Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Many Things Are Finally Over: Year End Reflections

2008 is over. This marks my first full year sharing my observations, opinions, and ideas online. It has not been a good year for me personally. 2008 has seen two illnesses for my wonderful partner Theresa, both of which required hospitalization for her and missed work for the both of us. The second illness saw me lose my job, as a result of the time I had to take off to care for her at home the day before she went to the hospital. Though I will not have to appear in court until the end of January, it has also seen me receive a summons to appear in court regarding medical bills of my own, more than half of which should have been covered by my insurance but not for the clerical mismanagement of my former employer. So, in that sense, this year has been, for me, a microcosm of everything wrong with our country's health care system, labor policy, and corporate regulation.

On the other hand, this year has been good for the country in some ways. We have rejected four more years of outmoded foreign and economic policy at the polls. The Democratic Party now controls both houses of Congress, and despite that party's flaws that is (or should be) still preferable to a Republican Congress from the mindset of any liberal, progressive, or radical. Most importantly, we have elected a new President. He is not the liberal I would like to see in the Oval Office, and he's certainly no radical, but President-elect Obama is an intelligent, capable, and judicious man who has shown the moral courage to lead rather than pander to his base. As part of his base, I might not always appreciate that, but leadership is the most important qualification for the job. President-elect Obama is a leader.

Yet it has not all been rosy. Republicans and Democrats, working gleefully together more often than not, have been deregulating big business and capital to the detriment of entrepreneurs and labor for nearly twenty years. We have seen the fruits of this policy in what bears an eerie resemblance to the Great Depression. Business has gorged itself into starvation, and is now feeling the pinch. The business of economic reconstruction and management of foreign policy will take precedence over a wide range of necessary reforms. Some of those reforms (health care, corporate regulation, and labor policy) are important aspects of that reconstruction, but equally important social reform, will probably fall by the wayside.

I have not been as diligent, disciplined, or professional in either the management of this blog or writing its entries as I would like. I intend to do better. I still don't know how many people are actually reading this blog but I know there are a few. I hope to do better by them.

We have a long way to go as a country. Much of the massive reform of our government that I believe necessary will likely not happen in my lifetime. That won't stop me from writing my thoughts and opinions, from encouraging, cajoling, and aggressively debating my government and the people of my country.

Yet we have elected a black president. My parents were born, and grew up, in the era of segregation. In my childhood, in the part of the country where I lived, four white police officers committed a brutal crime against a black motorist and were acquitted in court of any crime. Race riots ensued. Yet now, in my adulthood, a black presidential candidate won Indiana, Virginia, and Florida.

Call me a dreamer if you like, but that has to be a good sign. For me, that makes 2008 a very good year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Buyer Beware: When You Do Not Vote For A Liberal Candidate You Will Not Get A Liberal President

The Democratic Party disappoints me regularly. I expect it. I am a registered Democrat for reasons of pragmatism. My ideology is well to the left of the majority of the party and of any presidential candidate I anticipate in my lifetime, though part of me always hopes to be surprised. As examples, I offer the following: I support an immediate end to the 'War On Drugs' (more accurately described as the War On Drug Users We Do Not Like), a sweeping civil rights reform package that would make many cringe, not merely 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants but an undefended border with Mexico and theoretically free transit across the same on par with that we used to enjoy with Canada, and significant defense spending reforms combined with major foreign policy reforms. I agree with John Kerry that the 'Global War on Terror' (more accurately described in a plethora of unflattering ways, when one considers that we have classified dissidents seeking social, cultural and religious freedom in China, under the same kind of crushing monolithic rule we condemned when it was practiced in the USSR) is primarily an exercise in law enforcement, but I disagree with most 'mainstream' politicians in either party that the GWOT is, or should be, a 'war' at all. I know that the majority of the Democratic Party does not share those views and that the 'mainstream' politicians who lead the party share very view of them or share them but believe their achievement impossible.

While I try to vote for the candidate who agrees with my views in the party primaries, he rarely wins. Since registering as a Democrat, the candidates whom I have supported in primary candidacies have included Bill Bradley, Carol Moseley Braun, and Dennis Kucinich (though I flirted with Mike Gravel and believe Bill Richardson should have been designated for either Vice President or Secretary of State) and never had a genuine hope of seeing any of them nominated. I then vote for the nominee in the general election because they are always less objectionable to my principles than the Republican alternative. That said, I never expect to see a Democratic president for whom I voted fulfill my agenda. They are nearly always very clear about what their own agenda is, and I know even that is a gamble with Congress.

