Sunday, May 29, 2011

This Memorial Day

The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember and honor veterans of all American wars, both past and present. However, while people will undoubtedly honor the sacrifice of this nation's great heroes, the US government will also undoubtedly spit in the faces of servicemen and women by having them fight in the needless quagmire that is Afghanistan. Nor will they fully withdraw US forces from Iraq and stop the bombardment of Libya.

Few will vote to end the disastrous Afghan war that is completely and totally unneeded as it is not for the security of the United States, but rather it is for the needs of oil companies and US interests. [1]

The US government does not care about American soldiers; the only thing that matters to them is getting reelected as to hold on to power. If they truly cared and loved US servicemen and women as much as they claim, then why would they vote on giving funding for these wars? The Constitution clearly states of Congress:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. [2]

With the "power To lay and collect taxes" also comes the power of determining how to spend those tax dollars. By spending tax dollars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Congress is not fulfilling its duty to control federal government spending. These wars are doing nothing to us but bankrupting America and whipping up anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.

In order to truly honor American servicemen and women, the US government should end these useless military adventures and bring our troops home immediately. However, Congress isn't going to act without pressure, thus anyone who opposes our foreign military adventures should contact their Senators and urge them to pull funding for these wars and to order our troops to come home.

Only then, will we truly be able to say that we respect and honor our servicemen and women for their sacrifice.

Please feel free to send comments, concerns, and questions to Please use the title of the blog post in the subject line.


WikiLeaks: Mauritanian Child Brides Embody the Dark Side of Globalization by Michael Busch

This article was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus on May 23, 2011

