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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Progressive Agenda: nine things progressives should focus on now that the election is over

Two days ago Americans made their voices heard in one of the most important elections I've ever taken part in. It was a rebuke of the obstructionist tactics of the right and clear sign that the Tea Party movement that took the nation by storm in 2010, is largely over. Many of the Tea Party congressmen were hoisted out of office to be replaced by progressive champions like Elizabeth Warren. It appears the political pendulum has finally swung back to the left.

It's now an opportunity to bring forth a progressive agenda to counter the 30 year old Reagan revolution that has led to so many of our current problems. This is a list of some of the problems we need to tackle to bring the country forward.

1. Citizens United:

There is no doubt that this election was the most expensive election in history. The Atlantic Wire had a breakdown of just how much this election cost. Even though people power won this time, there's no guarantee that the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will not try it again. Just imagine if the Republicans had ran a better candidate than Romney and had all of that dark money. Scary, and a lot of that corporate money went to defeat some very important ballot initiatives in the states. Like California's proposition 37 that would mandate that GMO's be labeled.Companies like Monsanto and Hershey's contributed to $44 Million to fight prop 37 compared to their opponents who raised $7.3 Million. That money went to ads that warned consumers that GMO labeling would cost them more money in the grocery store, as well as increasing costs for small businesses and grocery chains.  

Another ballot initiative that failed due to the a blitz of big corporate ads was Michigan's Proposition 3. Prop 3 aimed to create a renewable energy standard within the state constitution. The law is aimed at reducing the states consumption of coal which makes up 58% of the energy usage in Michigan. It also aims to make 25% of the energy Michigan uses come from clean, renewable energy sources by 2025. The Koch brothers group Americans for Prosperity chipped $1.5 Million into ads that opposed the measure. Citizens United needs to be #1 on the list of things to overturn on the Progressive agenda to make sure that corporations can no longer give money to campaigns used to mislead the public into voting against their own interests. Also I'm a huge proponent of and their effort to amend the constitution to remove the influence of money in politics. I strongly suggest signing up with them and getting involved in the fight. 

2. The Drug War: 

With the recent election came great news for proponents of Marijuana. Colorado and Washington state fully legalized recreational pot. And Massachusetts legalized medicinal pot, joining the other 17 states that now allow for medical Marijuana.  Regardless of that, Federal law still consideres Marijuana to be a schedule 1 drug and therefore illegal under Federal law. That needs to be changed. The Progressive agenda involves ending the drug war completely and no longer keep putting people into for profit (or any) prisons for nonviolent drug offenses. That not only saves money but it's the right thing, and the progressive thing to do. Ending the prohibition of something that is not even close to being as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco, and has been proven to have medical benefits,  such as easing the pain of arthritis, or helping to control spontaneous epileptic seizures, as well as countless industrial uses. Classifying marijuana as being as dangerous as cocaine and other schedule one drugs is simply ignoring the facts. Marijuana is much safer than alcohol, according to professor Robert Gable who wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times: 

"when it comes to the chances of immediate death by chemical toxicity, marijuana is about a hundred times safer than alcohol or cocaine."


NORML, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, has a great chart on some of the potential medical uses of Marijuana as well. Pushing President Obama as well our congress to end this war on drugs and fully legalize Marijuana at the Federal level, should be a big part of the Progressive agenda for the next four years. History and public opinion are on our side

3.Climate Change:

Hurricane Sandy finally brought the discussion back to climate change. It had been absent save for a joke during the RNC by former candidate Mitt Romney who said:

"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise … is to help you and your family."
Number of fires & acres burned

I don't think tax rates are going to matter much when climate change gets through with us. Climate change needs to be jumped on now. We're already at the point where we're too late to stop the damage we've already caused to the environment, but that doesn't mean we can't do more to stop further damage and disruption of our planet. Here are some scary facts: This July was the hottest on record, and this summer was the third hottest ever. We broke hundreds of heat records, had a record drought that will soon be impacting food prices, devastating fires, and there has been a reported 600,000 square kilometers of arctic sea ice that was lost, more than has ever been recorded. 
Loss of Arctic Sea Ice during August Melt

This is probably the most important thing we can do now to help future generations, and the time to act on it is now. The Progressive agenda involves getting as many of our politicians to begin passing legislation to reduce the amount of Carbon we put into the atmosphere. Such as opposing the keystone XL pipeline that would ferry the extremely dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas at great environmental cost. The tar sands hold the largest amount of trapped carbon in the world. In a New York Times Op-Ed James Hansen writes: 

"If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."      

Not exactly a rosy picture to paint for the future, but we're very well on our way to destroying ourselves for cheap oil. 

Even though Carbon emissions are now at a 20 year low, partly in thanks to Hydraulic Fracturing, natural gas is still adding to our global warming problem. As well as a host of other problems related to the process widely known as fracking. Hydraulic Fracturing is a method of injecting water, chemicals, and sand into underground shale rocks in order to fracture them and release natural gas that is trapped in them for use. Although the process doesn't emit carbon it does emit methane, another gas that contributes to global warming. Although Natural gas doesn't emit as much carbon as burning coal, it still releases carbon in the atmosphere. Slowing the inevitable. Not to mention is has some other problems, like how it has led to contamination of drinking water, as well being linked to earthquakes. It's hard to get an honest description of fracking and it's effects because the companies that do it are Halliburton and Shell, and they're not exactly transparent. The fluid used is a proprietary mix that is kept secret. For a great breakdown on how fracking works I suggest checking out the movie Gasland by Josh Fox

Another part of the climate change portion of the progressive agenda is aggressively developing and championing renewable energy. That means supporting ballot initiatives such as the previously mentioned proposal 3 in Michigan. So far over 30 states have amendments that are similar to proposal three, but we need to do more to back clean energy and ensure it has more than adequate funding. Which leads me to...

