Every nation has and needs a natural symbol or symbols to represent its vibrancy, its past, its present, and its future, and its ties to the land upon which it has built its civilization. On the Atlantic Coast of the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is undoubtedly one of those symbols. Once a point of social and communal life for a number of Native American tribes, the Chesapeake Bay became a point of arrival and commerce for the newly arriving and established colonists. In other words, the Chesapeake Bay is a natural land mark that tells a story of our country's past. But it also tells a story of our country's future.
And if the health of the Chesapeake Bay is any indication of where the United States is headed, our future won't be a very clean one and, consequently, one worth striving for. A new technical report by the Environmental Protection Agency goes beyond the TMDL discussions and research and explores the toxic contaminants that are present in the Bay, and the results aren't savory.
Some of the contaminants that are "widespread in the Chesapeake Bay" include the following: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); mercury; and pesticides. Other toxics that were found in some areas and not others include the following: dioxins; petroleum hydrocarbons; chlorinated insecticides; aluminum; and lead.
If "today's young" are indeed more optimistic about the future of the U.S. relative to older generations of Americans, how can we explain this sentiment in the midst of one of America's harshest economic periods?
The answer may just be in technology and the control that so many among todays young feel they can exert over their own lives and even the lives of others, even those in different countries.
Today's technology has not only brought millions of Americans closer together, today's technology has also bequeathed a world to today's young that is customizable and far reaching.
Take smart phones as an example. Most smart phones come with customizable software that allow each user to include what is most important to them like celebrity news, political updates, movie reviews, and much else.
Each smart phone also comes with social media "apps" that connect each smart phone to a large world of ever increasing social media networks. If there is an important vote coming up on, say an environmental regulation, I can send an instant message to hundreds of my friends, asking them to contact their legislators in support of such and such an environmental regulation. As a result, the pressure exerted by this one message (that can mushroom into thousands, if not millions, of additional messages) could mean the difference between its passage or its failure. Imagine the sense of power felt by some of these folks when their issue wins!
No one ever said democracy would be easy, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. In this milestone decision, the U.S. government is prohibited from placing limits on independent spending by corporations and unions for political purposes. With the infusion of countless money into the political process, many opponents of Citizens United have argued that the spirit and the letter or our democracy has been undermined by the wealthiest U.S. citizens and private entities. It's difficult to argue against this viewpoint.
In our democracy, most citizens are informed politically by friends, family, and the news. Excepting for a minority population of "policy entrepreneurs" who actively seek out political information from a variety of information mediums, most friends and family members get their political information from the news media as well. And this is where the problem lies. If most U.S. citizens receive their political information from the news media and the news media is increasingly being flooded with vast amounts of political propaganda stemming from "Super PACs" allowed under the Citizens United decision, how will this shape public opinion and ultimately, our democratic process?
Even though President Obama has made some courageous moves on the environmental front (most notably, his decision to delay the decision regarding the Keystone XL pipeline), clean energy has seemingly taken a back seat on the president's agenda as election time moves closer to the present. With 80% of the U.S.'s energy consumption coming from fossil fuels, the U.S. stands poised to help reduce the international community's carbon footprint with more aggressive moves towards clean energy. With an increasing worldwide energy demand, it has become more important than ever to move away from fossil fuel sources of energy towards cleaner forms.
Unfortunately, clean energy is not an issue that gets many politicians cookie points. President Obama will continue to hammer away at themes of economic growth, job creation, and the like, giving little attention to clean energy until the next presidential election has passed. If this moves President Obama back into the White House for another four year term, one could argue that ignoring clean energy for the moment is an appropriate political route to take. What's the alternative, Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich in the White House?
Unions, bruised and battered over the past few years, stand in the middle of a struggle over fundamental American values. Do Americans wish to swing toward a society demarcated by lower and upper classes or a society more equitably constituted by working, middle and upper echelons?
As Verizon would tell it, the decline in revenues over the past few quarters or so justifies an immense reduction in its union employees' health care and pension benefits, affecting nearly 45,000 union employees. All the while, top-level Verizon executives continue to make millions of dollars in annual compensation. Does this sound fair?
Okay, we get it, you want a "balanced budget." But aren't there better ways to reduce America's deficit and swipe away its debt than to put a gun to head of the U.S. (metaphorically speaking of course!)? Doubtless there is. But most conservatives and some within the libertarian fold see this moment in America's history as "the" time to clean up our economic house.
