whom are climate change deniers. It will not be a paper on climate change as such – I have already addressed that issue in the Issue of the Quarter for January-March of 2017. Also, because of the complexity of the issues involved, I will not include detailed discussions about everything that has or may be done to threaten the environment. See some supporting documents on the Social Justice table and/or search the internet for more detail on specific issues.
To start off, almost all climate scientists have concluded that the earth is warming and that a major cause of that warming is human activities. Nevertheless, our President, our Governor and a large number of legislators deny this is true. And, to add to this dilemma, at the Federal level and in many states the departments that should be addressing environmental concerns are also climate change deniers. Thus many measures to protect the environment that were put in place by previous administrations are being defunded and scrapped. Combined with these measures, numerous protective safety laws are being eliminated in order to “reduce and simplify” regulations.
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So now that the U.S.A. has become the only country in the world which is not a member of the Paris Climate Agreement, there are no longer any national goals for reducing carbon (or for that matter, methane) production. And, with the elimination of regulations such as on contamination of streams, corporations can pretty much do what they like in order to increase output. Meanwhile, the rest of the world probably led by Chinese know-how is doing its best to reduce carbon consumption and the U.S. will probably forego it’s leadership role.
The United States was taking some significant steps to replace fossil fuels but the new administration, with the questionable claim that if more coal is produced, many more workers will be hired by the industry, is pushing for more coal production. Moreover, they are opening up national reserve and park areas to mining and agricultural use which will have a negative impact on the ecology of the areas concerned. Similarly, regardless of the danger to the environment there are calls for more production of petroleum from Alaska, from offshore reserves, or from anywhere else that may have oil reserves. And, the leaders are calling for more fracking in order to increase natural gas production. Fracking requires huge amounts of sometimes scarce water and there is evidence of increases in the number of earthquakes in areas where fracking is used In the meantime, efforts by the electric power companies in places like Florida are hindering private development of solar energy production in order to maintain control over all solar energy production.
Probably the warming of the oceans is the major concern as the climate changes. Sea life and climate will be vastly affected by the changes in temperature. So far, the present administration is neglecting any action to combat these changes. Also, efforts to protect coral reefs in U.S. waters are no longer a priority and unless local governments get involved probably not much will be done . These reefs provide important protection for sea life. And, of course, the lower sections of many major cities and towns will be flooded more and more. So far, except for some local jurisdictions, there is no evidence of concern or of plans to counter this flooding. Of course, poorer people will be impacted the most and many government officials seem not to care at all about that.
One area that you hear very little about is the effects of factory farming on the environment. The wastes from factory farming are a major source of methane pollution which is even worse than that of carbon. No longer do the farmers spread manure on their fields. Instead it is mostly collected in large pools where it could easily contaminate the area around it. Again, regulations are highly important to make sure that seepage does not spoil the neighboring environment.
I could go on to talk about such things as an education system that is gradually being taken over by plutocrats that ignore environmental issues and seek to control the curriculums. Or tax support for having more children and elimination of abortion and perhaps even contraception so population will increase to provide more employees for the rich will also help increase pollution. Other factors include increased noise pollution that will affect sea life and the purposeful dumbing down of the population in order to keep control over a majority of the voters. Needless to say, it appears that our present leadership is really mostly interested in helping the rich and powerful rather than caring about everyone in our country and state.
So what can be done to counter the lack of environmental action at the national level and in many states. First of all, our Fellowship is recognized as a green sanctuary by the UUA. This means we could all remind ourselves of actions we can take as individuals and as a congregation to protect our environment. FoIlowing is a list of the actions we might take just as a reminder. Also, we can include environmental concerns in our political actions by supporting politicians that care. Finally, we can support or work with one or more of the numerous organizations that are working on environmental concerns. Some of those that I support financially are the Environmental Defense Fund, Earth Justice, Florida Wildlife Federation, Food and Water Watch, the National Park Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, Population Connection, Turtle Island Restoration, Union of Concerned Scientists, Manatee 88, and Planned Parenthood.
