Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Heroine for Our Time

Congresswoman Barbara Lee has been a hero of mine at least as far back September 2001 when she was the lone member of either branch of Congress to vote against the unlimited use of force in response to the September 11th attacks. To have that courage in those hours following the attack was remarkable, and she took lots of 'unpatriotic heat' for it.
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But Representative Lee, who's been re-elected eight times to her seat from California is not a single issue legislator. She has chaired both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus. But I bring to your attention two more recent examples of why she is a heroine for me. The first is H.R. 808 Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2013. This is a slightly reworked version of Rep. Kucinich's Department of Peace bill, an attempt to evolve the original Department of War to the current Department of Defense to a new Department of Peacebuilding, thus changing the orientation of our foreign policy. The idea is to use savings from reductions in military spending to support training, research, education, and development of more nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution both foreign and domestic. See this Congressional Research Service overview here. Our local Peace Education Center has a petition circulating encouraging our own legislators to support H.R. 808. If you are interested in signing or want a blank petition for your own community send me a note link@msu.edu.

Tonight I learned that Congresswoman Lee introduced yet another bill on the first day of the 2013 session to address another challenge facing our society - increasing inequality. H.R.  199 the Income Equity Act of 2013 addresses this by putting limitations on executive compensation. Specifically, the Income Equity Act of 2013- Amends the Internal Revenue Code to:
(1) deny employers a tax deduction for payments of excessive compensation to any full-time employee (i.e., compensation for services exceeding the greater of 25 times the lowest compensation paid to any other employee or $500,000), and
(2) require such employers to file a report with the Secretary of the Treasury on excessive compensation (as defined by this Act) paid to their employees.
Defines "compensation" to include wages, salary, deferred compensation, retirement contributions, options, bonuses, property, and other forms of compensation.
GovTrack US rates H.R. 199 having a 1% chance of getting out of committee and 0% chance of passing, whereas H.R.808 has a whopping 7% chance of passing committee and a 1% chance of passing. As Senator Debbie Stabenow told a small group of us that met with her Monday, any proposed  progressive legislation is currently doomed in the obstructive House of Representatives
So is Lee's progressive proposals simply tilting at windmills or a ploy to get publicity? I believe these are simply proposals ahead of their time, that she is simply planting ideas in the halls of Congress. Ideas that can grow to reality if we, as citizens, commit to nurturing them through the tug and pull of legislative process.
Imagine if you will a strong Secretary of Peacebuilding sounding off against the rush to war, or the arming of another dictatorship. Imagine that person arguing for investments in education for conflict resolution  for K-12 schools.
Imagine a return to the 1982 CEO pay that was only 42 times their average worker down from the 350 times it is today. A better world starts with ideas, glimmers of possibilities. Barbara Lee has not been afraid to offer  those up and to work tirelessly to make them reality. It's up to us to help them grow, so that our children may harvest their benefits.