Pulse of the Peninsula: Rep Israel’s agenda faces obstruction

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Pulse of the Peninsula: Rep Israel’s agenda faces obstruction
Photos Provided by Rivkin Radler

Congressman Steve Israel addressed the Great Neck Democratic Club at Great Neck House on April 22, laying out his priorities and vision. 

He spoke well and his talk was interesting, intelligent (you don’t often get that) and extremely well received. 

I was depressed.

Because even though I agreed with his priorities and vision and know him to be one of the leaders of the Democratic caucus, often interviewed on TV. I know that none of what he outlined as the essentials to avoid a dystopic future, would be achieved.

It was especially depressing because he noted that “future” is not two or three or four generations away. “Future” is the year 2030 – just 17 years from now.

How fast is the world spinning?

The biggest “new things” that will impact our world in 2030, he said, “haven’t even been thought of yet,” let alone are in development.

That’s how fast change is coming.

He outlined the findings of a National Intelligence Assessment which laid out the five biggest Big Wave developments unfolding and the “good news/bad news” that they bring. Which scenario – the good or the bad – becomes our reality will depend on the actions taken today.

And what do we have today? 

Sequester.

We have the Republicans in the House not even going to conference to discuss the 2014 budget. We have a Senate where a single Senator can block the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans.

We have a dysfunctional Congress where not doing anything is actually doing harm, setting this nation irrevocably back. A Republican dominated Congress (the Senate included because of the filibuster rules) where the singular objective is obstructing whatever this elected President seeks to achieve, and where “the future” is 2016.

A Congress that is so dysfunctional, it cannot even pass sensible gun safety regulations supported by 90 percent of the American people. What does that say?

As economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, we don’t just have an unemployment problem, we have a long-term unemployment problem, where those people who have been out of work for more than a year will never ever fully recover. Their future is being written.

We have a “1 percent solution” where our economic policies are determined by and for the 1 percent, the 99 percent be damned (and are).

But what Krugman did not incorporate into his assessment is that this is intention – that even though an economic policy that “lifts all boats” – strengthens the middle class and enables people to lift themselves out of poverty –  also benefits the richest, there is little incentive to do that because while the richest are doing exceptionally well, they also can control politics and power. That’s what they don’t want to give up. That’s why they embrace austerity – not just as ideology, but as a political strategy. 

People don’t have time to be politically active when they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet and they sure as heck don’t have spare change to donate to candidates, let alone hire lobbyists or fund think tanks to come up with outrageous propositions. (“Why the minimum wage should be abolished. Human activity is not causing global warming; what is more, there is no such thing. Humankind depends on carbon emissions, that’s what makes plants grow.) 

It is about political power, not just financial power, which is what you covet most when you have more money than Midas. Ask Michael Bloomberg. Ask Mitt Romney.

This tactic is crystallized in the assault on Social Security.

Social Security – along with Medicare – is the reason why senior citizens are not homeless and eating out of garbage cans today. It is not an “entitlement” program – it is an insurance annuity that all working people paid into for their entire lives. Yes, they are getting more back than they put in – isn’t that the whole point behind a retirement program? It is also why Republicans are arguing to voucherize it, cut benefits, and ultimately, privatize it. Actually the campaign to privatize it, paid for by Peter Peterson, is intended to get the $2.7 trillion in Social Security “bank” to inject into the extraordinarily corrupt and manipulated stock market.

But we aren’t going to see any progress in sensible regulation there, either, and the banksters will continue to make extraordinary profits on derivatives, while putting the risk for failure onto shareholders and consumers who suffer the manipulated prices of the commodity markets, and why there will be no curb of electronic trading in which Wall Street makes money on what is essentially insider trading – making a buy milliseconds after you put in your buy order, so they can sell it back to you at a higher price a millisecond later.

I was disappointed in the way Congressman Israel responded to the final question about Social Security. Yes, he said he opposed the concept of a “chained CPI” – which was actually proposed by President Obama (still trying to look like the Great Compromiser forging consensus), but which emerged from the Republican think-tanks, who pushed it until Obama embraced it.(Sound familiar? Think Obamacare, think tax reform). Now Republicans are gleefully campaigning against Democrats as the “savior” of Social Security.

But there is a simple solution to Social Security – the fairest, most equitable solution: Raise the cap. Do people realize that Social Security and Medicare taxes are deducted on only the first $113,700. 

That means that 90 percent of Americans see 100 percent of their income subject to payroll taxes. But for 10 of high-earning Americans, they pay less – many, who do not earn W-2 wages at all but make their money from dividends and interest (like Mitt Romney earning $22 million a year), do not pay a penny.

If all income were subject to payroll taxes, I’ll bet you that not only would Social Security be solvent, but they could actually lower the rate for everybody. But let’s just say they raise the cap, to the first $250,000 of income, that would also make Social Security solvent. 

Ninety percent of Americans. What else represents 90 percent of Americans? Gun Safety legislation. A minority of Senators representing an even narrower minority of Americans was able to block legislation (let alone that the Republican-dominated House would never allow the legislation come to a vote, even though Republican majority in the House represent fewer Americans that the Democratic minority).

But there is an assault on ordinary, working Americans. The Republican-dominated Congress hasn’t done a single thing to promote jobs-creation, but instead, have blocked every initiative.

Infrastructure, education, all of the things that Congressman Israel talked about as being essential priorities, he is powerless to achieve any of them. Democrats have been effectively shut out, shut up.

It is sad to see President Obama groveling, pleading, entreating Americans to call their congressmember, to get measure after measure to promote jobs through. And none of them get through. Not one.