Tips to Lower your Carbon Emissions
Compiled by Zada Merrill from the book, “Cooler, Smarter” which is in the MUUF Library
1. Remove your name from Junk Mail lists. 2. Walk, ride bicycles, use buses and trains. 3. Keep your vehicles serviced regularly. 4. Keep tire pressure at optimum levels. 5. Demand rapid transit trains from your representatives. 6. Demand solar roof panels for new construction from developers. 7. Use recycled water for gardens and golf courses. 8. Grow your own vegetables and herbs. 9. Use cloth bags for groceries. 10. Use compact fluorescent bulbs in your home, office and public buildings. 11. Buy energy star appliances. 12. Buy recycled paper for bath and facial tissue, invitations and all paper needs. 13. Recycle newspapers, telephone books, stationery, plastic containers, glass bottles. 14. Shop at your local fresh produce markets. Buy organic food products. 15. Use water sparingly; turn water off when brushing or shaving. “Shower with a friend.” 16. East less meat; increase your meatless meals by one or two a week. 17. Don't waste food; serve smaller portions. 18. Learn how to compost your waste vegetables. 19. Install composting toilets.
FOR JUNE-AUGUST 2017 VOTING RIGHTS
Many politicians are continually seeking ways to limit voting to those folks who will support their agenda. This can be done in many ways.
First: One of the more obvious is by gerrymandering districts so that voting districts are set up so areas that have a one-sided vote for the opposition are confined to a limited number of districts and the remaining districts are made up of areas where a small majority of the voters will favor the party in power. These are often easily spotted on a map of voting districts. For example, just look at the snaky long and narrow district that runs from Sarasota to St. Petersburg which just happens to include areas which have a very high percentage of black people. This District almost always votes for a democrat by a large majority but several districts around it that have a large percentage of white voters , a small majority of whom almost always vote Republican. Thus the overall area of say 5 districts usually elects 4 republicans and only one democrat though the plurality for the whole area may be almost even or even lean toward democrats.
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Gerrymandering is not new but it has been greatly increased in a number of traditional battleground states such as Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia in recent years. Associate Press analysis has found four times as many states with Republican-skewed districts than Democratic ones and among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many Republican-tilted U. S. House districts. The analysis also showed that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on average voter shares in the country. Therefore, this factor alone gives Republicans a sizeable majority even though total votes cast were about equal for the two parties nation-wide.
Second: State actions allowing actions against voting rights. Conservatives in many states, especially in the South, have taken advantage of a decision made by the Supreme Court several years ago that set aside actions against voting rights violations in a number of jurisdictions as an excuse for taking steps to make it more difficult to vote. Some common actions taken by the state legislature include:
a. Requiring identification papers that are difficult for some people (especially poor people or some elderly folks) who do not have driver licenses or passports.
b. Using the excuse that they are saving money, jurisdictions reduce the number of polling places in the districts which just happen to be in the areas where there are a lot of poor people or people of color. Thus the lines are very long in these districts which discourage people from voting or even make it impossible for some people to vote who are unable to leave their jobs for long enough to take the time to vote.
c. Limiting the voting period, especially by excluding Sunday voting, so that people who have menial jobs have difficulty getting to the voting place. Also, many churches and other organizations that offer rides to voters who do not have transportation are available mainly on Sundays.
d. Setting stringent rules on voter’s signatures on mail-in ballots and disqualifying some votes on this basis without guaranteeing that hand writing experts are doing the checking.
e. Making it difficult for advocacy groups to carry on registration drives.
f. Using various scary tactics making it difficult to change your voting address if you have moved.
g. Attempts to keep college students from voting
h. Placing severe restrictions on voting by former felons. In Florida, for example, felons cannot vote until at least 5 years after they are released from prison and, even then, they must apply for and go through strenuous vetting before they have a chance of regaining their right to vote.
There is no doubt that all efforts should be made to ensure that only properly registered folks should be allowed to vote but this does not mean that attempts should be made to block people from registering or that once properly registered, folks should be harassed by restrictive practices or inaccessibility of voting times or places.
So what can we do to counter these politically motivated actions?