One of the least remarked upon aspects of the WikiLeaked embassy cables is the persistent focus by diplomats on the so-called “dark side of globalization”—the illicit global economy. From gun-runners and nuclear smugglers to concerns about the trafficking of people and natural resources, cables detailing the corrosive effects of organized crime on the national interest pepper the Cablegate database with remarkable frequency.
The issue of human trafficking, particularly, consumes the focus of numerous cables. As the anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi warns in her new book, Gridlock, the discourse around trafficking tends to oversimplify and blur thinking about a spectrum of activity that is not always coerced nor connected to the sex trade, but is often assumed to be monolithic, gendered and defined by socioeconomic desperation. However true this observation—and evidence suggests that it’s spot on—some cases are less unambiguous.
Child trafficking is one such instance, the subject of a 2009 cable with the alarming title “From Child Bride to Sex Slave,” which discusses the disturbing trend in Mauritania of young girls being “married off to wealthy Saudi [Arabian] men in exchange for hefty bride prices.” The bulk of the report recounts a discussion embassy officials had with Aminetou Mint El Moctar, president of the Association of Women Heads of Household, a Mauritanian NGO advocating for women’s rights.
Mint El Moctar told the diplomats that the traditional practice of child marriages
Was the main driver of trafficking. Traffickers approach poor and ignorant Mauritanian families about marrying their daughter to wealthy Saudi men. Hefty bride prices amounting to five to six million ouguiya (approximately $20,000) and promises of better opportunities for the girls lure the families into accepting…The intermediaries are usually associated with local travel agencies, which Mint El Moctar are in reality trafficking networks. The girls are taken to Saudi Arabia by a family member or by a travel agency-designated “tutor.” The agency intermediary gets a commission from the husband for the striking the marriage deal—amounts vary according to the girl’s beauty and youth.  
What’s worse,
Mint El Moctar stressed that once they arrive in Saudi Arabia, these child brides become sex slaves to their husbands. She explained that pre-pubescent girls are highly prized by Saudi men but, once they reach puberty or become pregnant, they are of no further interest to their husbands. According to Mint El Moctar, the girls are then repudiated and thrown into the streets. Without a support network, they have no choice but to become prostitutes.
Mint El Moctar’s claims came as no shock to embassy officials which, the cable notes, had heard similar stories from other human rights activists. One claimed that “she had met a Mauritanian girl who had spent three years in Saudi Arabia locked up in a room without seeing anybody but her husband and a female servant who tended to her needs. ”  American diplomats had also heard reports from Radio France International which in an expose of the networks had interviewed young women brought to Saudi as child brides, including one “who, upon her divorce, had to leave her children behind in” the country.
Compounding the problem, “the Mauritanian government does not recognize trafficking as a problem” despite the fact that” articles 332 and 335 of the penal code have provisions against trafficking,” provisions that “are not enforced.” Mint El Moctar reported that she had contacted government officials in an effort to get them to at least rhetorically “denounce government inaction, but received no response.” As a result, Mint El Moctar reported that she had begun mobilizing “a public awareness campaign and is fighting for the creation of a law project to criminalize and combat trafficking.”
The cable’s author, Charge d’Affaires Dennis Hankins, notes in an aside that Mint El Moctar would likely have her work cut out for her. The previous February, embassy officials had raised the issue of human trafficking with a representative of the Ministry of Justice
Who states trafficking of Mauritanian women did not exist and trafficking to Saudi Arabia was not possible because there was a government law that required women to travel with a male family member. 
For a problem that supposedly doesn’t exist, the stakes sure are high for activists like Mint El Moctar, who warned that “she has received death threats for pushing the issue. She has been accused of being a liar, a madwoman, and a traitor who damages Mauritania’s reputation.”
More broadly, Mint El Moctar reported that young girls in Mauritania who were not trafficked out of the country faced other problems no less upsetting. She
Expressed concern about a recent surge in child marriages in Mauritania…According to Mint El Moctar, early marriages expose young girls to domestic violence, domestic servitude, and endangers their health. She introduced PolOff to a pregnant twelve-year-old girl who had already been married for three years and regularly beaten by her husband.
After the meeting, Hankins followed up by verifying the child’s claims with another human rights NGO representative, who also reported that “one of her clients was a twelve-year-old who almost died in childbirth.”
Mint El Moctar argued that families pressing their daughters into early marriage were driven by fears of pre-marital sex or worries about the possibility of rape. As Hankins notes,
Rape is a generalized problem in Mauritania that receives no government attention. Zeinebou Mint Taleb Moussa, president of the Mauritanian Association for the Health of Mother and Child (AMSME), said that in 2008 the center she supervises—the only one providing services to victims of rape in Mauritania—received 304 victims. She stated that most victims do not seek help. The week of April 1, a center volunteer was raped and threatened for her affiliation to the center.
Even as the Mauritanian government willfully ignored these violations of women’s rights, transnational advocacy groups and their partners at the United Nations were fully aware of what was going on. Yet sadly, the cable reports that UNICEF officials made clear to the embassy that “they do not have the resources to take concrete actions,” and “requested United States funds to help accelerate actions against child trafficking in Mauritania.” It’s not immediately evident what their idea of action might look like, but if their other tentative plan—“to approach this issue in its next national study”—is any indication, there’s much to be desired.
Hankins closes the cable with the observation that
trafficking, the corollary of poverty and traditional practices harmful to women, is one of many taboos in Mauritanian society. NGOs like Mint El Moctar’s wage a lone battle without resources or recognition…As the United States seeks to support democratic forces in Mauritania, it should put emphasis on increasing these NGO’s capacity to denounce and fight human rights abuses as well as provide support to victims. With their “in your face approach” towards the government, their capacity to undertake concrete actions and mobilize the population at the grassroots level, and their desire to fight against all odds for a more democratic society—even at the expense of their reputation and personal safety—human rights activists like Mint El Moctar are among our best partners in democracy.
Hankins’ recommendations did not go unheeded. In June 2010, Mint El Moctar and other activists dedicated to ending the trade in human trafficking were recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their courageous work. And to be sure, it has been impactful. The government of Mauritania now officially recognizes child trafficking as a public problem demanding emergency attention. At the same time, words have not been met with deeds. According to the US State Department’s 2010 annual report on human trafficking, Mauritania has not made any significant efforts to combat the phenomenon within its borders since 2009, inhabiting the exclusive basement tier in a worldwide ranking of countries fighting the trade in people. 

