Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ethical Behavior

What is ethical behavior? For me, it is actions and words that reduce human suffering, facilitate cooperation for the general good of people here and abroad, and promote broadening the range of possibilities for everyone.

While we do what we can to follow these guidelines for family, friends and neighbors, what we can do individually is limited. Helping more of our fellow human beings requires collective action, much of it by governments, national, state, and local. So, for me, politicians' ethics involves how they behave with respect to the criteria listed above. Here are some examples:

Since WW II, the US government has killed, wounded, or driven from their homes many millions of people, and continues to do so. For example, its drones are bombing buildings believed to contain ”suspected militants”, regardless of who else may be inside. To me, politicians who support such savagery are behaving unethically.

The disparity of income in the US is the greatest in the developed world, and is greater than even in places such as Tunisia and Libya, where it has led to revolution. Poverty abounds in the US. Many children lack food and medical care. To me, politicians who support laws to make the super-rich even richer and to deny help to those in need are behaving unethically.

Millions of Americans suffer from disease because they cannot afford adequate medical care, especially preventive medicine. To me, politicians who oppose measures to give all citizens access to adequate health care are behaving unethically.

Education contributes to productivity, an informed electorate, access to opportunities, and a richer life. To me, politicians who work to limit educational opportunities for all Americans are behaving unethically.

Civilian injuries and deaths result from the use of weapons such as land mines, cluster bombs, and torture. Others result from small arms trafficking. The US has refused to join the international community in controlling such evils. To me, politicians who oppose such cooperation are behaving unethically.

Until recently, this country continued to improve civil rights for its citizens. In recent years, however, our government has imprisoned citizens without trial and tortured them. Its repression of dissenters is becoming more like that of the police states that we abhor. Now, our government has announced a justification for killing citizens on suspicion, without a hearing. To me, politicians who support these invasions of civil rights are behaving unethically.

Our planet is threatened by global warming, pollution, lack of water, and other aspects of a deteriorating environment. The US has dragged its feet with respect to both domestic environmental protection and refuses to cooperate with the rest of the world to protect our planet. To me, politicians who oppose reasonable measures to protect the earth’s environment are behaving unethically.

America could easily afford to take the ethical path if the super-rich and the military didn’t consume such a large fraction of our GDP.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Big Scam

Over and over, we hear politicians say that the way to prosperity is to cut out regulations so as to unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit. Even a brief glance at history reveals what nonsense that notion is. What cutting government regulations is really intended to do is to unleash profiteers to grab an even bigger share of what working people produce.

For most of our history, we had little government regulation. A nation of small farmers didn't need it. Then, as the country industrialized, we had monopolies, frequent economic "panics", tainted food, snake oil, child labor, unsafe working conditions, and unmitigated suffering of the poor. It culminated with the wild, speculative "roaring '20s" that led to the great depression.

Something obviously had to be done, and was. Unscrupulous profiteering was curbed. Unsafe banking practices were eliminated. Social Security was established to provide a modicum of security for those too old or unable to work. Labor laws were enacted to give a fairer shake to workers. There ensued four decades of unparalleled growth, the emergence of a thriving middle class, and relative freedom from the destructive economic ups and downs.

Then came deregulation and a return to unmitigated profiteering. In the three decades since the late '70s, as the government dismantled  its regulatory structure, the income of the top 1% went from about 9% of all income to 23%. Economic instability again reared its ugly head. That led directly into the Great Recession, from which we are only now beginning to recover. What deregulation actually unleashed was the predatory practices and profiteering of the financial community and giant corporations. 

Now, the rich and powerful are calling for less regulation and lower taxes. They have already succeeded in getting the top tax bracket reduced from over 90% in Eisenhower's day, when the economy was booming, to 35% today. With all their money, they have funded a propaganda campaign that has been so successful it has persuaded millions of victims of their scam that they benefit from the rich taking an ever-growing share of our national income, even as the incomes of the less affluent have declined.

Now, with the Citizens United decision, and large corporations and billionaires spending hundreds of millions to elect minions to help them become even richer and more powerful, the ordinary working people are being taken to the cleaners. The end result may be the death of the middle class or worse.