What I find strange is that others in the party do not appear to understand this. GBLT activists are always shocked when their agenda is not pushed with the vigor they believe it should be. Despite the fact that, except for a brief period during the candidacy and first term of President Clinton, it never has been by any Democratic presidential candidate or president. Feminists and minority interests are never satisfied with the level of diversity in government, even when no specific promises about diversity have been made. Every group within the Democratic Party is always surprised that the electable candidate they nominated and then elected with the help of independent voters and moderate Republicans does not satisfy all their desires in a president.

The strength of the Democratic Party is that, to some extent, it seeks to give all members of American society a voice in the party and the government. The weakness of the Democratic Party is that the number of ideologically liberal Americans who truly support all elements of the stated agenda of the Democratic Party is not what it should be. The reason that the Republican Party so often, with some accuracy, accuses the Democratic Party of advocating group rights rather than individual rights is that the Democratic Party attempts to balance the interests of its constituent factions in exactly the same way the Republican Party (which, likewise, lacks a unified majority of all-encompassing 'conservative' constituents and is every bit as much an advocate of 'group rights' as the Democratic Party) attempts to do so. The strength of the Democratic Party is that all of those factions have some part in shaping party policy, whereas Republican dissenting voices (the Log Cabin Republicans come glaringly to mind) frequently do not. The weakness is that those factions are less inclined to cooperate when they do not feel their interests align.

Much talk is made of the 'progressive agenda' by liberal Democrats and of the 'liberal agenda' by conservative Republicans, but such a unified agenda only exists in the labors of a cadre of devoted party activists and advocates and and a relatively small group of voters. The reality is that the GLBT platform, the feminist platform, the various minority platforms, and the labor platform of the Democratic Party are very different and sometimes in conflict. The liberal/progressive platform, which seeks to combine and advance the interests of all these constituents in some manner as a unifying philosophy is at odds with a conservative Blue Dog platform which is opposed to all of the party's member factions in some way. The interaction of all these member groups and the two philosophical agendas creates the final Democratic Party. It then attempts to be pro-GLBT, pro-feminist, pro-minority, pro-labor, liberal, and fiscally conservative all at once. This inevitably leads to disappointment.

Case in point: President-elect Barack Obama has invited Pastor Rick Warren (an emergent leader of a new, more economically progressive evangelical Christianity that is dissatisfied with the past alliance of evangelical leadership with a Republican Party frequently devoid of Christian compassion) to give an invocation at his inauguration and Pastor Warren has agreed. Pastor Warren donated money to advance, and spoke in favor of, the ballot success of California's contemptible constitutional amendment (Proposition 8) maliciously passed to deprive California citizens of rights the California Supreme Court determined they already possess under the state's constitution. Pastor Warren claims to believe in equal rights for the GBLT community and to support civil unions and domestic partnerships, but believes that marriage is a special sacrament set aside for male/female couples. This is not a rare belief among Christians, or among Jews or Muslims. President-elect Obama, in fact, is himself an evangelical Christian (though he belongs to a liberal wing of the faith) and believes the same and has made no secret of it. He did oppose Proposition 8 politically, because he believed the constitutional issue trumped his religious beliefs, but he is on record as saying many times over that he opposes gay marriage in favor of civil unions. Senator John Kerry said the same thing during his own candidacy for president.

The GLBT community and its spokespeople are up in arms as what they believe as betrayal by a president-elect they voted for and helped to elect. Claims have been made both by conservative and establishment liberal writers that there has been something of a wave of anti-religious and anti-black bigotry in the GLBT community in response to the success of Proposition 8 and that protests against Pastor Warren are an expression of the bigotry. Some of the comments I have read on the Huffington Post's blog bear that out. Many people who have refrained from such language about the president-elect have nevertheless addressed it toward Pastor Warren and expressed deep and personal hurt that the president-elect would invite him to participate in the inauguration ceremony.