4. Oil Subsidies: 

I have no idea how on Earth anyone can justify sending $7 Billion dollars in tax subsidies annually to the wealthiest energy corporations that have ever existed, while also allowing companies like Exxon Mobil to pay a 17.6% effective tax rate. That's literally highway robbery. So how do they justify it? Simple: they don't even admit the subsidy exists. Former senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts argued that oil companies don't receive any form of subsidy. It's helpful to know that Brown was one of the biggest brown nosers to the energy industry and in return received money directly from the Koch brothers and one of their PACs.  It's political contributions like these that not only go to Republicans but to Democrats as well that need to be stopped in order to pursue the Progressive agenda. If we're going to be successful in ending the dominance of big oil, big coal and natural gas over our nations energy policy and make us truly energy independent and sustainable we have to first remove the influence of money in politics, (see item #1) get rid of bought politicians and end these wasteful subsidies to the fossil fuel cartels and instead fund clean, sustainable energy solutions. 

5. Tax Policy:

Throughout this campaign we have heard president Obama on the campaign trail promising to make the wealthy pay their fair share. As progressives we should push to make president Obama honor that promise to close loopholes and deductions and increase tax rates for those making over $1 million a year back to the Clinton tax rates of 39%. Putting a small tax on financial transactions and increasing the taxes on capital gains has the promise to also bring in increased revenue, estimated to be around $386 Billion over the next 10 years. Keeping taxes low for the middle class and the poor should also be a focus in the Progressive agenda. Lower taxes on the middle class will help spur demand and increase job growth. More middle class jobs leads to a broadening of the tax base and in turn that can go towards...

6. The Debt:

Tackling the debt is a major concern for everyone. We can't always operate on borrowed money. The last Democratic President, Bill Clinton knew a few things about how to balance a budget. A good share of the money raised by new revenues should go to new investment (to create jobs) and debt reduction. Medicare and Social Security can also be tweaked without cutting any benefits so they will remain solvent for future generations. 

7. Entitlement Spending:

The progressive agenda should be to retain and expand the social contract of America. The healthcare law Obama passed makes a great start by saving $716 Billion in medicare spending by cutting waste and reimbursements to private medicare advantage plans and instead puts it back into medicare itself. The healthcare law though should be expanded into a full single payer system to meet the progressive value of making sure everyone gets full coverage and the insurance companies can no longer profit or serve as middlemen when it comes to peoples health and well being. As of right now since the states are able to opt out of the expanded medicaid provision the poorest among us may still go without insurance. That is unacceptable. Progressive values state that healthcare is a human right. Social Security should also strengthened, the most simple way to do that is to make it so the wealthy are not eligible for benefits, as well as increasing the tax that goes to social security for people making over $500,000 a year. If you're making that much, why do you need a supplemental retirement income? These fixes will help strengthen our social contract and ensuring that the programs remain solvent without cutting benefits.

8. Labor Rights:

Labor rights are one of the most fundamental values of being a progressive. Fair wages, 40 hour work weeks, equal pay and benefits and the creation of a strong middle class are all things that have resulted from the progressive movement. The sad truth now is that all of those things are in grave danger. Today Union workers represent around 12% of the workforce, and only 7% of private workers. Only 37% of government workers are unionized yet they are blamed by conservatives for jobs losses and deficits. Public opinion of unions dropped in 2010 to 48%, probably in response to the harsh anti-union rhetoric and right to work laws put in place and championed by wealthy conservative business owners that see unions as a hamper to increasing their bottom lines. We should renew our support for labor because fair wages and benefits will help to regrow a strong middle class that in the end will help ensure that businesses prosper as well. 

9. Civil Liberties: 

This is a huge, huge issue. As progressives we should be the champions of civil liberty. Which is why NDAA, the Patriot act, torture and other abuses of civil liberties should be done away with. Trapwire, CISPA, ACTA and other other legislation that would stop the internet from being free and open should be fought tooth and nail no matter who is president. That is why the progressive agenda should focus on putting pressure on legislators to shoot down these blatant violations of our rights. And if they approve these things they should be primaried from the left until they understand that our rights need to be left alone. Not only that but torture should never be the American way of doing things, we are better than that. 

These are just some of the major issues we need to fight for as progressives. In order to accomplish these goals we will need to remove money in politics, end gerrymandering so that Democrats and Republicans will no longer have "safe" districts that will vote them in due to party affiliation but instead need to make their cases based on their records and policies. In 2014 we will have mid term elections in the house and you better believe the conservatives will be ready and come armed with big money. We need to fight to get real progressives elected to the house to give us a majority in order to push president Obama to the left. We should define the word liberal again with it's true meaning:

With these goals in mind we can bring America forward and return us back to the shining city on the hill, with liberty and justice for all. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary, Jeff. In the Civil Liberties category, I would add solid protection of rights for targeted populations including full protection for Lesbians and Gays (Right to Marry) and for women (protection of Roe v. Wade and maybe even an equal rights amendment). For Latinos, protection against unreasonable search and seizures (no citizen should have to produce documentation on demand because of how they look!) And finally, in this category, I would add good Supreme Court appointments when the time comes. We have lost the power of the Supreme Court as a viable last resort for citizens who are treated unjustly.

    Sharon I. Fawley
    Buffalo Book Blog