- Through the national program of “Standing on the Side of Love”, UUs have been actively protesting new restrictions on voting rights. We can join in the protest or help the protest groups with our financial support.
- We can commemorate the historical efforts that were made to gain voting rights and participate in efforts to educate folks about the need for continually monitoring the observance of these rights. For example, we can work in partnership with other organizations, such as ACLU and NAACP, to ensure that voter rights are protected.
- We can tell our senators and congressmen to improve and extend the voting rights act through new legislation.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can actively oppose the politicians who are using voting rights as a weapon to reduce the number of people that might vote against them.
- We can seek new ways of ensuring a fair election system in our country.
- For example, perhaps the U.S. President should be chosen by popular vote country-wide rather than through the electoral system. This could be accomplished by a constitutional amendment which would be difficult to pass because states have an equal vote on a constitutional amendment and states with a small population would, no doubt, oppose such an amendment.
- Another way to have one-person, one vote in electing our president is for states with a majority of the electoral votes to join in a compact to vote for the candidate that wins the majority vote. Ten states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia with a total of 165 electoral votes have already done so. If states with 105 electoral votes join them the 50 percent goal will be reached. It would be especially helpful if states that have a large number of electors such as our own would join them.
- More and more people have become disenchanted with our two- party system and now register as Independents. Unfortunately, Independents do not really have a say on who the parties nominate and independent candidates seldom, if ever, get enough votes to be competitive in a major election. Therefore, moderates and conservatives are locked out in the biggest metro areas, and moderates and liberals are locked out in the heartland. To counter this, there is a movement to have proportional representation through larger districts and/or ranked voting.
- For example, if there are 5 candidates for a seat (of a party or outside of a party) in the primary people rank each candidate and the 2 or 3 with the highest number of points are voted on in the general election. This system already is used in some cities and counties.
- Another possibility might be to establish districts with multiple representatives who again can be a party member or not so people can select a more balanced slate. And, finally, the two systems could be combined so as to have broader representation.*
PEOPLE ON THE EDGE April-September 2017
I was reading our local newspaper a couple of months ago and ran into an editorial called “Too Many Live on Financial Cliff” which talked about a speech at by Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson at a recent meeting which got me to thinking about the plight of those working people who make enough money so they do not or cannot receive financial help from our government institutions but who are one misstep away from dire poverty. For example, I have a niece who after 4 years of college needs financial help to just pay for daily necessities even though she has been working full time for several years. And, if she gets a small raise, the financial aid is automatically cut off. Somehow, this just doesn’t make sense. Or does it? What has happened to the middle class? And who is doing anything about the huge decline in the number of people who are now classified as “Middle Class”.
United Way of Florida reports the residents living paycheck to paycheck that they designate as ALICEs (Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed) make up 31% of the 134,900 households in Manatee County. If you add the
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12 % who live under the poverty line, 43 % of households in the County suffer from financial stress. And the percentages are considerably higher in other parts of our State. The annual income threshold is $20,000 for a single adult and $56,000 for a family of four. Low wage jobs monopolize the Florida economy – two thirds of the jobs pay less than $20 per hour and only 5% pay more than $40 per hour.
Of course, definitions change over time, but any way it is measured, the percentage of people who are considered middle class (those who have a decent standard of living and can withstand at least some unexpected financial liabilities) has declined greatly over the past 35 years or so and along with this phenomenon, income inequality has skyrocketed. And, there are varying explanations of how and why this happened and what should be done about it. In this paper I will look at some of the evidence and talk about solutions to the problem.
So why is the middle class population declining so much and what can be done about it. In previous Issues of the Month and Quarter, I have addressed some issues that have had a great impact on the decline such as in Issues of the Quarter on income inequality and on the minimum wage in 2015. One thing is clear, the middle class has been declining for many years now and income inequality has been getting greater and greater.
So, why is this happening? After World War II, the economy was booming and many programs were implemented which helped to expand the middle class and to minimize income inequality. This included a steep rise in tax brackets as income rose, military veterans benefits especially the GI bill providing advanced education at little cost, farm programs to modernize the agricultural sector, ease of purchasing middle class housing, etc. With the catching up on infrastructure, the conversion from war-time goods to civilian goods in industry, and opportunities to export goods to war-torn areas around the world opportunities abounded for employers and employees. Added to this, unions continued to be strong and workers were able to negotiate with industrial leaders to improve their benefits.