FBI Targeting Political Activists as Terrorists

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

White Privilege

For quite a while there has been a large debate on the issue of affirmative action being given to minorities (though the debate usually focuses on African Americans). Many argue against affirmative action, saying that minorities bear personal responsibility for where they currently find themselves in life and that no one should be given any type of special treatment whatsoever. However, not only does this argument ignore history and its negative social and economic effects on minorities, it also ignores the fact of white privilege.

White privilege is something that most people would rather not discuss. It seems that from politicians to school teachers, most white Americans would not like to discuss the years of white privilege that has been ingrained in American society. To begin this discussion, we must first start off with the beginnings of America and the origins of race in America.

When the British first arrived on the shores of America, "they brought with them both cultural views of race and the expectation of their own position of dominance as a structural feature of any society they might establish." [1] However, this dominance would not come easy, as to be dominant, one must first find someone to make inferior. White servants wouldn't do as they would easily become free within a few years and Native Americans knew the land to such a degree that they could not be enslaved, thus black Africans would be the victim, the people that allowed for race to be created in America.

Their helplessness made enslavement easier. The Indians were on their own land. The whites were in their own European culture. The blacks had been torn from their land and culture, forced into a situation where the heritage of language, dress, custom, family relations, was bit by bit obliterated except for remnants that blacks could hold on to by sheer, extraordinary persistence. [2]

When blacks first arrived to America, they had much in common with white indentured servants and often fraternized with them, many times to the point of marriage. There is much evidence that "where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals." [3] That "common enemy" was not only their master, but also, in a more general sense, the economic elite that exploited their labor. Seeing this, there were laws passed that attempted to end this. "In 1661 a law was passed in Virginia that 'in case any English servant shall run away in company of any Negroes' he would have to give special service for extra years to the master of the runaway Negro." [4] However, there was a massive shift in the case of John Punch. To quote Howard Zinn's  A People's History of the United States:

When in 1640 three servants tried to run away, the two whites were punished with a lengthening of their service. But, as the court put it, "the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his master or his assigns for the time of his natural life." [5]

By having John Punch be enslaved for the rest of his life, a precedent had been created. It fully showed that (in addition to other laws that had been passed) there was a major difference between whites and blacks in America. It showed that race, rather than class, was now important in the society.

The economic elite had to find a way to make sure that they kept their power. When slavery was fully implemented on a large scale basis, replacing white indentured servants, poor whites would get rewards for aiding in keeping the status quo. "In exchange for their support and their policing of the growing slave population, lower-class Europeans won new rights, entitlements, and opportunities from the planter elite." [6] By doing this, the economic elite placated the lower class and made sure that they would not rebel against the status quo, thus allowing them to focus on creating more wealth for themselves as well as not having to worry about any slave revolts.

In the late 1700s white privilege grew even more with the 1790 Naturalization Act.

[It] permitted only "free white persons" to become naturalized citizens, thus opening the doors to European immigrants but not others. Only citizens could vote, serve on juries, hold office, and in some cases, even hold property. In this century, Alien Land Laws passed in California and other states, reserved farm land for white growers by preventing Asian immigrants, ineligible to become citizens, from owning or leasing land. Immigration restrictions further limited opportunities for nonwhite groups. [7]

The 1790 Naturalization Act allowed for America to become even whiter and thus make sure that the status quo of white dominance was assured. Overall, what white privilege did was aid in distracting "white workers from the realities of capitalism by encouraging them to focus on race instead of social class." [8]

This idea of focusing on race rather than class persisted in the 20th century during the labor movement. Unions would discriminate against minorities and when they did protest, "employers often brought in people of color as strikebreakers, hoping white workers would channel their energy and anger into issues of race and away from the reasons that caused them to go on strike in the first place." [9] By constantly turning class issues into race issues, the economic elite were able to keep a status quo that had them as the main beneficiaries as well as weakened the overall labor movement because if workers had focused solely on class instead of race, not only would tactics like the one mentioned above have failed, workers may have very well been able to get better benefits.

