Monday, October 29, 2012

American Freedom

NPR recently reported that US college grads have an average of $26,600 in student loan debt. How does that make Americans more free? These grads have far fewer incentives to take risks, try new things, travel or start businesses. How can this be good for private markets?

If you are bankrupted or go into a lifetime of debt because of illness or injury or are denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, you are less free. You are now an indentured servant.

So, progressive taxes that pay for public investments in education and health care make us more free. And, wanting these two industries to be well-funded public institutions, does not mean you want government to run everything else. That is a false choice. Do not buy it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

You Didn't Build That

Only 11% of Americans want communism and Obama is not one of them. Even if he was, most Americans would never allow it. 

If you ignore the part of Obama's Roanoke speech that the Right continually takes out of context and look at the whole speech, I can see how you might interpret it as as too heavy on the praise of government and too light on praise of the entrepreneur.But, you not only have to view each sentence of the speech in the context of the whole speech, you also have to view the speech in the context of the broader political debate taking place. 

And in that context, the speech is simply a thoughtful rejoinder to the false choice Fox News presents every single day: that you are either a statist or a libertarian and there can be no middle ground. 

All Obama is saying in the speech is, look, don't buy this false choice. It is a lie. 

The fact of the matter is that America has always grown with a combination of individual initiative and public investment and it is this combination of independence and interdependence that has made us a great nation, not the singular devotion to and worship of private enterprise that Fox pushes each and every day. 

They are BOTH important, public and private systems, and it is ridiculous to assert that one is more important than the other. We simply need to nurture the balance between the two. 

That is all Obama is saying. Of course private enterprise is the primary driver of jobs and economic growth. That is a given. 

But, the private system works best and creates the most wealth for the most people, when it is properly regulated and taxed to pay for the public investments -- the roads, schools, research programs, loan programs, regulatory agencies and safety nets that make up a public operating system that allows capitalism to work best. 

Without an effective public operating system, we face the situation we are in now, in which the rich suck all the wealth and value out of the economy, do not invest in enough new start ups and technology, do not pay enough taxes to fund proper educations for enough skilled workers and fail to leave enough consumers with enough cash in their pockets to keep the system running with sustainability. 

That is the context of his speech and that is the context of that sentence: you didn't build that. To continue to assert otherwise is to look only at the information that conforms to your bias, while ignoring all information that describes our world as it actually exists.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It Can't Happen Here

Just as many on the Right see Obama as the head of a spear of radical, left-wing ideologues, poised to destroy the liberties granted by the Constitution, those of us on the Left see the Tea Party and Santorum, Bachmann, et al, as the tip of a spear of a radical evangelical movement that seeks to break down the separation of church and state and impose a Totalitarian Theocracy here in the US.

Recent examples include Santorum's queasiness with JFK's statements about separation of Church and State and the radical, evangelical pastor who introduced him last week, ranting about the US as a Christian Nation.

If Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" has provided a guiding cautionary tale for the GOP's brand of small-government libertarianism, then Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" is an equally important text for those of us on the Left who see the emerging threat of an Authoritarian Theocratic regime here in the US. The Nazis seemed civilized, as they sipped fine Rieslings and listened to Beethoven while committing unspeakable atrocity. We should remember that many Germans, including my great-grandfather, a German Jew who fought for Germany in WW I, never believed the Nazis could implement the Final Solution.

A friend of mine on Facebook, Robert Chandler, likes to write that "the impulse of the Left is totalitarian," which ignores the fact that the impulse of any extremist ideology is either totalitarian or authoritarian. The Right fears the collectivist/socialist ideology that underpinned Nazism, and the Left fears the nationalistic, white-supremacist side of the Nazis.

Thus, Chandler's description of Obamacare and Obama as part of a totalitarian takeover plot is not that different from saying US Evangelicals = Islamo-fascism/radicalism. Each description is driven by an assumption that: either; 1)  there is a radical, extreme version of the Left embodied by Obama; or, 2) there is a radical, extreme version of the Right embodied by the Tea Party.

Just as the Right is spooked by Jeremiah Wright, and believes that Obama is the embodiment of the most extreme statements his pastor uttered over the past 40 years, those of us on the Left are spooked by the likes of the Louisiana pastor who introduced Rick Santorum. As the Tea Party sees a Jeremiah Wright, anti-white form of Socialism embodied in the US Presidency, I see the threat of Totalitarian Theocracy in the Tea Party controlled GOP Congress and right-wing militias.