So how did all of this fall apart beginning probably around the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Even with the high tax rates for the rich, wealth was accumulated by many through technical changes, a dissatisfaction developed among those whose income was only slowly rising, international competition rose as the developed countries got back on their feet and the cheap labor available in many countries motivated businesses (especially manufacturers) to invest outside of the country. And, a masterful propaganda effort was unfolded to make people believe that big government is bad and that economic growth would be much faster if the rich could only be unfettered by lowering taxes, reducing the power of unions, and by moderating financial regulations. The expansion of their productive efforts would then result in greater growth and the increased wealth would lead to a better standard of living for everyone.
Despite some ebbs and flows, the changes in the last 40 years have led to a large decrease in the percentage of people in the Middle Class and much greater income inequality. Labor unions have all but disappeared and those that are left have much less power than they had in the past. The effects of technological change where much less labor is required to produce goods is having a greater and greater impact on the manufacturing sector. The cost of labor continues to be affected by cheaper labor available from less developed countries. And, no one seems to have addressed the effects of these changes in putting together programs that will solve the problem for working folks.
Throughout America’s history there has been a lot of tension between the workers and the accumulation of wealth by the owners of the capital and the place of government in this relationship. What are the rights of workers and the capitalists and what does the government do to protect these rights. At various stages in our history, it appears that one or the other gained the favor of the government but underlying it all was an optimism that we would somehow muddle through and that things would improve over time. Of late, however, the disagreements in approach to solutions have been so divisive between the two major political parties that this optimism is in danger of disappearing. Therefore, I feel that we must find ways to agree on our goals and reestablish some sort of compromises if we are going to be successful in reaching these goals.
So what are some of the goals that we should be striving to attain in order to have more balance in the income of our population?
I would list the main goals as:
1. A government commitment to guarantee a decent standard of living for all
2. Guaranteed health care for all
3. Government support for those who are unable to compete in the market place
4. A reworking of our institutions to guarantee fairness between the owners of capital and the workers
5. A fair taxation system that supports the above goals
6. Some enlightened thinking about the place of work in our daily lives. Perhaps the work week should be shortened for example. Or, is mental labor (such as bookkeeping) really worth more than physical labor (such as garbage collection). Who and what determines the difference in pay. And why does anyone really need a salary of tens or even hundreds 0fmillions of dollars annually such as many CEOs get? I am sure one could find numerous other differences that might be considered.
So what can we do about the mess we are in. We can certainly look at our UU Principles and the many resolutions our religion has addressed in the past and try to live by these guidelines. And, we can become active in assuring that equality is pursued and that those who have less than we have are treated fairly. And, for those of us who are in a position to do so, we can help to motivate others to help solve the problems I have addressed or others that may be present in the murky areas of inequality and justice for all.
To start off, it might be helpful to review a paper I wrote on global warming which was the Issue of the Quarter from July to September, 2014. The paper provides some explanation of why our earth is becoming warmer and some of the impact. And, although there are still a lot of global warming detractors, there is sufficient evidence to prove that it is real and probably will accelerate in the future. Also, the whole subject is very complex and many other factors are involved. For additional information, I would suggest that you search the net with particular attention to the relationship of climate change to the way we are using and abusing our resources of minerals, fuels, and water; the tremendous increase in the use of these resources due to population increases and to the rapid rise of living standards in many parts of the world; and the impact of political decisions.
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As the earth becomes warmer, the melting of glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic regions will cause a sea rise (estimated to rise 6 – 16 inches by 2050) as well as a rise in ocean temperatures which could have a devastating effect on sea life that will in turn affect climate change. We are already seeing changes in precipitation patterns and having more severe weather episodes which are expected to exacerbate in the future.
What are major causes of global warming?