During the Great Depression and WW2, white privilege once again came back in the form of legislation. "During Jim Crow's last hurrah in the 1930s and 1940s, when southern members of Congress controlled the gateways to legislation, policy decisions dealing with welfare, work and war either excluded the vast majority of African Americans or treated them differently from others." [10] In between the years of 1945 and 1955, the federal government gave more than $100 billion in support of retirement programs and fashion opportunities for job skills, education, homeownership and small-business formation. This money helped to "dramatically [reshape] the country's social structure by creating a modern, well-schooled, homeowning middle class." [11] Yet none of this aid went to minorities, as "Southern members of Congress used occupational exclusions and took advantage of American federalism to ensure that national policies would not disturb their region's racial order." [12] By excluding minorities, the US government ensured that minorities would consistently be economically behind whites for decades.

The GI Bill that was passed after WW2 also adversely affected African Americans. Columbian political science professor Ira Katznelson states in his book When Affirmative Action Was White of the GI Bill's effect on African Americans:

Southern Congressional leaders made certain that the programs were directed not by Washington but by local white officials, businessmen, bankers and college administrators who would honor past practices. As a result, thousands of black veterans in the South -- and the North as well -- were denied housing and business loans, as well as admission to whites-only colleges and universities. They were also excluded from job-training programs for careers in promising new fields like radio and electrical work, commercial photography and mechanics. Instead, most African-Americans were channeled toward traditional, low-paying ''black jobs'' and small black colleges, which were pitifully underfinanced and ill equipped to meet the needs of a surging enrollment of returning soldiers. [13]

Due to being excluded from the benefits of the GI Bill, a situation was created where the African-American community would have to play even more economic catch-up to get to the same position as whites. This, in addition with the massive negative economic effects that slavery had on the black community, almost ensured that blacks would almost never be on the same socio-economic ladder as their white counterparts.

White privilege still exists today as it "is a process that passes acquired goods and benefits over generations." [14] These "goods and benefits" are socio-economic in nature, such as having more access to money, living in a better neighborhood, and being more likely to attain a higher level of education. The final example can be shown by the fact that "According to 2006 Census Bureau figures, whites of Scots-Irish descent over the age of 25 are more than twice as likely as comparable blacks to have at least a Bachelor's Degree, and nearly five times as likely as comparable Mexican-Americans to have finished college." [15] Whites who insist that white privilege does not exist "are unaware of it because of the way in which whiteness operates. Whites find themselves reaping the fruit of trees that they never planted, but that were there as long as they can recall -- always just there and to which they have always been entitled." [16]

Making a more equitable and just society for all, as well as ending the economic elite's manipulation of race and class, will take a lot of time and effort, but a first step we can take is acknowledging that white privilege does in fact exist.

Please feel free to send comments, concerns, and questions to Please use the title of the blog post in the subject line.


3: Ibid

4: Ibid

5: Ibid

7:  Ibid

9: Ibid

11: Ibid

12: Ibid

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Anti-Rape Legal Experts Mobilize for Change in Haiti by Lys Anzia