The main difference, of course, is that Obama has not implemented or recommended a single policy that is socialist or statist. While he has, disappointingly, extended many of the authoritarian positions Bush/Cheney implemented with the Patriot Act and the AUMF, he also removed Single Payer and embraced the Heritage Foundation/Mitt Romney approach to health care reform, and he allowed for expanded drilling, oil production and pipeline construction.

So, Obama is a bi-partisan, moderate. But the Tea Party has transformed the GOP into a party driven primarily by extremist social conservatives, embodied in the recent rash of Right Wing state legislatures passing pre-abortion ultrasound bills with "shaming rooms" and the racial-targeting of voter ID laws. Obamacare is not part of a War on Religion, but the Tea Party and its leading candidates and GOP-controlled State Legislatures have initiated a War on Women. While the current US Evangelical movements have merely burned Korans, not beheaded hostages, that does not mean "It Can't Happen Here."

There's a Bill Maher video where he shows that Islamist extremists are much worse than US ones. And that’s true, based on post-KKK US history. But, at the end of the video, he explains that those differences rest on the foundation of a government and politicians that honor the separation of church and state and rights for women.

Those are the rights now under attack by the leading GOP candidates and by the US Congress and GOP-controlled State Legislatures nationally. And that is why Left-wing fears are not unrealistic or absurd, but instead based on evidence, data and recent history -- not the hysterical exaggerations, caricatures and ranting of Fox News and right-wing talk radio.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Great Fear

The great fear is that the NDAA will be used to support massive civil liberties abuses. And, that is a really legitimate fear. The Obama administration wrote a secret legal memo to justify the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, and the memo drew its justification from the authorization to use military force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda that Congress enacted shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, the NDAA extends the detention provisions of AUMF to US citizens at home. So, by extension, I imagine they could write a memo that draws on NDAA to justify domestic terrorist assassinations. The courts are our last line of defense here. I imagine any President or administration that tried to use the NDAA detention provisions simply to round people up and put them in FEMA prisons would face fierce legal challenges. I think the reason they added the offensive language to NDAA was to allow for military detentions and trials of US citizens captured in the US who may be collaborating with al Qaeda. There were a few 9/11 collaborators who meet that definition and were tried in civilian court and they wanted to keep them in military court. We can only hope the intentions are so benign, but should not have to. These laws should never have been written and we can only hope they will soon be repealed.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blame Yourself for Nuclear Iran

Out of all the thrilling and entertaining moments in the 2012 Republican Presidential campaign, perhaps the most galvanizing was when Herman Cain said, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”  It echoed all that is good and true in the conservative movement and its religious belief in taking personal responsibility. It is why Herman Cain rose higher and longer than any of the other non-Romney candidates, and why I think he had a serious shot at the nomination if it turned out he had a grasp of foreign policy and was true to his wife.

I find it ironic that for all of the GOP’s fervor for taking personal responsibility and getting government off our backs, that instead of blaming themselves, most conservatives seem content to blame immigrants, welfare recipients, big government and Barack Obama for most of what is wrong with America. Rather than taking responsibility and enjoying the benefits of one of the least regulated, smallest government, most capitalistic countries in the world it seems that many on the red side of the street spend more time worrying about Obama’s birth certificate, or a non-existent crime epidemic in border cities, or government regulations, instead of knuckling down and building better businesses and better communities.

Like Herman Cain, Ron Paul has it wrong with his small-government, laissez-faire economic policy. But, Paul at least has it half-right on US foreign policy. The part he has right: we should let Iran have nuclear power and become a nuclear country; the wrong part: cut almost the entire military and foreign aid budgets and disengage from the rest of the world completely.  I think we need a balance somewhere between the two.  We can cut the military budget in half over 5 years and invest in retraining the returning soldiers and out of work contractors in new energy technology. After all, energy security is national security.

Iran knows that one day their oil will dry up and their source of wealth and power as a country will dry up as well unless they have diverse industries and energy resources. It is the same reason Dubai has been diversifying its portfolio for years including the controversial deal to buy part of a US port in 2006. Under pressure from Israel and AIPAC, Democrats and Republicans will do anything to stop Iran from going nuclear. Yet, mutually Assured Destruction has worked everywhere else in the world, so why can’t it work between Israel and Iran? A nuclear Iran is a small price to pay for maintaining the American Empire.  

