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The Dismal Future of America

Reviewing for the New York Times the new book by Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, David Frum asks, “Does America Have a Future”? The backdrop for the question is a combustible mixture of news: more Americans are living in poverty than at any time in the past 50 years and another shocker– the moment during the Tea Party debate among Republican presidential candidates when the audience cheered the idea of letting uninsured patients die. America has a future, but we are heading in an unrecognizable direction without navigation aids.

I recall an American president, Bill Clinton, speaking at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami in the spring of 1995. Clinton was a fabulous campaigner. Even his adversaries– especially his adversaries — would agree. He looked over the crowd assembled and sang the virtues of place. He said along these lines, “In the future America is going to look more and more like Miami. Diverse and vibrant and filled with hope.” I marveled from the audience of adoring supporters.

At the time, I was a year into the struggle to stop the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco– triggered by the Miami-Dade county commission and powerful campaign contributors reconstituted as HABDI from the board of directors of the Latin Builders Association. (Their goal: to convert the destroyed military base into a privatized commercial airport with the aim of using their control of access, to control the re-supply of Cuba, after Castro. HABDI needed the quick blessing of the Clinton White House.) Some were big Clinton givers, too.

Clinton surely knew that America’s future, in a city like Miami, was also hostage to unreliable elections that could be determined by absentee ballot fraud. And as a student of ward politics, he surely knew, as did then US Senator Bob Graham, that election fraud in Miami Dade was rampant. (A top Graham top aide, Lula Rodriguez– and White House official during the first Clinton term–, personally signed 14 fraudulent ballots during the 1993 campaign of Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez.)

As the blog Eyeonmiami reported yesterday, absentee ballot fraud is alive and well in Miami-Dade. In light turn-out and closely contested elections, the results of fraud can be determinant. This is especially harmful in state legislative races that in Miami are glorified popularity contests. The toxicity out of absentee ballot fraud cannot be rinsed out; it is based on political cronyism and sanctioned illegal activities that endure like the symptoms of a tick bite.

How is election fraud tolerated? The same question can be asked of gerrymandered districts and of a campaign finance system blown to smithereens by the Roberts Supreme Court.

The damage to our democracy and way of life didn’t start yesterday. Stealing elections has a hallowed history wrapping up Democrats and Republicans. But all our faults– and immorality masked by American with lapel pins and Bibles– were one thing when the rest of the world seemed incapable of catching the US economy and another when the ease of technology assures that our strengths are being by-passed on a 24/7 basis.

Unfortunately, Americans are stuck on wistful regret for an imaginary past. The narratives are shades of the same color, depending on political persuasion. It might have been the years of George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan, or Dwight Eisenhower. (Funny, how the years of Jimmy Carter never factor into the illusion. Carter was the only president to dare reach directly to Americans while in the White House, on the immorality of an energy policy based on imported oil and that response, in large part, propelled Ronald Reagan to the White House.)

But we are so far beyond that now. The damage to American democracy handicaps us severely in the battles to come, like protecting our economy and national security from the impacts of climate change. In a recent report, author Robert Bryce notes, “Over the past decade, U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions fell by 1.7 percent. During that same time, period global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by a stunning 28.5 percent… Over the past decade, electricity demand in Asia rose by a whopping 85 percent.” America cannot be a leader in either growth in the new energy sector or in the urgent matter of changing global consumption of fossil fuels while electoral distortions persist.

Frum writes that China went into a deep economic hibernation in the mid 17th century from which it did not emerge for another three and a half centuries. Meanwhile, there is a reason that the top 1 percent of US wage earners now claim 40 percent of earnings: this is how squirrels anticipate the long winter to come.

Americans ignore absentee ballot fraud and other distortions of the electoral system at grave peril. It is long past time that elected officials set aside their differences and polarized bases to come together on fixing what ails elections and campaign finance. If corporations– who have the legal rights of people, too– have their self-interest closest to heart, then corporate titans should recognize too the destruction of so much value cannot help but marginalize future opportunities to profit. And since the business of America is business, annual reports of public corporations could well include this warning: fraudulent elections are bad predictors of future results.

Alan Farago is conservation chair of Friends of the Everglades. He can be reached at: afarago@bellsouth.net

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Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

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