With all the ink, time, and opining devoted to the 2016 presidential primaries and the run-up to the party conventions in July, one might wonder why so few proposals for major reforms and redirections for our country are on the political table. Thanks to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, some issues are being discussed, including trade treaties, free college tuition, and raising the minimum wage. But many issues that voters are interested are barely mentioned by either the candidates or the media. These should be front and center:
Pensions are in deep crisis in America. The traditional defined-benefit pension, which provides a fixed monthly payment upon retirement, is disappearing, and the limited and risky 401(k) is taking its place. The 2008 Wall Street collapse eroded trillions of dollars of pension value. Moreover, the corporate manipulation and undermining of existing pensions continues. Public employee pensions are under attack by right-wing governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin. In addition, an extended low-interest rate policy by the Federal Reserve erodes the very survival prospects of pension payments.
Cracking down on corporate crime is important to voters. Although the mass media report the crimes of corporate polluters, massive abuses of consumers and workers, and willful product defects, few reporters ask the candidates, “What is your policy on corporate crime enforcement?” Why don’t they ever inquire about tiny corporate crime enforcement budgets that minimize the number of federal cops on the corporate crime beat?
Single-payer or full Medicare for all, with free choice of doctor and hospital, is dismissed as a Bernie Sanders pie-in-the-sky by both the press and Hillary Clinton. In reality, it is much cheaper per capita, with better data feedbacks and life-saving outcomes in Canada and other countries.
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Although poll after poll shows that Americans are disgusted with big money in politics and want more choices on the ballot, major-party candidates are largely silent about how to reform campaign finance, and they aren’t about to unilaterally disarm, since they benefit directly. By contrast, Bernie Sanders raised over $220 million in contributions, averaging $27 each, with no billionaires or super PACs pulling his strings. Candidates need to take specific positions on how to get big money out of politics. Meanwhile, the two-party tyranny, and the incessant dialing for the same commercial campaign dollars, excludes equal treatment for third parties and narrows the discussion on issues that are important to voters — both on the left and the right.
Politics is all about the distribution of power — who has it, who doesn’t, and who should have more or less of it. Yet reforms that would shift the power away from the Wall Street/Washington axis — often called the corporate state — are off the table. What about tort reform, or “tort deform,” which limits people’s ability to sue and closes off access to justice in our courts to wrongfully injured people? Trillions of consumer dollars are processed annually through the peonage of fine-print contracts that take away our rights, arbitrarily inflict overcharges and penalties, and block our right to sue in court. Are not those scammed consumer dollars also grist for our political campaigns? Our lagging labor laws are strongly tilted against the workers’ right to collective bargaining vis-a-vis major corporations, such as Walmart or General Electric. Politicians have learned never to mention the notorious anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. What about the denial of taxpayers’ standing to sue their governments for the most egregious misbehavior, waste, or constitutional and statutory violations? Americans are increasingly tired of being told to shut up and pay.
Then there is the 8,000-pound untouchable gorilla in the room, which is the bloated, redundant military budget. At $602 billion, it accounted for more than 50 percent of the federal government’s discretionary spending last year. Yet the Pentagon doesn’t explain how the money is spent and makes it nearly impossible to hold it accountable. The Government Accountability Office of Congress tells the Pentagon every year that its books are unauditable. But presidential candidates barely debate this huge drain on our country.
Our presidential elections are supposed to attract public deliberations about our county and its global impact, today and in the future. The entrenched powers perpetuate the divide-and-rule strategy and reap the advantages of the polarization of our society. It is time for citizens to raise their expectations and demand more from our political process and candidates.