Dearest Jesse and Rachael,
You kids — your older brother, sisters, and cousins — mean the world to your grandmother and me.
We treasure you all, and want more than anything for you to succeed in your life choices.
As Americans, your opportunities for happiness are unlimited.
At least they were.
My generation made of mess of things. (Except for Grandma! She was too busy skydiving.)
So I write this to apologize for the America we now pass on to you, and to give you some guidance on how to undo our mistakes, giving your grandchildren a country that truly supports peace, justice, and opportunity for all.
As you grow up, study well world and US history.
You’ll learn that the US of the 1940s and 1950s in which your grandmother and I were raised was a more caring place. Few of us had much money, but jobs were plentiful. Most of us owned our own homes. As a rule, moms weren’t forced to work outside the house; raising the kids was Job One.
We had little crime. It sounds odd today, but when Grandma and I grew up, most of us honestly cared about one another. If our neighbor got down on her luck, everyone pitched in. We knew she’d do the same for us.
Back then — this is the honest-to-God truth — we believed in our government. Really! We’d just experienced a Great Depression and a Great War. We saw the government save millions of us from homelessness and starvation.
Newly created government agencies actually protected us from bad food, dangerous medicine, and hazardous working conditions. Firm, sober financial regulators protected us from white-colored crooks and slick Ponziests.
These public servants took their jobs seriously.
BLINDED BY GREED
We got greedy. As we acquired stuff, that stuff — even its acquisition — became more important than relationships, seemingly more important than even the quality of air we breathed and water we drank.
In the name of Capitalism we would suck the planet dry. As Nikita Kruschev reminded Eisenhower 50 years ago, “You will make and sell us the rope with which to hang you.” Profits were more important than people.
We forgot that this Earth is only borrowed from your generation, Rachael and Jesse, and is not ours to plunder.
Finally, we denied a birthright, an obligation embedded deep in our hearts when we were your age: to be fair with one another and the rest of the world.
“Screw you; I got mine!” was too often the motto of the day.
Our governments got greedy too. Today, lawmakers in Washington often take money in return for laws favoring narrow moneyed interests, laws that frequently hurt folks like us. Hurt the country, too. These days we see it all around us.
Have you learned in civics class (You do still have to take Civics, don’t you?) that only about half of us citizens bother to vote anymore?
Quite unlike France, for example, US politicians running government no longer fear us and our precious vote. (And, unlike the French, we seldom hold street riots burning these traitors in effigy.)
Congress has succeeded in establishing partnerships with the corporate world where the guy with the most money always wins, where the business of the day is to write law that keeps profits and top salaries high, costs, including your parent’s daily wages, low.
Blatantly they conduct their corrupt business with the corporatocracy. Back in WWII, we called people like this “Fascists. You know, an authoritarian nationalist political view with a corporatist economic ideology.
Call them what you will, they don’t care about you anymore. It’s easy to understand why.
BETWEEN BOREDOM AND BLASPHEMY
How many of those so-called representatives of ours were voted out of office last election ?
None! That’s because elections are no longer fair and democratic. Politicians have rigged them so they can’t lose. Robbed of the power to rid ourselves of those elected to represent us yet who vote against our interests, we the people have no real say.
Today, in place of a democracy where citizens rule, money flows from rich donors ensuring that politicians pass laws making the wealthy wealthier at others’ expense. Real cozy.
For example, imagine a class with 500 students. Your teacher takes money from everyone, then gives more than half the collection to just one student, the richest one. And who gets almost all the rest? The 22 next wealthiest students. That little tax cut for the richest of us cost you and your classmates (I’m not paying it!) $1.6 trillion. That was the deficit G.W. Bush gave you, plus interest, for his largess.
When Granny and I were growing up our nation had financial equality, more or less. Sure, some homes were larger than others, but we all have homes.
Today, after 30 years of reverse Robin hood — the rich are far richer and the poor far poorer. (We’re an optimistic people. Americans want to join the rich, not soak them. Eight out of ten, more than anywhere else, believe that though you may start poor, if you work hard, you can make pots of money. It is a big part of the American Dream.)
Today, the gaps in after-tax incomes between households in the top 1 percent and those in the middle and bottom fifths are the widest on record. There’s greater concentration of wealth at top than what caused The Crash of 1929.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, income for the bottom half of American households rose 6 percent since 1979 but, through 2005, the income of the top 1 percent skyrocketed — by 228 percent.
Is that fair? Yet that’s what Congress does today. They call it “tax reform.” Last time it happened, Mr. G. W. Bush added $1.6-trillion to the money we owe the world by unburdening the rich of progressive taxes.
Worse, that same money is needed now for healthcare reform.
So government gives to the rich with one hand, and borrows with the other. And who eventually pays this trillion-dollar debt? You, your brothers and sisters and cousins! And your kids when you have them.
What To Do About It?
Yes, my generation has made a mess of it. But here’s something you can do about it.
First, know that this great country of ours is indeed yours, not the government’s, not the corporations’. Yours! That includes our natural resources, schools, armies, treasury, police, airwaves, and laws.
There comes a time when citizens must claim what’s rightly theirs.
- Read “The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies.” That was such a time.
- Then read the US Constitution. It begins with these words:
We the People of the United States… [to] establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- Pay special attention to the first 15 Amendments. Ask someone you trust why they are so important.
- Read George Orwell’s 1984. Learn how government hijacks language, turning it against freedom and fairness.
- Read Jesus’ teachings in The New Testament. Beware those who would interpret for you. Read for yourself. His teachings of love, surrender, and forgiveness are revolutionary still — ideas some Christians prefer that you ignore. If America is ever to find its way back to equality, justice, and the idea of commonwealth, that way is shown here, founded on love, not of money, but of each other.
- Look to Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere to learn how others use government for the benefit of all, especially the desperate, the destitute, and the despaired. Take what works, leave the rest. Always keep an open mind.
- Above all, look to your own conscience to know what’s fair, and fight for it with all your might.
Never fear. It’s your country, and it’s a great place. Take it back.
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