I am in favor of complete equal rights for all American citizens regardless of sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, gender, or religion. I believe that, if marriage is a right as the Supreme Court upheld it to be in the case of interracial marriage, gays have the right to marry if they wish. I believe that Pastor Warren, President-elect Obama, and others who believe they can balance the question on the head of a pin and satisfy their religious conscience with opposition to gay marriage while trying to satisfy their social conscience with advocacy for 'separate but equal' civil unions are wrong. Worse, I believe they are philosophically wrong in believing that equal rights and prejudices inspired by religious dogmas can co-exist in such a fashion. It is roughly equivalent with supporting black voting rights while not wanting black neighbors. Sadly, there are people who feel this way. They must be engaged in vigorous debate and educated in the meaning of equality.

However, if gay marriage is one of our core values as liberals then we need to strongly advocate candidates who support gay marriage rather than voting for electable moderates and expecting them to receive our values with their votes. If we want the Democratic Party to be a liberal party then we must vote for liberal candidates. Otherwise, we must support the leaders we elect where we agree with them and debate them vigorously where we disagree.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Regulation Ruse: The Credit Crisis, the Great Depression, and What We Can All Learn From Alexander Hamilton

For many years, at least since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and quite probably longer than that, stout-hearted and stout-voiced American economic 'purists' have been preaching the virtues of the free market system. This isn't new, the United States has always been a capitalist country. Though there have been communal experiments within that economy (some of them very successful), the national economy has always been dedicated to the idea of competition and free enterprise. With the only possible exceptions being the Chinese and the Japanese, Americans are the most naturally capitalistic people on Earth. Marxism, while its effects have been felt (largely as a negative reaction against the idea by the right wing) quite strongly, has never had a serious claim to the political or economic loyalties of the majority of Americans. 'The American Dream' is the idea that one can become a successful capitalist by doing what one naturally loves doing, though it has been distorted in crasser and more commercial ways over the years.

I am, economically, a capitalist. I believe that the free market economy is the most viable system devised in the world's history. The most successful empires have always been built on honest capitalism, with wars arising over commercial disputes between capitalists. The greatest political crisis in American history was a dispute between capitalists and latter-day feudalists who had substituted the plantation for the manor and believed whole-heartedly in a patently unfree labor market.

The problem is that, since the Bolshevik Revolution, the most vocal defenders of the free market system have attempted to defend their own profits rather than the system that makes them possible. In a very real way, the Confederacy has stolen victory from the jaws of their Civil War defeat in modern America. Modern capitalism, as expounded upon by monetarists and the anarcho-capitalists of the Austrian school, has far more in common with the manor or the plantation than with Adam Smith's vision. The modern corporation, at least in America, has become the new refuge of feudalism and the modern upper-echelon corporate executive has become the modern day robber baron.

The voices of deregulation are not entirely new either. Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus, speaking with pained self-righteousness, argued that the victims of Great Britain's Industrial Revolution could not be helped and that any attempt to help underpaid, overworked laborers or to regulate industry would only make things worse for the laborers and ruin everyone else's lives to boot.

Deregulation and free trade have been the rallying cry of American capitalists since the end of World War II and are still bedrock values to some in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Business, they say, must be left alone to run itself. The government is not equipped to manage the economy, business must handle that. We are now winding down eight years of our first CEO president, following sixteen years of deregulation and twelve years of increasingly free trade. Clearly, business cannot manage the economy any better than the government can when left to its own devices.

Alexander Hamilton, the father of both American capitalism and American political liberalism, understood that the role of government in a capitalist society is to re-enforce the natural tendencies of the market. The government does this by regulating business so as to ensure competition. In an unregulated market, capital becomes the club with which successful businesses prevent new competitors from establishing themselves. The reason we have only three major American automakers, for instance, is because The Big Three have used their money and political connections to buy out and stamp out potential competitors. This is not unlike the methods used by men like J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, whose corporate empires were eventually parceled out in courtrooms by judges gavels because it was found they had broken the law and illegally manipulated the market in order to drive their costs and wages down while driving profits up. This was the atmosphere in which the modern American labor movement emerged in the early twentieth century.

