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Apathy in America

As the November election nears, some Americans and Coloradoans will decide the fate of candidates for political offices, school boards and legislation addressing a variety of issues.Unfortunately, those who voted last year represented less than half the population of El Paso County. According to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s office, 242,888 residents voted in the 2004 election.Apathy in America is widespread. And apathy is pathetic, in my opinion.Too many people care only about what happens in their own backyards. We are losing our connections to the bigger picture. We are becoming elitist and separate. We cannot afford apathy in this country today.Here’s why.According to an October USA Today article, there were 6,251 homeless people in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. USA Today reported a “snapshot tally” of 727,304 people living homeless in America. Colorado ranks sixth in the U.S. for the number of homeless people, with 21,730 on the streets. Many of the homeless are war veterans, the elderly and mentally ill – not all of them are what others have stereotyped as lazy con artists.Why there is one person over age 65 living on the streets in this country is beyond my imagination.OK, if homelessness in America is not YOUR issue, think about this. In 2003 and 2004, 6.8 million people in the workforce were classified as living below the poverty line and 35 million Americans were defined by the government as “food insecure” (hungry), according to the book “What We’ve Lost” by Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair.OK, if poverty isn’t YOUR issue, what about special-interest groups? Is corporate America running the country? Is it the new government “of the industry, by the industry and for the industry,” or whatever industry donates the most?Here are a few examples of “by the industry, buy the country.” The following also was taken from Carter’s aforementioned book. Between 1999 and 2003, the Center for American Progress reported that President Bush and 10 senators and representatives – all instigators in Congress passing the new Medicare prescription drug program – received more than $17 million from the health care and drug industries in campaign contributions.Guess what? The Medicare program will increase the profits of pharmaceutical industries by 38 percent, according to the Health Reform Program of Boston University.Business Week reported the 2003 salaries of the heads of four major pharmacy companies: Pfizer – more than $9 million; Merck – more than $3 million; Johnson & Johnson – more than $6 million; Bristol-Myers – almost $6 million.The following statistics were gathered from the Center for Responsive Politics. Don’t be thinking I am picking on Bush – it’s a bipartisan problem and there’s legislation to address it. However, Bush and his boys at the Capitol just happen to be on the frontline right now, so the contribution amounts are easily accessible.In 2000, the logging industry donated more than $6 million to the Bush-Cheney campaign and other Republicans. In 2002, they donated another $4 million to the Republicans.The oil and gas drilling industry donated $46,620,134 to the Bush-Cheney campaign, the Republican National Committee and other Republican candidates in 2000 and 2002.Here’s a few other stats to prove the “of the industry” theory. The following monies were contributed to President Bush and the Republicans.

  • Finance, insurance and real estate – $75.5 million
  • Energy and natural resource industries – $20.7 million
  • Health care – $15.1 million
  • Ideology/single-issue – $5.4 million
And, according to the Center for Public Integrity, telecommunications companies spent $60.3 million on political contributions over six years and a minimum of $83.4 million was spent over two years on lobbying to gain favor with U.S. elected officials.Apathy allows industry control.On the good side, in 2002, those who voted in Colorado passed Amendment 27, which limits campaign contributions and spending and ensures full disclosure of who bought whom for how much. It passed with 66 percent of the vote. But it’s not enough.New Mexico took it a bit further. In early October, 69 percent of the voters in Albuquerque, N.M., passed the Open and Ethical Elections Code Referendum – the first city in the country to approve public funding for qualified candidates who agree not to accept contributions from individuals or special-interest groups.Bingo. Albuquerque voters decided it’s time to get back to the old-fashioned way of being elected. I agree. I think we should abolish PACs (political actions committees), too. Call it idealistic thinking, but there is no level playing field in this country anymore when it comes to politics and campaign contributions.Instead, we have the government doling out special favors and allowing unqualified people to buy their way in to positions of power. There is unprecedented industry influence on the decisions made within our government today – nationally and locally.The first step in making a change is to cast a vote, if only to prove that industry, including nonprofits and religious groups, will not dictate the decisions made in our government. Those decisions are made through the Constitution’s platform, “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Anything less is pathetic.Marylou@newfalconherald.com

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