17 Solutions for a Better America in the New Year

by Ralph Nader

It’s easier than you think. That’s the way I start discussions and interviews about my new book titled, “Seventeen Solutions.”

The “solutions” were selected for their long-overdue practicality, fairness, efficiency, safety, employment potential and respect for future generations. A majority of the people, sometimes a large majority, support such redirections. The effects of many of the “solutions” start being seen immediately.

Don’t most Americans believe and want strong law enforcement against corporate crime and fraud and abuses against consumers, taxpayers, the environment and workers? The first step is telling your member of Congress to toughen the weak laws and beef up the law enforcement budgets which will pay for themselves many, many times over in deterrence, damage prevention to innocent people, and fines.

It has been taken off the table by both Democrats and Republicans, but a majority of people (including physicians and nurses) want full Medicare for all with free choice of doctor and hospital. Better outcomes, simpler to use, far less expensive per capita, timely diagnoses and treatment, and tens of thousands of American lives saved a year, are the fruits.

Who in your communities doesn’t want public facilities (public works) repaired and expanded to meet needs? Ending the vast disrepair in our water and sewage systems, schools, clinics, libraries, public transit, highways and bridges creates well-paying jobs that cannot be exported to China.

Reducing the well-documented, bloated military budget, can release monies for repairing America. Demilitarizing our foreign policy will save the horrendous costs and after costs of these boomeranging wars of aggressive choice.

Get Congress to have “skin in the game,” such as no health and other benefits for them, unless all people have them. There would be no taking our country into war without all able-bodied and age-qualified children of the Senators and Representatives being drafted into the armed forces. This duty will encourage Congress to attend to its deliberative, constitutional obligations and not heave them over to a lawless, out-of-control presidency.

Build family and community resistance and engage in alternatives to the commercial exploitation of children by non-stop big corporate marketers. These tricksters undermine and bypass parental authority to sell children junk food, violent programming and other things corrosive of their minds and bodies. Want to poll parent’s reactions to those tricks among beleaguered parents who have lost much control of their children to corporatism?

Getting corporations off welfare, making them pay their fair share of taxes (GE is a profitable tax escapee that even gets checks from the Treasury Department due to the rigged tax code), taxing dividends and capital gains the same as ordinary income of working people, and imposing a tiny sales tax on massive Wall Street speculation are changes an overwhelming number of people support.

These advances, along with restoring our civil liberties, using regular government purchasing specifications for better goods and services to stimulate innovation and safety with our tax dollars, are easier than you think. The engine for these changes is organizing Congressional watchdog groups in every Congressional District around these and other solutions. Taking democratic control of the 535 members of Congress, with its ample constitutional authorities, is a lot easier than you think.

Moving our consumer dollars away from global corporations to local community banks, credit unions, farmer markets, renewable energy, and community health clinics, with emphasis on prevention, is a lot easier than you think. Stronger local economies are more self-reliant, they won’t be shut down and shipped away or abroad by absentee owners making life-altering unaccountable decisions in their skyscrapers.

Local democracy is, like most ventures in life, a learning process of civic skills and experience. Starting in elementary and high schools, youngsters can shed their apathy or despair by working on real problems in the communities as part of their school-to-community courses. Look at all those high school physics, biology, and chemistry labs that, for example, can be testing air, water, soil samples and electromagnetic levels, and reporting the results to their community.

Studying books such as the newly released Slow Democracy (Chelsea Press, 2012) will give you many examples and tools to demonstrate that it’s easier than you think.

Last September, prominent Cornell Economics Professor, Robert Frank wrote a column for The New York Times with the headline “Nation’s Choices Needn’t Be Painful.” He wrote of infrastructure capital improvement programs, new tax policies, reducing highway congestion, curbing carbon emissions and other remedial actions that pay off.

Professor Frank, who told me he’s going to write “a small book” on his assertions, says “the endless hand-wringing about painful economic choices is misguided. With a few simple policy changes, we could restore full employment, rebuild crumbling infrastructure and pay down the national debt without requiring real sacrifices from anyone.”

Making all this and more happen needs some three million Americans (the other one percent) organized and focused on Congress and state legislatures in ways that reflect the “public sentiment.” We have to stop being so discouraged and solution-averse, especially since we have so many solutions already on the shelf, but not on the ground, because we’ve let the few make so many centralized, top-down decisions for us – “we the people.”

No one can stop us from taking these initiatives, except, that is, ourselves. To send us your “solutions” and to order an autographed copy of Seventeen Solutions, visit: http://www.seventeensolutions.com/

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).

What the hell do we do now?

by Sam Smith

Think of Obama as a mirror. He is not an independent being; he is a reflection. Right now he reflects Wall Street, big lobbies and police staters. When the forces of democracy and decency become strong enough, this reflection will change and so will Obama.

Change Washington from the outside. Washington is more incompetent, corrupt and dysfunctional than it has ever been and you can't rely on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to fix it. The way to get Washington to pay attention is to do things it can't ignore. Nearly all important change comes from the bottom up, which is why gay marriage and marijuana made progress last year while practically nothing else did. Remember also that we wouldn't have an environmental or civil rights movement if people had waited for Washington to act.

Work on single issues. Again, the gay marriage and pot campaigns provide a model. Single issues are easier to organize around, raise money for, and they appeal to a more varied constituency. Don't worry about what your allies think about other matters. Even gun owners and abortion haters smoke pot. Furthermore, working together on one issue can bring people together who might otherwise never talk.

If you're under 30, do something. History strongly suggests that change is dependent upon the young. Sure, older activists can help, but the energy, enthusiasm, imagination and noise has to come from the young. If you give up in your 20s you've given up for life.

Get a symbol. We haven't had a good activist marker since the peace symbol. You'll know change is on its way when we start sharing a visible sign of it.

Write and sing songs - Few things bring people together easier than a song they can all sing.

Go after the big guys; be nice to the little folk This is understood by the big guys which is why they have so much fun setting one group of little folk against another. It's in part what southern segregation was about: big white guys teaching poor white folk to hate poor black folk. It's happening now as liberals are encouraged to hate church goers and gun owners. Go after the Pat Robertsons and the NRA but stop dissin' their supporters. Convert them, don't condemn them.

Decentralize Don't rely on Washington based action groups lacking a decentralized operation. From the civil rights movement to the ACLU, the best national action groups are the ones with the strongest local chapters.

Use boycotts. They're perhaps the most neglected tool of activism and especially handy in a time when folks are so busy. They may not have time for your rally, but they can stop buying Koch Brothers toilet paper. Emphasize boycotts where the alternative is easily available. If you boycott Coke or Pepsi, for example, the other choice is on the same shelf.

Local lettuces, local democracy, local action - Those at the top of the system are stuck there. The local remains remarkable free. This was true in Orwell's 1984 and it's true in our time as well. Seize the local and define your own state or town as America while Washington and Wall Street are occupied territories.

Declare and define a counterculture. The first step in creating an alternative is to create it. Right now there is little sense of what an alternative to the establishment would look and feel like.

List your goals: No one really knows what the left wants. If the left doesn't make it clear, the media and the public will come up with their own wrong answers.

Bring back the cool preachers: Back in the 1960s the church was a key part of the social and political movement. Today, religion is largely thought of as a rightwing activity. It doesn't have to be. It's time to seize it back.

Come together: Whatever your cause, spare some time to gather with those of other causes, share stories, and find out what you have in common and can do together. As you do, everybody's cause will grow.


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