Most climate scientists agree that the causes are mainly man-made and that natural causes such as earthquakes or volcanoes have not been the major problem. Mostly it’s a matter of:
(1) Increased use of fossil fuels both in mining them (including fracking) and in burning them.
(2) Disposal of animal waste, especially from great increases in factory farming
(3) A tremendous increase in waste disposal as population grows and living styles become more energy and material dependent.
What can we as individuals do to solve problems related to climate change?
Looking at it from a broad perspective, we can make sure our politicians are on board and willing to introduce measures that might help. For example, here in Florida, we must protect our limited fresh water supplies by protecting the underground water aquifers from contamination by sea water and by industrial waste such a phosphate mining. Recent pressure to open up our land to fracking would be very dangerous because of the large amount of water needed, the possible effects of chemicals used in the water, and the impact of the process on stability of the underground support for our fresh water supply. We also need to make sure that there are incentives to produce and use solar and wind power and to find ways to protect our beaches and other lowland areas that may be affected by the rising sea level. None of this will be easy, but unless preventive measures are taken, we could have disastrous consequences.
As for individuals, there are numerous ways in which we can reduce our impact. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a book called: C00LER SMARTER, Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living which has many excellent suggestions (I have donated a copy of the book to our library). It points out that of the average American’s total carbon emissions, 28% come from transportation, 26% from, stuff you buy, 17% from home heating and cooling, 15% from other home energy use, and 14% from food. Home improvements to reduce fuel waste are particularly helpful but conversion to solar would be even better. Purchasing a car that uses less gasoline is probably best but there are ways in which you can reduce auto fuel use that also could help. Reducing the amount of meat you eat would help a lot and it would be a good idea to think about the energy used in manufacturing or the use of other stuff before purchasing it.
In addition, you can talk to your friends and neighbors about reducing carbon emissions and you can promote ways to reduce carbon emissions at your office, your church or public facilities that you go to frequently.
BE SURE TO VOTE
July-September, October-December, 2016
As Unitarian Universalists, we have a long history of support for a number of issues and we should take this into consideration when we vote. Some of the many things that are at stake in the Florida Primary Election on August 30 and the General Election on November 8 include:
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1. At the January, 2014 annual meeting of our Fellowship, we voted unanimously to support “Move to Amend”, a movement calling for an amendment to the constitution that will say that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Therefore, an important consideration should be how the candidates stand on this issue.
2. As a green congregation, we should look at the candidate’s stand on taking steps to protect the environment and on addressing problems that may be associated with global warming.
3. Our congregation and the UUA have been strong supporters of those who are economically disadvantaged, we should look at the candidate’s stand on effective programs to help the poor and on addressing economic inequality generally.
4. We also have been strong supporters of programs to support immigrants (especially immigrant farm workers), so this should be a consideration on how we vote.
5. As a congregation that celebrates love and peaceful solutions to problems, we should support those who search for ways to promote world peace and non-violent solutions to domestic issues.
6. With a proud UU record of support for women’s rights, we need to consider the candidate’s stand on reproductive rights of women and women’s equality in general.
7. Also, as long-term supporters of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, we should take the candidates position on LGBTQ issues into consideration.
8. Of course, there are many other issues such as education, health care, privacy rights, gun control, military strength, terrorism etc. that you may want to consider before you vote.
9. And, look carefully at fiscal solutions, past records, and the likelihood of carrying out promises made during the long campaign. And don’t expect too much given the complexities of getting things done in our state and nation. Often a move in the right direction is about all we can hope for.
10. And, it is extremely important who will be choosing Supreme Court members in the future. Some of our greatest advances have occurred, especially in social reform, as well as major setbacks (the Citizens United decision) because of Supreme Court actions.
At this year’s Primary election on August 30 we will also vote FOR Amendment 4 YES, an amendment that responds to a citizen initiative to clarify the expansion of solar energy use in Florida. We recommend a vote AGAINST/NO on the legislature (and power company) sponsored amendment on solar energy at the November election. In October the Social Justice Committee will have a program at the monthly share-a-dish where we will discuss proposed amendments to the Florida constitution on the November ballot.