This article was originally published on Truthout on May 22, 2011

Images of Port-au-Prince, Haiti under massive death, destruction and rubble are starting to fade from the media, but conditions of squalor and psychological aftershocks remain as Haiti deals with a persistent crisis – an ongoing sexual violence directed against innocent women and girls.
Releasing a strategic plan for family housing for an estimated 1.3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who occupy one thousand camps in the region, including twenty-two named separate displacement camps inside Port-au-Prince, the government of Haiti is beginning a new focus in the handling of rape crime, with promises to push legislative measures throughout the system. The goal is to bring greater security to all women in Haiti.
“We need to change all this. It is our will and our mission to change all this, to make sure the rule of law reigns in Haiti, that justice is for everybody, that the police do their job,” said Haiti’s new President-elect Michel Martelly, following a recent May 6, 2011 TrustLaw project anti-rape forum on sexual violence in Port-au-Prince.
Providing a pro-bono global network of 160 corporate counsels and law firms, individual attorneys and legal teams are now making themselves available to assist women in diverse global regions who have little to no access to any legal assistance. The TrustLaw Connect initiative, sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, is assisting to bring expert information together on current conditions covering sexual violence and violence against women in Haiti. Initiatives like the recent forum in Port-au-Prince are helping to compare law legislation in South Africa, Brazil, France, Sweden, Canada and the United States, along with a review of Haiti’s current laws.
Bringing together attorneys, Members of the Haitian Parliament, medical doctors, health-workers, police officers and women’s organizations, the forum on sexual violence against women discussed many critical needs and critical solutions. “The problem is very serious and I don’t underestimate the problem of sexual violence,” continued President-elect Martelly.
“More female police officers should be appointed to help change attitudes in precincts and provide better support for rape survivors,” said the consensus among the participants of the recent TrustLaw forum.
The problems are more than numerous. They are often overwhelming. Swift medical treatment following rape has been almost non-existent inside the camps with victims of rape falling into every age group. Girl victims are also often common targets. A recent University of Michigan (U.S.) sponsored study in Port-au-Prince estimates that over half of the victims in their survey on sexual assault were under the age of eighteen.
Proper procedure in gathering evidence on rape cases, along with greater sensitivity to privacy and attention to medical needs, are part of a solutions-based focus. For members of the HNP – Haitian National Police in Port-au-Prince this means more than a brief training on rape violence is needed. A majority of recent training programs for Haiti’s police force, in cooperation with U.S. funding, has centered on counternarcotics enforcement.
“Medical needs for dignity and privacy with exams and in gathering forensic evidence with the crime is also an important part of proper procedure when a rape has been reported,” says a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice – Office on Violence Against Women report that is now used in many U.S. police training manuals. “It is critical that all examiners, regardless of their discipline, are committed to providing compassionate and quality care for patients disclosing sexual assault, collecting evidence competently, and testifying in court as needed,” continues the report.
As stronger knowledgeable police presence is needed in the camps, a comprehensive understanding of the violent nature of attacks ,that can include severe bodily damage, is also needed.
“I went to Cafeteria Police Station that same night to report the rape and file a complaint,” said 34-year-old rape victim, Josette, in a 2010 Amnesty International on-the-ground interview. “The police officer on duty asked me for money to buy fuel for the police car but he did not write anything down on paper!” she said. Josette, an earthquake widow and mother of four, has not been able to regain her business as a street vendor since the earthquake and its after-shocks first hit Port-au-Prince.
Only 385 arrests out of 622 rape crime reports were made in 2010, shared Port-au-Prince Chief of Police, Mario Andresol, during the recent forum on sexual violence. Of those arrested in 2010 only a small portion, 45 rape criminals to date, have been convicted of their crime.
It is hoped that specifically directed legal advocacy can help. “Through a comparative legal study launched via our international network of pro-bono lawyers, we hope the experience and best practices of other countries will help Haiti strengthen its anti-rape laws and tackle impunity,” said Reuters AlertNet editor and TrustLaw Emergency Information Service officer Timothy Large during a recent Women News Network interview.
To battle the problems of violence against women, one camp in Port-au-Prince has organized a community-based security team in the Champ de Mars camp. Located in shambles of what was once the center of downtown Port-au-Prince, twenty-five men from the camp are now on ‘special security’ patrol surrounding tents, community toilets, camp alleyways and streets to insure a system of round-the-clock safety for women and girls.
“There was people, escaped convicts, who were giving us trouble after I came back from a conference in Geneva who pulled guns on us to make us give them money and they also carried out many cases of rape,” said Malia Villard Appolon, coordinator of KOFAVIV – the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, an organization established by and for sexual assault survivors.
Desperation, deplorable living conditions, sickness and cholera, lack of food security, stress-filled worry about survival with ongoing frustrations and anger contribute much to the increased violence inside the camps. Vast tent cities without adequate community areas where people can congregate adds to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Roaming gangs of criminals who have yet to be apprehended by the Port-au-Prince police are widely considered a large part of the problem.
Fourteen percent of all households surveyed in four separate camps for IDPs in Port-au-Prince have discovered that one or more members of their household has been “victimized by rape or unwanted touching or both,” says the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law (U.S.). An alarming seventy percent of the survey respondents also said they were “more worried” about sexual violence in the days following, than the days before, the earthquake hit Haiti.
“There really is no protection today. What we do only, we can say, so many women we saw being victims, there was only the bureau of international lawyers who took the initiative to put in place a system of whistles, which they gave to KOFAVIV. And the KOFAVIV gave these whistles to the women in the camp in Champ de Mars, and not only in the Champ de Mars but all the other camps where our community agents are,” said KOFAVIV coordinator, Malia Villard Appolon.
Lack of electric lights in the tent cities is also an accelerate to the violence, causing women and girls to become vulnerable under ‘black-out darkness’ conditions at night. Lack of privacy, along with the relative ease for an attacker to enter a tent where a girl or woman is sleeping creates constant fear among women and girls, where identifying an assailant at night is a common challenge.
In spite of many uphill climbs and obstacles, local community based solutions to address the violence are beginning now to take-root in Port-au-Prince. MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization working in partnership with advocacy organizations worldwide, is now partnering closely with KOFAVIV, among other community-based advocates and organizations working inside Haiti, to meet the ‘immediate needs’ for women and girls suffering from rape violence.
In addition to helping women seek legal justice and greater safety, MADRE is also working with KOFAVIV to help distribute pots and pans for cooking, along with clean water, soap and sanitary napkins inside the camps.
“The camps are dangerous places for women and girls: they are terribly overcrowded, without safe housing, lighting or police,” says Lisa Davis, professor of law at the International Human Rights Center CUNY Law School (U.S.) and Human Rights Advocacy Director for MADRE. “Worse, the social networks that normally provide protection have been destroyed. Women are raped in their tents, on the way to the bathroom and even in the bathroom because there’s no way to lock a door,“ continued Davis.
KOFAVIV has also organized training for women to help them learn some techniques to protect them from the attackers. Handing out cellphones, whistles and flashlights they hope to empower women to respond quickly and pro-actively to crimes.
“The overwhelming majority of rapes in Haiti post-earthquake have gone unpunished and the Haitian government and international community have not effectively deployed their resources to provide adequate protection,” outlines a legal petition letter signed by ten advocacy organizations now working on the ground in Haiti, including MADRE, KOFAVIV, Center for Constitutional Rights, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and CUNY Law School, among others.
The letter, as a formal petition, was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington D.C. on March 25, 2011 and is also scheduled to be delivered to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for the Universal Periodic Review session at the 12th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, October 3-14, 2011.