A truly free market is a competitive market in which someone with a product and capital can establish a new business in their chosen field and compete as successfully as their product and ability allows. Such a market does not exist in the United States. While such a market may be an unrealistic ideal, it is the government's job (through practical, sensible regulation of corporate conduct and consistent enforcement of the spirit of those regulations) to realize as much of that ideal as possible. This economic crisis has shown this dramatically, just as the Great Depression did in the 1930s.

I want to oppose the auto industry bailout in the worst way. Not because I am a hardened economic purist who believes that a failed business deserves to fail, though I do believe that the government's insulation of such corporations does have negative consequences, but on a moral level. The Big Three (and other companies, including the defunct American Motors) did the government very big favors during WWII. While some would call this their patriotic duty, they were able to translate these favors into credit with Washington. As Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and American Motors consolidated their hold on the American automobile market and consolidated more and more money and power in their own hands they formed a cartel powerful enough to prevent new manufacturers (Preston Tucker is a poster-worthy example, though there are less well-known examples as well) from entering the market. When American Motors merged with Chrysler, the modern American auto industry was set in stone and the only changes since then have been foreign acquisitions and mergers.

The premier example of the failure of the big three has been the GM brand 'Saturn.' The Saturn line was launched to great fanfare, an entirely American manufacturing enterprise in which the workers at the factory owned the company. GM originally set the company up to be completely independent of their larger network of brands and Saturn was extremely successful. So successful, that GM decided it needed a bigger piece of the pie. GM bought out the shareholders and closed down the original Saturn factory, moving manufacturing to Mexico and Detroit as with their other brands. Despite this, Saturn has continued to be the bright spot in the American auto industry. The brand has led the way in making the kind of cars the modern world wishes to buy: economical, technologically current, and fuel efficient. The Saturn Vue SUV, contrary to most stereotypes of such vehicles, gets gas mileage competitive with that of mid-size cars. Yet when General Motors submitted their post-bailout business plan to Congress, their proposal was to drop Saturn but to retain GMC, Cadillac, and Buick. GMC is entirely redundant. Every GMC truck is an equivalent model of a truck manufactured by Chevrolet. Cadillac is a luxury brand, priced well out of the range of the average working American. Buick is, and has for years been, famous for producing cars that are too big and too fuel-guzzling to be practical for their sticker price. Yet in their appeal for government aid, GM believed that keeping these three brands and scrapping Saturn was in their best business interests.

I believe an automotive bailout is necessary, despite all of that, because of the effect letting GM and Chrysler fail would have on the American economy. Even the Republican Party believes so, and despite all their bluster the only real bar to such a bailout passing the Senate was the fact that the House proposal wasn't tough enough on the United Auto Workers to satisfy union busting senators from right-to-work states which host heavily state-subsidized automobile factories owned by foreign companies.

In my opinion, we have to hold our nose and bail the Big Three out despite all their sins. This does not mean, however, that they cannot be held accountable. Real reforms can and should be required. The Big Three should be completely enjoined from laying off employees or closing factories on US soil if they receive government money. Their management payroll should be heavily slashed, especially at the very top levels. Executive bonuses should be tied to sales and revenue rather than share prices. I would go so far as to mandate the transfer of outsourced jobs back to the United States and certainly believe a prohibition on further outsourcing must be part of any bailout package.

The House bailout is not happening and the White House is merely playing for time to allow the new Congress and President to act when the new administration takes office. Any fix between now and then will be purely temporary. The new Congress should revisit the issue, and the new President should be mindful of his own remarks on the necessity of forcing the Big Three to reestablish themselves as viable business concerns. Some pay cuts, on the labor side, may be required for legitimate economic reasons and that thorny issue must be addressed head on. While less guilty than management, labor does have a share in the blame for rising costs. Yet their share is inconsequential compared to the malfeasance of the management of the Big Three and this proportion of blame must be kept firmly in mind. Allowing the Big Three to fail is not punishing merely the incompetents and criminals responsible for that failure, but also punishing everyone who works for them or does business with them.

If a hand is gangrenous, one amputates the hand to save a life if that is necessary. However, penicillin is generally tried first. If penicillin works, amputation is not necessary. We need to approach our economic problems with that kind of calculation, not with a machete and a can of gasoline nor with a gift box full of money with no strings attached. Conservatives say that government is simply not equipped to micromanage the auto-industry to the degree necessary to save it from itself. I say micromanagement is not necessary. Practical regulation and consistent enforcement will force manager to do their jobs in return for their checks.