Finally, I would like to encourage everyone to vote. Too often, people say that it makes no difference whether they vote – maybe because they feel that it makes no difference who wins or because they do not like either of the candidates. Or they vote for someone who has no chance of winning or even write in a name. I urge you to look at who won and what happened in the past when the vote count was low. Also, I urge you to become aware of the party platforms and how the political party and the candidate stand on specific issues. Surely, then you will be able to see at least some of the differences between parties and candidates. Perhaps you will have to hold your nose but do try hard to look at issues and past records and not at personalities when you enter the voting booth.
Your vote does count and we urge you to talk to your friends and neighbors and urge them to vote as well. And, finally, there are all kinds of opportunities to help get the vote out – just call your party of choice and they will be happy to suggest ways that you can help.
MOVE TO AMEND
April – June 2016
Move to amend is a grassroots effort aimed at rejecting the 2010 Supreme Court ruling called Citizen’s United vs. the Federal Election Commission and related cases that have ruled that corporations are people and that money is speech.
The 2010 ruling was the culmination of Supreme Court rulings that give corporations more and more power to control the country (and the world) through political support and legal protections of their activities here and abroad.
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Historically, corporations have been given a number of rights. Originally, governing bodies created corporations as a service to the people. Later, the rights were expanded because big businesses needed to raise large amounts of capital for expansion not only to provide services to a larger community but to compete in an expanded market place. Now, as the number and variety of stockholders have greatly increased, protection of their stockholders has become an important issue. Gradually, the courts have expanded corporate rights. They are now able to sue and be sued, and they were given certain protections that individuals have (i.e. right against self-incrimination, the right to own property and enter contracts, the right to express views on political policies, etc.) However, until the Citizen’s United ruling, corporations were prohibited from using money from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates in elections. Hoping to clarify this matter, Congress passed the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 which banned corporate funding of issue advocacy ads which mentioned candidates in a set period before elections. The personhood aspect of the campaign finance debate turns on Buckley v. Valeo (1976) which ruled that political spending by corporations is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. The Citizens United decision in expanded this decision and opened up the flood of corporate political spending by making it clear that money is speech.
And, what a floodgate has opened to the point that corporation spending on elections is completely out of control. For example, as of April 8 this year, Super PACS ( organizations that have been formed only since Citizens United) totaled 2,259 groups with total receipts of more than $613 million and expenditures of $276 million plus. Adding to the problem, contributors to PACs can remain anonymous until after elections through delayed reporting rules. In addition, a large number of 501c4 organizations have been formed that find ways to pour tax free support from corporations and individuals into controversial legislation and causes. Finally, because of lax regulatory authority by the Federal Election Commission, sham corporations have been able to get around the campaign laws and reportedly have already channeled some $68 million into this political cycle. Many of these corporations are recognizable but many others are fake entities created to hide the identities of political donors.
Move to Amend was founded in 2009, shortly before the Supreme Court ruling. The organization has set forth a comprehensive list of the reasons that Citizens United should be overturned (see the attached guide to the highlights and low points of the Court’s Decision). Some of the more important things pointed out are: corporations are not “We the People” for whom the constitution was established, it favors large corporations over small ones, it erases the laws that distinguish between corporations and individuals, it allows an outpouring of negative advertising without accountability, and it allows corporations to act on the behalf of its stockholders without getting the ok of the stockholders.
In order to overturn the Citizen’s United ruling, Move to Amend is calling for an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This will require that both the House of Representatives and the Senate approve a joint resolution to approve the amendment by a two-thirds super majority vote. Following approval, the amendment is sent to the states for ratification and three-fourths of the states must approve it within a specified period of time.
This California based organization has grown swiftly. It is attempting to gather support first from individuals and local organizations and then by getting support from larger political entities up to and including states. It is now a coalition of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals. A number of organizations working for campaign finance reform and voters rights such as Public Citizen also provide strong support to Citizens United. So far, 5 states and nearly 300 municipalities have passed resolutions against corporate personhood. The affiliate groups include our own Fellowship which passed a resolution at the annual meeting 2 years ago.
What can you do to help in this important endeavor?