Yes, we are an empire. The US has only 5% of the world’s population, but we use 25% to 50% of its resources and our military budgetequals the next 20 countries’ combined. To many people outside the US it feels like they are being held hostage at gun-point by the US so that we can enjoy an extraordinary standard of living, while everyone else barely gets by.

So, stop your belly-aching, Democrats, and realize that even our poor and oppressed have it great compared to the rest of the world. And stop your whining, Republicans, and notice that the reason everyone wants to kill us is because we are no longer seen as liberators from the Nazis and Japan. That story has gotten old.

Rather, we have become a new empire and “the force” may not be with us. The fact that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator does not absolve us of the crime that was Iraq. The US supports far more dictators and oppressive regimes than we liberate. We’ve also lost our moral authority by gutting the Bill of Rights with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo and now indefinite military detentions of US citizens as codified in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

So, instead of being seen as liberators or a beacon of freedom, the US is seen increasingly as a blood-sucking pig spewing green house gasses in the wake of its vast military and industrial empire. It’s gotten to the point where many in the outside world see us in the same way Republicans view welfare recipients:   pointing a gun at their head and forcing them to pay a small percentage of their taxes as welfare.

So, buck up and start blaming yourself America! There’s a reason much of the world hates us, even as they aspire to our standard of living. Mitt Romney can accuse Barack Obama’s foreign policy of “appeasement” all he wants, but Ron Paul and the rest of us will see through that lie and realize that a new US foreign policy requires everyone to take responsibility for their own actions. Even if that means talking to the enemy occasionally and letting them diversify their energy portfolio, just as we need to diversify our own.

The poster that could launch a thousand 3rd party candidates...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is there a 2012 NDAA and FEMA Conspiracy?

In 2002, when I found out about Patriot Act II, which called for indefinite detention of US citizens without due process, that was the galvanizing moment that got me out in the streets, marching against the Iraq War. I thought, if Ashcroft, Cheney and Bush are crazy enough to start an illegal war based on flimsy WMD evidence, then maybe they are crazy enough to implement martial law and go after dissidents who disagreed with their theocratic worldview for the US.

The Internet was ripe with 9-11 conspiracy theories and all the brainwashing and bad intelligence that went into making the case for Iraq along with the brand new and ominous sounding Department of Homeland Security made me desperately afraid of what the Bush Administration would do in the wake of another terrorist attack.

Now we have an equal amount of paranoia coming from the right toward Barack Obama. Yet, instead of the paranoia being based on evidence or on actual policy decisions, the paranoia seems driven by racism, an unfounded fear of creeping socialism, and the fear-mongering and hate-speech being driven by talk radio and Fox News. I think a lot of that is embodied in a recent article on one of Alex Jones' Web Sites where he spins lots of conspiracy theories.

Jones argues that the detention provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) along with contingency and continuity planning in a recent FEMA RFP are connected dots in an ominous New World Order conspiracy. As much as I detest the detention provision in the NDAA, I also understand that it and FEMA continuity plans may have more benign purposes. For example, a suitcase nuke planted by a terrorist could necessitate the need to detain a US citizen who is helping coordinate either a domestic or foreign-based attack. FEMA contractors involved in continuity plans following such a nuclear strike, would need to coordinate with DOD and intelligence officials. Natural disasters also pose legitimate contingency planning for continuity.

The possibility of an economic collapse is real, but if you think that collapse is a Bilderberg-led, controlled demolition aided and abetted by the Fed, or if you believe Obama is a really a Kenyan Communist Manchurian Candidate, or even just illegitimate, then you have reason to fear being targeted, tagged and rounded up and put into a FEMA jail. The same way I feared being rounded up by John Ashcroft or Dick Cheney.

But, if you don't fear those things, and instead see a real threat of armed, domestic militias inspired by Ron Paul and Rick "Secessionist" Perry, targeting an "illegal" Communist President and his corrupt government, then perhaps some of the NDAA provisions and FEMA docs just make sense and aren't so scary after all.

Another issue I have with this is that on the Flickr site where Alex Jones has posted the FEMA Scope of Work, his comment reads,"Where the government talks about continuity of government and distinguishing the US citizens as the enemy." I read all the docs he posted and nowhere does the it talk about "distinguishing US citizens as the enemy." Alex Jones is a wing nut and should not be taken seriously. 

But that does not mean we should not take the detention provisions in the 2012 NDAA seriously. Glenn Greenwald has done fantastic reporting on this vital issue on  Maybe the detention provisions are more a symptom of our crony capitalist system and a need to reform the presidency than anything in an Alex Jones conspiracy theory.