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Whatever Happened to the Fierce Urgency of Now?


Lincoln defined democracy as government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. We are now faced with a government of the transnational corporate capitalists, by the Democratic and Republican Parties and for the consolidation of wealth in the hands of an elite few. Hardly what Abe had in mind when addressing the loss of America ’s treasure at Gettysburg some seven score and six years ago.

Reagan pushed the deregulation button, told us that government was the enemy of the people and to put our trust in the private sector as he slashed the income tax on the wealthy from 70% to 28%. Bush Sr. went along with the program he had previously labeled “voodoo economics”. Clinton then abandoned traditional democratic principles and led the globalization and outsourcing bandwagon. In addition, he kicked the top tax rate back up to 39.6% from the 31% he inherited and balanced the budget with a surplus. Bush Jr. accelerated privatization, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy and made the Reagan deficits look puny.

Not content with a bi-partisan foreign policy that over the years had emphasized supporting death squads around the world from Nicaragua and El Salvador to Chile and the Philippines , Bush declared the entire world his battlefield with his moronic War on Terror. Sitting in a cave in Afghanistan , Osama bin Laden said he could bankrupt the U.S. if he could get us to attack a Muslim country. Bush Jr. one upped him by invading two. The Taliban had offered to turn over bin Laden if we didn’t invade Afghanistan . Now 7 ½ years after invading and bin Laden is still sitting in a cave. Of course from the start the Iraq War and occupation was about control of Iraqi oil for the transnational capitalists and control of the Mideast for the American Empire.

With our country at war, our economy ruined by what can only be described as the financial sector’s criminal activity, abetted by the party politicians; we elected the candidate who promised change.

Obama, smart as a whip and with a clear mandate from the American people, chose to surround himself with recycled hacks of bygone administrations. He agreed to end one of the wars, sort of sometime, and to escalate the other. He does not believe it important to hold our previous administration leaders responsible for wars of aggression and torture. He has sided with the Wall Street banks and financial institutions, instead of nationalizing them and prosecuting their CEOs for fraud. He’s pushing for a national healthcare plan. But insists on keeping the insurance industry involved, even though it will cost the American people 30% more than a single payer government run plan would. He does not seem to grasp the simple economic principle that working people need a livable wage now! That decisive government action to guarantee jobs at a livable wage now to those willing to work will do more for the economy than all the stimulus and bailout plans imaginable.

Increase the top tax rate to the 90% range it was under FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy or at the very least the 70% range it was under Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. A wealthy person should be able to make ends meet on say $3 million a year. Have the new top tax rate kick in there so they will be taxed on earnings up to that point like the rest of us. Increase the minimum wage to a livable wage and guarantee government employment. For small business owners who demonstrate that they can’t pay the new livable wage, let the government make up the difference until the business shows that they can support it.

Inequality is anathema to democracy. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis counseled us on where great disparity in wealth would lead our country “We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”

FDR, who took office in 1933 during The Great Depression, did not push through reforms like Social Security and the Works Project Administration (WPA) until 1935, but he was constantly trying new solutions. Obama is not and if he waits two years before leading us to real social change, he may no longer have the political capital to do so.

Martin Luther King at Riverside Baptist Church in 1967 said “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” He was calling for an end to the Vietnam War. If he was with us today, wouldn’t he be calling for an immediate end to both foreign wars? Wouldn’t he be calling for a livable wage for workers instead of billions and trillions to the ‘banksters’? Wouldn’t Dr. King be calling for Obama to listen to the American people?

NICK EGNATZ resides in Munster, Indiana, is a Vietnam vet, member of Veterans For Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He was named Northwest Indiana Citizen of the Year 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers and has been published extensively online and by Northwest Indiana newspapers on the issues of peace and the economy. He can be reached at:

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