Penicillin before amputation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Don't Have All the Good Ideas: Real Bipartisanship

I want to start by proclaiming I apparently actually have a reader who is not a close personal friend who reads this blog because I write it. As a shout out to voice of reason, I have not stopped writing because the election is over. Rather I go through periods where I feel everything has been covered well enough that much of what I would say is not truly different or new. My posts fall into three categories: 1.) A response to another writer whose ideas specifically anger me. 2.) A positive response to an article with which I agree. 3.) My personal ideas regarding an area of policy. Most of my posts fall into the first two categories, though I intend to write more in the third as well. For obvious reasons, they require more work and writing time.

This posting falls into the second of those three categories. I had not read Cenk Uygur before, but I find what I recently found to be exceptionally interesting.

Mr. Uygur argues against the knee-jerk appointment of a Republican Secretary of Defense by President-elect Obama in favor of an ambitiously bipartisan appointment of a Republican Secretary of State. He makes note of the political belief, supported by polls, that Republicans are stronger on defense issues and suggests a Democratic Secretary of Defense would serve to rebut the argument while a Republican Secretary of Defense would only reinforce that problem for Democrats in future elections. Furthermore he argues that the appointment of a Republican Secretary of State in a strong Democratic administration would give the Republican Party a stake in diplomatic solutions to problems and strengthen Republicans whose foreign policy worldview is decidedly not neo-conservative a greater platform within their own party.

While I am not entirely sure that such an appointment would dramatically change the Republican Party in the manner that Mr. Uygur envisions, I agree with him that it is a stronger and more original statement of bipartisanship than another Republican Secretary of Defense in a Democratic administration. Henry Stimson (Secretary of War under Franklin Roosevelt), Robert McNamara, and William Cohen have already served in that capacity.

While Mr. Uygur suggests the two Republican prospects for Defense Secretary (Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar), I would recommend someone whose foreign policy expertise is more popularly known around the country and whose appointment would be a truly bipartisan statement.

I believe that President-elect Obama should make a serious offer of the post to Senator John McCain. Senator McCain's knowledge of world affairs is very solid, despite his misspeakings in the election, and his diplomatic experience in engaging enemies is likewise solid: he was the leader of the open hand offered to Vietnam after the Cold War had ended. I believe that, in a strong Democratic administration, Senator McCain would be a valuable adviser in formulating policy and an effective executor of policy.

I think this is something that President-elect Obama should seriously consider.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Can't Have It Both Ways: Did She Break The Law or Is It True She Did Nothing Impeachable?

An editorial by The Nation, published yesterday online, attacks Sarah Palin's claims that the investigation into her conduct as governor 'cleared' her by quoting the investigation and reproducing the newspaper editorial in her home state attacking her claims of vindication. The newspaper editorial is well-written and hits the nail very nicely, but The Nation's editorial misses the mark slightly. While calling Palin out on her 'Orwellian' (in the words of the original newspaper editorial) lie about the findings of the investigation, the magazine editorial then states that Palin did nothing indictable or impeachable.

The investigation finds that Governor Palin, as governor, violated the state's ethics law. I understand The Nation is used to covering politics, in which violating the law is not the same thing as a crime (much like Wall Street), but in my view this is a fallacious idea. Forgive me a Randian moment when I say that violating a state's political ethics law while holding political office is a crime. Therefore, Governor Palin is or should be both impeachable and indictable on this charge. It's a law, isn't it? Didn't the investigation find that she violated it? This is an indictable offense, and one that she should be impeached for committing.

While I applaud The Nation for telling the truth about Sarah Palin's gubernatorial indiscretions as she tries to make dishonest claims of her 'vindication', I am disappointed that their editors do not equate breaking the law with impeachable or indictable offenses.

Friday, October 10, 2008

He's Friends With THEM!?!? (In Politics, Everyone Is Guilty By Association)

John F. Kennedy began his presidential campaign with the support of a coalition of corrupt politicians and mobsters with whom his father had done business in the 1920s, when he illegally imported whiskey into the United States from Ireland and Scotland and sold it to people like Al Capone and Carlo Gambino.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt held together his huge liberal coalition of Democrats and Roosevelt Republicans by pandering to the racist leadership of the southern wing of the Democratic Party. When Harry Truman took mild civil rights steps like desegregating the Armed Forces, the Democratic Party began to fall apart.