Canadian Activists Vow to Arrest George W. Bush in October

Friday, May 20, 2011

Budget Madness

Since Presidents Bush and Obama came into office, the budget deficit has gone from the Clinton years of consistent surpluses to massive budget deficits, with the deficit for this year being the second-largest one in US history. Eliminating the deficit has been a problem for decades in the US and both Republicans and Democrats have legitimate arguments concerning this issue. The budget problem cannot currently be solved because not only is there an argument over the causes of the deficit, but other past attempts have failed to solve the problem, and Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal is quite flawed.

When it comes to the budget deficit, there are two main schools thought. Either the deficit is due to a revenue problem or the deficit is due to a spending problem. On the revenue side, Mickey Hepner, a Dean at University of Central Oklahoma, recently argued that a decline in revenues played a factor in the worsening budget crisis. "[I]n 2010 federal revenues were as far below their historical averages as federal spending has been above it," [1] meaning that the US government lost out on $1.5 trillion in taxes. While that money would not have fully eliminated the deficit, it would have made it slightly more manageable. The revenue argument has been proven in the past as can be seen by Reagan's massive 1981 tax cuts. In later years he was forced to raise taxes six times to try and cover the damage that was done, yet the US debt still tripled. [2] Under President Bush, the "Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the Bush tax cuts accounted for almost half of the mushrooming deficits during his tenure." [3]

While this argument has a point, those that argue that government spending is a main cause of the deficit also have a compelling argument. Marketwatch states that while federal spending has outstripped revenue, taxing the wealthy will not work.

