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Clare Higgins: Take on the moneyed interests

We learned that we are not prepared for global warming, as we saw New York and New Jersey battered by Superstorm Sandy. One hundred people died, 30,000 to 40,000 people were left homeless and the infrastructure of New York City, Long Island and the Jersey Shore were devastated. In fact, Sandy left $63 million in total damages in the United States.

But to be prepared for global warming would mean that you accept the idea that the climate has actually changed. And, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, we have leaders in our country (e.g. the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) who have actively worked against legislation that could begin to slow global warming and protect our environment.

The “fiscal cliff,” or slope, or obstacle course, has dominated news since the election. Republicans simply cannot let go of the notion that cutting federal revenues (i.e. taxes) results in more money for the government.

It didn’t work for Ronald Regan, it didn’t work for George W. Bush and it’s not going to work now. It especially won’t work if, at the same time that you cut taxes, you run up an exorbitant credit card bill to pay for weapons and wars.

And we all need to understand that the services that we want and expect from government — things like roads, bridges, schools, clean air and water, mental health services, Medicare and Social Security — need to be paid for.

From outside Washington, it’s beginning to look like some of our federal officials have difficult votes to cast about revenue and spending — so that means they are going to recess for the holidays.

The 47 percent joined the 99 percent and the 1 percent in a long overdue conversation about income inequality in the United States. The conversation was conducted throughout the election and, despite attempts to discourage voters across the country, those on the side of reducing the gap between the rich and the rest of us won. The Republican dilemma post-election is that a majority of Americans want to restore progressivity to the tax code, which would result in the rich paying more.

This country averages 87 gun deaths a day; 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2007 — one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 58 every week. Homicides by guns are the second-leading cause of death for children and teens, only exceeded by car crashes.

Nearly 19,000 people on average kill themselves with a gun in the United States. Also, 17,523 children and teens suffered non-fatal gun injuries.

We have laws to protect babies in their cribs; we require safety seats and seat belts; we don’t allow adolescents to drink. We regulate toys that could harm them. We have laws protecting children and teens from abuse.

The Catholic Church, Penn State and the Boy Scouts have been rightly pilloried because they failed to protect the children entrusted to them. By the way, 17 deaths of children under the age of 15 were caused by toys in 2010. Fifty-eight gun deaths a week — 17 toy-related deaths in a year.

The past year has brought into sharp focus fundamental issues that have been challenging us for years. Can we come together to protect the planet? Can we reduce the income inequality that threatens our economic stability, economic growth and our democracy?

And as the president said in Newtown, “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?”

There is a common thread. To make progress on any of these issues requires taking on powerful moneyed interests. The fossil-fuel industry, agribusiness, the financial sector and the gun lobby are all major political (primarily Republican) donors. They don’t give out money and expect nothing in return.

And now, because of the Citizens United decision, (money is speech, corporations are people), corporate money has swamped the electoral process. The electorate wants action; the corporate interests want to preserve the status quo.

No wonder Congress is in recess! Ninety percent of Americans think there is too much corporate money in politics. About 81 percent of people surveyed said the current campaign spending rules are “bad for democracy.” They are right. We need a constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate personhood. U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern has introduced an amendment to do that – the People’s Rights Amendment.

It states, “We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.”

Let’s join our congressman in this critical fight.

Clare Higgins of Northampton, the city’s former mayor, is executive director of the nonprofit Community Action! of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions. She writes a monthly column and can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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