Richard Nixon (and Republican leadership since) associated with the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who have approved of terrorist acts against gays and abortion clinics. Ditto Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. George H.W. Bush could be lauded for keeping his distance from them during his first run for president... if he hadn't jumped into bed with them in his run for reelection.

Far right mouthpieces will tell you that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are different from
Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. I don't see how. If Jeremiah Wright were a white evangelical fundamentalist instead of a black evangelical fundamentalist, he'd fit right in with Robertson, Falwell, and John Hagee. Some of the things he has said about gays and Jews are very close to the Republicans' favorite preachers. The sticking point is twofold. 1.) He is black. 2.) He believes the American government has failed black Americans.

He is wrong in his prejudices against gays and Jews, but that isn't where Republicans disagree with him. No, they disagree with the area in which he is right: he correctly believes the American government has failed black Americans. Some of the things he has preached are basically true even where not literally true. I've written about that before. I still stand by what I said. In fact, my foremost criticism of Obama on the Wright issue is that he didn't stand by the man. It is true that political expedience dictated this decision, but Obama's willingness to disavow his supporters (Wesley Clark is another good example) is still disappointing. I admire the man as a politician, however. He certainly isn't mismanaging the things that Gore, Kerry, and Clinton idol George McGovern mismanaged on the political side.

The difference between Ayers and the zealots of the religious right is only that Ayers' zealotry was humanist rather than religious. Even as the Robertsons and Falwells of the world sponsor and incite 'domestic terrorism' to bring the rule of God, so Ayers did to bring what he believed was a truer democracy. As the Republicans would never speak of Robertson or Falwell as terrorists, because of their influence and affluence, so Democrats often associate with former radicals who have influence or affluence themselves. Politics require this. As above examples have shown, it is nearly impossible to succeed in American politics without unsavory associations of some kind and all politicians are equally guilty.

Charles Krauthammer brought up Tony Rezko again. Discussion of Tony Rezko is as meaningless or meaningful, take your pick, as discussion of Charles Keating. If you haven't watched the film, you should. If you are for McCain in these times of economic difficulty, then you should definitely watch the film. Find it online, it's easy. Google the Keating 5.

If you are disgusted by the political associations of the candidates, than even third party hopefuls will disappoint you. Some of Ralph Nader's friends and supporters have belonged to far left environmental groups with agendas like enforced population control, including mandatory abortions and sterilizations or licenses in order to get pregnant. The Libertarian Party draws heavy support from the membership of the Hell's Angels, Bob Barr may have been to a biker rally on occasion. Define irony: Alan Keyes is running on the segregationist AIP ticket. Which means he has to know some people lurking around nasty outfits like the John Birch Society and various cultural purity kooks.

The gist of all this is that if you are an independent or undecided voter and you believe that you can only vote for a candidate who is pure and unsullied by questionable allies, there is no one for you to vote for. Everyone has been sullied by someone you may not approve of, whether by Hagee and Parsley and Keating or by Rezko and Ayers and Wright. If you truly wish to vote, then do so knowing that the candidate for whom you vote will have friends you don't like.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dollars and Sense: Fixing Health Care

Being extremely liberal, it should come to no surprise that I have strong opinions in support of an effective and meaningful system of national health care. I understand the arguments against single payer, though I disagree with most of them. I believe that every administration in history has shown that it is willing to spend a fortune on its projects, so the argument that we simply cannot afford meaningful national health care is ridiculous. We can afford to fight two wars at once and send advisors to countries like the Phillipines and Colombia in the name of the 'Global War on Terror.' Perhaps if we eliminated the 'GWOT' as a major budget expenditure all of that money could be spent on health care. It's certainly worth thinking about.