Given that we had a deficit of $1.3 trillion even after taking in $899 billion in total  income tax revenues, does anyone in his or her right mind think raising income taxes on everyone or 'raising taxes on the rich' would solve the problem?  We would have to see income tax revenues from everyone go up by more than a double. That is, with a $1.3 trillion deficit for 2010, we would need an extra $1.3 trillion in income tax revenues on top of the $899 billion we got in 2010. That is not going to happen. [4]

Taxing the wealthy alone will obviously not work. Taxes may also have to be raised on the middle class. A recent US News article stated that "an IRS analysis tells us that 45 percent of Americans will pay no federal income taxes for 2010." [5] There is much talk of 'shared sacrifice' yet the wealthy and the 45% of Americans who will pay no income tax for 2010 will only contribute to the deficit and the middle class may very well have to bear the burden. The deficit will have to be cleared via a series of tax increases on everyone, but especially the top 1%, as well as with budget cuts
The main problem with the US government as related to solving the deficit is that they have proven themselves incapable of doing so due to the consistent ineptitude on the part of both Democrats and Republicans. In the recent past there were two major movements to end the deficit, yet both failed- one due to its unconstitutionality and the other due to both parties abandoning it.

The first major push for fiscal responsibility was in the 1980s with the Gramm-Rudmann-Hollings (GRH) bill. Its purpose was to create "a series of deficit targets meant to balance the federal budget by 1991" and if the "targets were not met, a series of across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) would automatically ensue. [6] The bill was jointly sponsored by Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), Senator Warran Rudman (R-NH), and Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC).

The reason that the GRH bill was proposed was due to the fact that in the 1980s, the US government's spending "had  grown  during  the 1970s  and  1980s  more  rapidly than  in  any  equivalent  peacetime  period. This led, especially after 1980, to a precipitous rise in the federal budget deficit.'  By 1985, the federal budget deficit exceeded $200 billion; fifteen years before, the entire federal budget was $200 billion." [7] Despite the need for an end to the massive deficit problem, Congress and the President were unable to agree on a mixture of tax hikes and spending cuts "to halt, much less reverse, the trend of deficit growth." [8] Thus, the GRH bill was proposed in 1985.

The GRH bill specifically "created a five-year deficit reduction plan, with decreasing deficit targets each year, until the budget would be balanced in fiscal year 1991." [9] As was mentioned before, if the targets were not met cuts would be made. "Fifty percent of the cuts would come from domestic discretionary spending and fifty percent from defense. Social Security, Medicare, several anti-poverty programs, and interest on the debt were exempted from a potential sequester." [10] This can be seen as quite problematic because it would place education, the sciences, and the arts on the chopping block while leaving the private sector alone.

The bill had mixed support, yet overall it "garnered bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Reagan in December 1985." Republicans and Democratic supporters argued that the deficit "required dedicated measures to reign in federal spending" and the GRH bill was going to make it happen. Democrats who voted against the bill did so on the premise that it left defense spending untouched and that the "budget cuts were likely to impact domestic programs." [11] In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled the bill unconstitutional "on the grounds that the sequestration process gave Congress undue budgetary power" [12] because "by requiring an agent of Congress (the Government Accounting Office) on what and how much to sequester GRH 1 placed Congress in the middle of executing the law, which is the constitutional responsibility of the executive [branch]." [13]  While the GRH bill was reformulated "with a new sequestration process and deficit numbers (the revised legislation also pushed back the date at the budget was to be balanced to 1993)" [14] and made into law the following year, the battle to create a balanced budget did not end.

In 1990, as a part of the Budget Enforcement Act, a pay-as-you-go or PAYGO system was enacted by the federal government to rein in the deficit.

In that year, President George H. W. Bush and the leadership of the Congress painfully negotiated a very large deficit reduction package of spending cuts and tax increases. Having accomplished so much, the Congress was concerned that the package would eventually erode, because future Congresses would reverse the spending cuts and tax increases bit by bit. PAYGO helped to prevent this and was supplemented by caps on appropriations and outlays for discretionary programs. [15]

Thus, PAYGO was not about creating a surplus or even eliminating the deficit, rather the purpose of PAYGO was to enforce a deficit reduction agreement between the President and Congress and have both sides stick to it.