- First of all, I would suggest that you educate yourself about what is happening to our country because of the Citizens United ruling. What I have said here is just a brief summary. Much more information is available on the Move to Amend Website https://movetoamend.org as well as from surfing the net on particular topics.
- You might also like to join a group that is working to inform the public and to promote political action both in local organizations and jurisdictions and state-wide.
- At this point the most active local group probably is the one at Fogartyville Arts and Media Center in Sarasota (contact Arlene Sweeting at 941-545-5635 or email@example.com if you would like to get involved and for up-to-date information on what they are doing).
- Occupy-Bradenton, which meets on Monday evenings at our Fellowship, also is good source of information on what is going on.
- You could work with Jaime Canfield, Manatee representative to the ManaSota Move to Amend Affiliate of Move to Amend, at firstname.lastname@example.org. This group promotes local action.
Finally, just wear a Move to Amend pin. This draws attention and questions about what it means which is a good way to spread the word.
January – March, 2016
INCOME INEQUALITY (renewed from July 2015)
For a number of years now it is clear that the rich are getting richer and incomes of the poor and middle class at best are remaining about the same and at worst going down. As a result the difference in the incomes of the rich (say the top 1%) and the rest of us is getting larger and larger. I will try in a few pages to summarize why this is happening, what the impact is and what we can do to reverse the trend.
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One could start by analyzing how much folks are compensated for various types of work and what this compensation is based on. For example, why do we usually pay more for work based on intellect than work based on brawn? Or what is a fair wage for routine work or services? Should the minimum wage be increased? If so, who will really be impacted by the increase. Or why do some talents garner much higher incomes than others? Should financial acumen or stardom in sports or theater bring in much higher incomes than machinists, computer experts or clerks? In any case, broad generalizations are not very helpful in the complex world of compensation.
And then there is so-called unearned income (or perhaps one should say, non-wage income). This is income one gets from investments, compensation for being important (speaking, ads, political gifts, etc.) illegal activities, and perhaps income for being too poor such as government subsidies. It’s amazing to me how much wealth is accumulated by politicians for example – the contributions they receive supposedly are used to pay for their campaigns but so many of them seem to become millionaires overnight and one cannot help but wonder how this wealth was accumulated. In any case, when we talk about income distribution, a very large percentage of rich folk’s income comes from these sources.
Of course, another factor that affects personal wealth is taxes. In recent years, there have been major changes in the U.S. tax system that have helped increase income inequality. Taxes have been lowered for investment income and taxes such as sales taxes that affect the poor more than the rich have been increasing. In addition, the rich can make use of a number of tax loop holes to reduce the amount of their taxes or they can transfer much of their wealth abroad in order to reduce taxes.
In addition to the above factors, I would add a number of politically motivated items:
- Except in the public sector, labor unions have been virtually wiped out. Probably the two main factors in the demise of unions are the large amount of money that corporations give to politicians who oppose unions and the low wages paid by international competitors. I feel that the first factor is far more important here in the U.S. than the second. In countries in which unions are acceptable, such as Germany, industries are doing just fine and the benefits that workers get are much better than in the U.S.
- The opposition to raising the minimum wage is claimed by conservatives to affect small industries but in reality it is mainly an attempt by large corporations to pay lower wages in order to increase profits.
- Revisions in Estate taxes that allow the rich to pass their wealth down to their heirs with little or no tax deductions. Therefore, more and more of the wealthy people will be wealthy through their inheritance rather than by earning the wealth through their own labor.
- Control of the financial markets – the richest folks have been able to influence the legislative process so that there are few controls on financial trading (the stock market and other financial traders) and on merging companies which continue to get larger and larger with monopolistic power over the markets.
- Too big to fail – Companies have become so large that if they fail it would have adverse effects on the whole economy. So through various legislative means, they are bailed out by the government if they are threatened financially.
- Changes in the banking system: In the last 20 years or so banks have been allowed to get into the investment business directly. This has resulted in consolidations of the banking industry and much greater potential for exorbitant profits and political control while also endangering assets of individuals, small businesses and pension funds should the bank fail.
