2006-01-13 / Columnists

The Progressive

By John Paul Culotta

As an old year ends and a new year commences, it is customary for many of us to make resolutions regarding our lives. Many of us resolve to improve our spiritual existence. Others pledge to improve their financial portfolio. Most of us resolve to eat less, exercise more, and develop healthy habits. Often we make the same resolutions every year. This year I made resolutions regarding all facets of my life, including proof reading. Seeking to improve is always admirable. Unfortunately, we often do not take any actions to accomplish what we seek for ourselves.

Last year, after the hurricane that devastated the Gulf region, President Bush made resolutions on television in front of Saint Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. He pledged that this nation would rebuild the Gulf and New Orleans. There was a commitment made that the divisions of class, race, and economic status would end and that all Americans would become part of our nation’s promise of economic and social justice. It was a resolution this nation, in order to survive, must fulfill. No nation can survive with the deep divisions this nation has.

It appears President Bush and most Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have not resolved to end the divisions that dishonor our reputation abroad and make life a living hell for millions of our American citizens. This nation has enormous budget deficits. Millions are spent daily to wage an unpopular war. It will take billions to rebuild New Orleans alone. At this time, our nation has only committed to rebuild the levees to a capacity that can withstand a category three strength storm. This is unacceptable. Members of Congress have set out to find budget savings in programs such as Medicaid, child support enforcement, food stamps, and subsidized childcare. One state, Missouri, passed a law that limits financial aid for some parents who adopt foster children. The children who are in foster care often have histories that include physical abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, are HIV positive, and have mothers that were addicted to crack. Many of the foster children have learning and behavioral problems. The financial cuts helped adopting parents obtain therapy, tutoring, and childcare. Other states have also curbed adoption spending according to Children’s Rights. Missouri’s law applies the cuts retroactively. Governor Blount, a Republican, states the money for the programs that the state obtains from the federal government is limited and must be spent only on needy families. Missouri, will save $12 million from a budget of $60 million for adoption services of which $18 million was from Washington according to an article in the New York Times. Can this nation afford to shortchange these vulnerable children?

On December 11, 2002 Sharon Lerner, a senior fellow at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, stated the United States Department of Agriculture figures show that more than one in ten New Yorkers either face hunger or at the brink of hunger. Many Americans have no health insurance coverage from their employers. If dollars from Washington are reduced, states will be forced to raise fees, impose new premiums or scale back services for many of our working poor. Low income working families will be forced to pay more for childcare if dollars for childcare are reduced. At the same time, income tax reductions for the wealthy and corporations continue to exist.

The recent transit strike in New York City is an example of a disruption that can occur when economic justice is not part of the social system set by a nation. Transit workers in many other cities enjoyed higher wages than workers in New York City. Sanitary facilities for the workers were unacceptable. For many of the TWU members, their job ensured them a living wage, health insurance, and a promise of a decent pension when old. The MTA wanted to reduce health benefits, and change pension rights for some members. It is also illegal for the MTA to make pension benefits part of negotiations. A majority of the members of the TWU are minorities and wish to have what most middle class Americans have. All Americans deserve the right to strike and also the right to join unions. Eleven Nobel Peace Prize winners, including the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President James Carter, and Lech Walesa signed a protest advertisement that decried infringements of the rights to unionize in this country. Our nation was compared to Burma and China in our failure to protect workers’ rights and bargain collectively. Denying workers the right to strike especially when health and safety is not endangered is to give the employer no incentive to bargain in good faith. The AFL-CIO claims one third of companies in the United States facing unionization campaigns fire union supporters and that one half threaten to close work sites.

All Americans who work deserve a living wage. According to Jimmy Carter in his book, Our Endangered Values , the minimum wage based on American buying power for Australia is $8.66; France $8.88; Italy $9.18; England $9.20; Germany $12.74 per hour. If you compare this to our minimum wage standard, it is clear that we expect too much of our working population considering all the countries above mentioned have national health care systems and provide free university education for their citizens. Last week, I was listening to a group of economists on National Public Radio who stated the European Community’s economy couldn’t compete in the growth levels of the United States and China. China’s growth is exceptional, but at a high environmental and social cost. Many Americans do not share in our nation’s wealth. One economist stated that our income distribution is similar to Mexico and South Africa. Is this what we want? We should demand that President Bush lives up to his resolution made in front of St. Louis Cathedral.

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