The philosophy – strategy – is even more heinous in light of the trends that Congressman Israel outlined:

The gun safety issue is the “canary in the coal mine” – if Congress doesn’t pass that, it won’t pass anything. We are doomed. It shows that it really doesn’t matter how many people stand for any issue or policy. The goal is to bankrupt ordinary people so they can’t pay-to-play politics.

Forget about climate change, and so our economy will increasingly be depleted by restoring communities after fire, flood, drought, and ravaging storms.

Infrastructure Bank? Another bipartisan idea (Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson proposed it) which is supposed to leverage private capital in order to restore our bridges and roads that won’t go anywhere.

So sad.

Congressman Israel, who became our Congressman because of redistricting, is a heavy-hitter in the House, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

I ask about the future: 2014.

Israel says he is optimistic about prospects for 2014. I am not. I tell him I think it will be a repeat of 2010, when progressives and Democrats, so frustrated by the inability of Democrats to achieve any portion of the Obama agenda we elected in 2008, stayed home, handing the Republicans control over the House. 

So far, 2013 is even worse than 2009, with the Republicans very satisfied in their strategy to block everything and anything that Obama favors. They are calculating that Democrats will again stay home, rather than voters punish Republicans for their intransigence. It’s working quite well for them. If nothing else, they are prolonging the misery and unemployment of millions, and making sure Democrats cannot amass the war chest and control over media and the message that the Republicans have. 

Congressman Israel spoke to the Great Neck Democrats about the future – not the far away hypothetical, pie-in-the-sky future, but the near future,  the “Five Key Trends”, based on a report of the Intelligence community (CA, Defense Intelligence) required by Congress every four years, since the Clinton Administration.

But he started with a premise about his responsibility for the future and the sentimental image of the fourth graders at Norwood Avenue Elementary School that he met. 

“My job is to make sure those fourth graders at Norwood Avenue Elementary School, and throughout the country and the world, grow up in world safe secure, stable, and get good jobs, fulfill their potential, safe from terrorism, that they can raise their families in decent prosperous conditions. That’s what I do for a living, I think a lot about where this country is going, the contributions we as Democrats, and those who are not Democrats, make to that objective, that goal of insuring a better future for our children.

Five of key takeaways, he said:

Trend One: Middle Class Population Boom

“Between now and 2030, just 17 years from now, we will add 1.2 billion to the population of the world. That’s a lot of people. 

The good news is that that population will see an explosion in the growth of middle class in the world – middle class will grow massively.

The bad news is that the growth will be in the middle class from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, meanwhile the middle class in the United States will erode unless we pick the right priorities and investments.

Trend Two: Aging Demographics

“Our planet, population of planet is getting older faster. The fastest growing population on earth is the elderly – the most massive increase in growth in world history of elderly.

“The good news: the reason we’re growing older faster is because medical technologies are keeping us alive. The flip side of that, because so many people living longer, that will impose massive strains on retirement and health security. The debate on Medicare and Social Security we are having in the US will permeate every country on earth.”

Trend Three: Moving Back to Cities

“This morning, 50 percent of the world lived in cities; within 17 years, 60 percent of the world will live in cities – bigger, sprawling, the world is migrating back into urban areas.

The challenge: municipal governments, local leaders, particularly in Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa, will face monumental pressures for services in these urban areas – they will need massive investments- sidewalks, roadways, housing. People will move to cities for jobs but not afford housing, so will see huge increase in homelessness. 

[Other countries? What about the U.S.? Our local governments are under huge pressure; our infrastructure is crumbling.]

Trend Four: Disruptive Technologies

The most remarkable thing of all: the game-changing technologies that will transform our society in 2030 haven’t even started to be conceptualized yet – Most of the technologies my daughters will use, the fourth graders will use in 17 years, have not only yet to be researched, they haven’t even been imagined yet.

An example of disruptive technology, he said, is three-dimensional printing, “a threat to public safety.” In the not-to-distant future, you will be able to go to Staples, and for $1000 purchase a 3-D printer, take it to your house, and manufacture your own gun parts.

Robotics: there are 1.2 million robots in manufacturing; “by 2030, it is possible we will no longer need human capital to make things, robots will make most things.

Instruments of cyber warfare are another example of completely disruptive technology.

Trend Five: Immense Demand (Competition) for Resources

Between now and 17 years from now, there will be a 35 percent increase in world demand for food, 40 percent increase for water, and 50 percent increase in energy.

The good news: in 2030, the largest global supplier of energy will be the US, the US will be Saudi Arabia of the world because natural gas technology. But there will be a massive demand for scarce resources.

What does it mean – good news/bad news?

“The most important finding of the report,” Congressman Israel said, “Is we are in one of those pivotal moments that have occurred only four times before in human history – 1815, 1919, 1945, 1989 – where the decisions we make as elected officials, business leaders, political leaders – the decisions we make today will have a massive impact on the very next generation. 

“Time is accelerating rapidly. Throughout most of human history, it took 2,3, 4 generations for a major change to settle in. This is different: the decisions we make now will change course of world in 17 years. 2013 is a pivotal moment in human history.

“If we get this right, if we make the right decisions, the right investments, choose the right priorities, those 4th graders will wake in 2030 in a magnificent world, where they are safe, secure, clean drinking water, precious environment, good jobs, educated and trainee.

“If we get this wrong, those children will wake up on planet that is tougher than the one we woke up on this morning.

“The stakes are high.”

Indeed. And that’s why I am so depressed.


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