Friday, November 18, 2011

If you're not speaking out, you're not paying attention

Today's story is a farm bill hammered out in secrecy and planned to be slipped into another bill and voted on without debate.  That, as I recall, is not how policy is supposed to be made in a democracy.  You can read here.
DesMoines Register

The question, to me, is whether I'm willing to take responsibility for knowing what's going on, for educating myself, and for doing something about it.  Emails to legislators work.  Social media helps spread information.  And unless I'm willing to make the effort to be aware and then spread the word, I have no right to complain.

It's hard work.  We can't possibly know all that's going on but we can pay attention to what other people reveal.  Then comes the harder work - getting educated.  Knowing the pros and cons and learning the questions to ask.  And next step is to start talking.  Bring up whatever concerns we encounter - whether they're the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, the unhealthy impact of mass production and chemicals on our food supply, the inextricable ties between policy makers and big business, the failure of our educational system and the destruction of the middle class. 

It's good work.  It's essential work.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Radical Term Limits - a simple solution

I interviewed Frances Moore Lappe tonight - an inspiring woman who, forty years ago, wrote "Diet For A Small Planet."  She's been advocating for a more sustainable food system, and a better, more sustainable world, ever since.  Her newest book is "Ecomind- Changing the Way We Think To Create the World We Want."

Hunger, poverty, climate change, war - it all boils down, she says, to the need for a "living democracy."  That means a system that actually is for the people and by the people.  And the way to achieve that, she says, is to get the money out of politics.

I've been thinking much the same thing, and my idea is simple:  Radical Term Limits.  Politics was never meant to be a career.  It was a public service.  Let's go back to that concept.  Here's how:  no one, absolutely no one, can hold political office for more than two terms at any level.  Two terms at a local office, two terms at a state level, two terms at a federal level.  Thank you very much for your service. Go home.  Someone else has to step up.  No multiple offices at any level. 

This has to be accompanied by strict transparency requirements for all donations, disclosure of all interests in any businesses, ironclad restrictions on lobbyists.  But radical term limits is the key.

We'd have to have a lot more people involved in government.  That means we'd better educate our population, because a lot of them are going to have to serve.  No one would be in office long and that would make buying politicians a poor investment.  No political insiders - the turnover is too great.

Job security wouldn't be a worry - there wouldn't be any.  Instead of serving their own wallets and career aspirations, politicians would represent the voters who elected them.  Otherwise, one term only.  And the two term limit would ensure that there would be a sense of urgency to accomplish something.

Radical term limits.  Spread the word.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Corporate America - Meet the New Boss

I don't consider myself a raving conspiracy theorist.  But recent events make me wonder if I should reconsider and become one.

The Occupy Movement's central theme is disgust with what corporations are doing.  They control health care. They control media.  They control finances and they control what we eat.  They control energy and they want to control the earth's water supply.

And the bottom line, for all of it, is profit.

I recently interviewed one of the authors of "Good Company", a book that studied the behaviors of the Fortune 100.   They established a list of criteria that studied them as employers, as producers and as stewards of the environment and communities.  And most of them scored no better than a D.

The good news is that the study also showed that those companies who scored better also were more profitable.  Consumers respond positively to good companies.  But most companies studied aim for a quick profit and chew up employees, communities, the environment and produce poor quality products while skirting regulations or break laws while building the cost of fines into the price of doing business.

While researching a story on the shortage of psychiatrists in my region, I found that insurance companies manipulate the market.  They collect profits while offering seemingly-sufficient panels of specialists.  But those panels are composed of doctors who don't accept new patients, who no longer accept their insurance, or who've been dead for years.  Other psychiatrists take only cash because they cannot spend the time filling out the reams of paperwork required by insurance companies.  Treatment centers have to fight with insurance companies to get continuing coverage for patients who still need care.

 Doctors are pressured to prescribe the newest medicines because they have a better profit margin.  Companies spend millions on ad campaigns to get you to ask your doctor for them.

And it's so "normal" we haven't even stopped to ask what the hell is going on. It's capitalism run amok - create the demand to satisfy the needs of an ever hungrier group of investors.  Maximize profit, minimize expense.  Taken to extremes, it means shortcuts.  Cheap labor.  Defective, insufficiently tested products raced to market.  Minimal care with maximum profit.

Thank you, Occupy Wall Street.  You're forcing a second look.  And the view is disturbing.