PAYGO originally "was a statutory requirement providing that any legislation to lower revenues or expand entitlement spending be offset with corresponding revenue increases or entitlement spending cuts." [16] In theory, the legislation sounded reasonable, yet it was quite hard to pass as neither the President nor Congress agreed to it. President Bush agreed "to a no-precondition summit in order to avoid an automatic GRH cut of $100 billion" [17] and from there endorsed the PAYGO plan, but conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats (the two groups that had been excluded from the summit) wouldn't allow the legislation to be passed. Only after Bush vetoed an extension and the government shut down for about three weeks, did Congress give in and pass the legislation.

PAYGO expired in 2002, but in 2006 it came back with a vengeance and was slightly modified. Instead of having to be deficit neutral for every year, the proposed budget would now be "that each bill be deficit neutral in total over the six-year period consisting of the current year, the budget year, and the next four years and also be deficit neutral over the eleven-year period consisting of the current year, the budget year, and the next nine years." [18] In other words, it became much more difficult to pass a budget because it had to be deficit neutral over a total of nine years.

In theory, PAYGO sounded great to both parties, yet in practice neither of them obeyed it. The Democrats ran in 2006 as supporters of PAYGO, yet once in office "they quickly made exceptions, waiving paygo no fewer than 12 times to accommodate some $398 billion in new deficit spending" [19] while Republicans "abandon[ed] pay-as-you-go budgeting, returning to the Bush-Cheney approach -- endless borrowing." [20] Due to the incompetence of both parties, the demonization of programs that the Democrats or Republicans opposed, and endless support of programs that they supported, the PAYGO legislation failed.

Currently, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed his own personal budget reduction plan which hurts not only the poor, but also the elderly. Yet the Republican-controlled House has approved the bill.

Ryan's plan hurts the poor because the savings "all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor. The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed." [21] Ryan's plan hurts those who can least afford it in this current recession. It is quite ironic that the poor are being targeted in this recession because they could quite easily turn to crime if the government leaves them with no assistance as they try and get back on their feet.

The plan also hurts the elderly because in the long-term, the amount that they will be forced to cover will increase their medical payments. Ryan's plan is to "[replace] Medicare with vouchers with which older folks can use to buy private health insurance." It sounds good, yet the vouchers "are linked to the CPI, not to the inflation rate of healthcare expenses (and private insurance costs)." [22] Thus as time goes on, the elderly will be forced to cover more of their insurance plans because the vouchers will cover less and less.

Ryan's plan isn't as good as either the Gramm-Rudmann-Hollings bill or the PAYGO plan. In the GRH bill, the bill created annual targets until the deficit was eliminated and the cuts came mainly from social programs, yet they came from a variety of social programs and it could be amended (with enough support) to include defense spending. Ryan's program looks more like a war on the poor. It also differs from PAYGO in that PAYGO, while it was tough to get items to be budget neutral for nine years, it truly worked for budget neutrality. PAYGO acted as an equalizer rather trying to balance out the budget solely through cuts.

Ryan's budget proposal will not be successful because the economics are completely wrong. By privatizing Medicare, as was stated before, Medicare will become more expensive. "[T]he bipartisan Congressional Budget Office calculates that overall health care spending will go up as Medicare recipients are forced to buy private insurance, since private insurance has far higher administrative expenses than Medicare." [23] Besides that, the tax cuts are solely for the wealthy. If Ryan's plan goes through they will experience a $125,000 tax cut (on average) while cuts will be made "not only to Medicare and Medicaid, but also to infrastructure spending and funds for Pell Grants for college tuition—both areas that are crucial to the nation's long term economic performance. " [24] The main problem with Ryan's plan is that it masquerades as a legitimate budget balancing plan, yet in reality is nothing but an effort to aid those who already quite well-off.

So far, the government has been unable to create a balanced budget due to its overall incompetence and ineptitude, thus it is now up to the people to push both Democrats and Republicans in a direction that will create fiscal balance for the country. It is either that or this madness will continue.


3:  Ibid

8: Ibid

10: Ibid

11: Ibid

12: Ibid

13: Robert E. Dewhirst, Encyclopedia Of The United States Congress (Facts on File Library of American History), (New York, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007) 245.

24: Ibid