- In general, corporation control over everything, the media, elections, etc. – And the large corporations that have resulted have no limit on controlling the country through their economic impact, their donations to politicians, their takeover of the media, and even the strings attached to their donations to colleges, the arts, etc.
- Privatization – So the corporations can make even more money, their political stooges, claiming private control is more efficient than government control, are attempting to privatize everything – the prisons, the schools, the hospitals, etc. This allows for huge profits with little control and the strong possibility of seeking ways to increase profits by cutting back on services or even by inventing means of increasing the number of folks they serve (more prisoners, for example).
As a result of all of these factors, the middle class is dwindling. A few with luck and fortitude have been able to move up to the 1% but most people who were in the middle class are barely making it any many have fallen to the poverty level. And it has been getting harder and harder to move up from the bottom economic level to the middle class as wages have stagnated and most of the jobs available are menial work that pays not much more than the present inadequate minimum wage. This is a threat to the so-called American way and democracy in general as the middle class has always been our strength in that it had enough political power to ensure that things got done that helped fuel our overall growth through investment in our infrastructure and the establishment of meaningful jobs for a large number of workers. (See the sources in the accompanying folder for an excellent article about the importance of a strong middle class that appeared recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
And the number of poor people continues to increase. Abject poverty is somewhat alleviated by government subsidies of various kinds but little is done to provide enough initiative or rewards for people to move up economically. Moreover, conservatives keep seeking ways to eliminate the help given to those who are not able to get work or cannot get by on the meager incomes available from working in mundane, low-paying jobs. In addition, cutbacks in community services as a result of lower taxes on the rich folks affect the poor more than any other group.
Below are a number of steps that could be taken to move toward greater income equality. To succeed, it will require important changes in attitude of what is important to us over the long term and somehow lessening the greed associated with our capitalistic form of government.
- We need to support Move to Amend. Clearly corporations are not people and should be for the purpose of providing services that are needed and not just for huge profits for a few.
- Along with this, we need to push for campaign reform. People should not be able to buy political positions through personal wealth or PACs that benefit the rich without any identification of who is providing the money. Clearly, our present elector system is set up to benefit those in power and not necessarily the country as a whole.
- Labor needs to have a say in the work place. There are a number of good examples of how this might be done, both in some of our own progressive industries (the computer industry, for example) and in Germany and other advanced countries.
- We need to upgrade our infrastructure. This is a great opportunity to provide quality jobs for many folks who are unemployed or under employed.
- We need to break up huge conglomerates through tough anti-trust laws. We cannot continue to be beholden to these mammoth organizations that are too big to fail.
- Our whole election system needs to be overhauled. Are our voting machines manipulated? How can we have a more democratic apportionment if voters in states with a small populations have more political power than voters in states with large populations? And, voting districts need to be based on other factors than the politics of those in power.
- Our tax system needs to be more progressive and we need to eliminate means of avoiding taxes. Other financial reforms are needed to control manipulation of the stock market and other financial activities, and banking reform is badly needed.
- Education, through college needs to be free or easily affordable as it is in most developed countries and as it used to be in many of our states.
- We need to look at government as our government – an institution that represents all of the people and not just a few. It is not the government that is the problem – as many people claim – but who controls the government that is the problem.
Income inequality is but one of the Inequalities facing our nation. A few of the other inequalities are from discrimination, in services like health care, education.
For previous Issues, please click links below
Move to Amend April – June 2016 Move to Amend –Issue of qtr Apr 2016
Inequality January – March 2016
The New Jim Crow: October to December 2015 Issue of Qtr New Jim Crow
Income Equality: July to September 2015 Issue of the Quarter Jul 2015 #2
Water Conservation: April – June 2015 Issue of the Quarter 4-6, 2015
Practicing Low Carbon Living: November – March 2014 Issue of the Quarter Nov 2014
Earlier Issues include: in 2013 there was Minority Rights in Florida, Move to Amend, Florida Environment, Immigration Reform, Gun Violence; in 2012 there was Voter Suppression Laws, Health Care Law, Opposition to Ballot Initiative 8; in 2011 there was Poverty in America. Copies can be requested from the office.