I feel as though I'm in a cubist painting, unable to grasp the full dimensionality of what the Republican Party and its followers are truly hoping to accomplish. Don't they see that their gamble could essentially throw America into an economic tailspin, the likes of which we may never fully recover from? I have to believe that these individuals are not so reckless. I have to believe that these individuals simply see the current political situation in an entirely different way than I do.
What is absolutely clear is that these individuals on the right of the political spectrum have become completely blinded by their "balanced budget" ideology and their fiscal conservatism, so much so that anything that seems to them to go against this dogmatic policy position should be fundamentally and totally rejected. Compromise? Nope, not on your life. They don't understand the meaning of the word.
The biggest curse and the biggest blessing of being a liberal is that compromise is built into our political ideologies. Compromise is not a bad thing, it's what makes a republic function without dissolution. But all too often, those of a conservative political persuasion, in particular, look at compromise as "unmanly," or whatever non-masculine term they wish to pluck from their limited lexicon.
Should liberals discard their willingness to compromise? No. Win or lose, we are in the right and our higher moral ground should not be abandoned for the mud holes that many Republican politicians always seem to be found in (e.g. Eric Cantor).
While liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, Democrats and Republicans argue amongst themselves about which way the United States should head, the point is often lost that every side is arguing from a different side of the same coin, the coin of liberalism. Even though sometimes it appears like "each side" is a world away from the other, the vast preponderance of disputants share comparable liberal values, values like the sacredness of personal freedom, the sanctity of the freedom of thought and expression, and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Where each side usually differs is what means we should use in order to achieve the ends of a society based upon the principles of liberalism. In these strictly partisan times, it might be useful to point out that despite all of our supposed differences, the base from which most of us argue consists of the same liberal framework.
Step into the political sphere, of course, and philosophical differences become accentuated, stretched beyond their rational limits for political ends. It is not certain, however, that politicians consciously exaggerate some of the smaller dissimilarities that politician A, the conservative, and politician B, the liberal, share. The effects however are usually the same: each politician and his or her followers get caught up in the tried and true game of partisan bickering. Can we even imagine a political debate that isn't mired in heated political disputes anymore?
To be clear, my argument is not that there are not real political philosophical differences between the liberal, conservative, or the libertarian. There are philosophical differences among these political camps. The argument I'm making is that these differences are not nearly as profound as many would have us believe. For instance, the liberal does want a more active government that can correct for some of the inequalities and inequities in society. However, the liberal normally doesn't want more government for government's sake just as the libertarian or conservative doesn't. Thus, in many ways it is not a question of liking more government but, in the case of liberals, believing bigger government is a necessarily evil to solve some of society's most pervasive ills.
With the downfall of Rep. Anthony Weiner, the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, the ousting of Senator Russ Feingold, and the dissecting out of Rep. Dennis Kucinich's congressional district, it's difficult to find many liberal members of Congress that continue to stand up for a no-excuses liberal policy agenda (granted, some of these said individuals didn't always toe the liberal policy line themselves). America, it seems, has moved further to the right and many of our "liberal" political representatives across the country appear unwilling to stick out their political necks for an agenda that seems less capable of making any political headway. Take Rep. Nancy Pelosi as one major example of this point. What some conservatives decry as a "radical liberal" (i.e. Nancy Pelosi) is to liberals like myself a pragmatic liberal who will shirk her liberal policies when circumstances dictate such an event.
Indeed, our Congress is full of pragmatic liberals like Jim Webb, Mark Warner, Henry Waxman, and many more. Although I respect these individuals for their relatively solid political leadership, they have consistently thrown off the liberal mantel when the coast has not been absolutely clear. Their unwillingness to stand up for a liberal policy agenda has left many of their liberal constituents without a voice in the Congress or a friend to turn to.
As America moves further to the right of the political spectrum, more individuals in the liberal camp will necessarily find themselves outside of the mainstream political discourse, a discourse which was never that liberal to begin with. If, however, you respond that the recent legalization of gay marriage in house of New York State provides a counterargument to my point, let's not be so quick to jump to that conclusion. The legalization (at least for now) of gay marriage in New York was not premised upon "equality for all," even though you'll hear shades of this argument. Rather, the right for gay individuals to marry was based upon an argument of "individual rights," a classical liberal argument. Liberals seek basic equality on moral grounds, not necessarily on grounds of individual rights and freedoms, even though this is a major component of modern liberal thought.