Terrorism is bred by poverty, ignorance, lack of economic opportunity, and basic geopolitical conflicts between states and ideas. As such, it is not a problem to be directly solved itself but rather a symptom of the larger problems of the world. Terrorism is another form of international crime and it should be dealt with in that manner, rather than the wasteful use of military force. I do believe that nation building is required in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the best way to build a nation is to help the people build it themselves. If we build a nation in our own image, as we tried to do in Vietnam and Laos, the local citizenry will not embrace it. It will be ours, not theirs. So we need to reform our foreign policy and spend much of the money we are currently wasting on military operations at home.

Even the Republicans are talking about health care in this election, and John McCain's plan would sound good in the abstract if it were not for the fact that the two fundamental problems with our current system are not addressed. Costs are addressed, a $5,000 tax credit to buy private health care is great. It even has a chance of passing because it's the kind of pro-market move that Republicans like, and it means a tax cut of sorts, which Republicans also like. The problem is that, while costs are the biggest barrier to many people receiving health insurance, they are not even close to the biggest problem with the system.

The first problem with the current health care system is that the way the costs are shared. The employer-employee system of cost sharing puts an undue strain on business and only benefits the employees of businesses that can afford to match health care costs. I'm hardly the biggest fan of Corporate America, but business is necessary for our capitalist economic system. Even should we ever find the political will to step beyond liberal economics to a more Keynesian or Radical system, we will still need business and capital. A single payer system that eliminated the 'taxes' imposed on businesses by the current system would save American business more money than any corporate tax cuts the Republicans have to offer. It would also allow small business owners and employees to receive health care. Even a modified cost-sharing system with the government matching the contributions of both employer and employee would ease this burden and allow more employers to offer health care. At the very least, a program specifically set up for the government to match employee contributions for small businesses would relive the system of strain. Naturally, I favor more radical solutions and advocate single payer as the ideal. Single payer is the best system for solving the real problem of American health care.

The real problem is that we do not have a health care system, he have a health insurance system. Healthy people are required to pay for insurance, while healthy, to avoid onerous health care costs when they need health care. This means one pays every month whether one sees the doctor that month or not, to pay for the emergency room or urgent care visit three months in the future. The problem is that not all insurance is equal and that your emergency room visit may still carry a three hundred dollar co-payment, despite the fact that you have been paying for that visit for three months without ever visiting the emergency room. This is ridiculous. Many procedures and illnesses are not covered, under a variety of loopholes. Deductibles make the patient responsible for significant shares of the cost of a hospital stay of one week despite the patient never having stayed in the hospital before and yet paying for it every month. Out of pocket costs are frequently burdensome even with insurance. The system exists so that insurance companies can make money, and if the companies have to actually pay for too much medical care then their profits shrink. So high premiums, high deductibles, and a slough of co-payments are the defining marks of the system.

We have seen a significant financial crisis that has badly damaged our financial system, including massive insurance companies that chose to make extra money insuring mortgages. Keeping that in mind, can you see our current system continuing to work without large increases in premiums, deductibles, and co-payments with the insurance companies in such financial hardship and needing every dollar?

Dr. Arthur Garson Jr, MD, of the University of Virginia wrote a piece today that correctly defines many of the problems of health care that have resulted from our current system. Unfortunately, the solution offered is the same sort of political pap we have been spoon-fed by Washington for years. Dr. Garson recommends a multi-lateral commission in which doctors, insurance companies, and both political parties wrangle for five years (the number given is his) to try to find new ways to control health care costs. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, as a massive commission of this sort would generate its own costs for Dr. Garson's five years. During those five years, nothing would actually be done about the problem.

The insurance companies need to be removed from the health care management equation. Even if some version of our current system remains, a government definition of 'health care' needs to formulated and regulated. All companies wishing to provide health care must meet these standards. HMOs must be made to cover out-of-system care and PPOs must be made to cover necessary care of any kind when it becomes necessary. Bureaucratic costs must be controlled to lower premiums. Deductibles should either be disallowed or carefully controlled and co-payments should be reasonable. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General, and senior aides from the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House should be able to handle such a project far more quickly and efficiently than any blue-ribbon commission. Certainly, the insurance companies should not be made part of the regulation process. We have seen in other areas just what damage can be done by industry insider regulators.

The best solution is still single payer, and ultimately I believe it to be the desired solution. If pragmatism requires smaller steps, however, there are things we can do right away to address the problem. Waiting five years for meaningful health care reform is ridiculous if a more streamlined process can provide it in two or three.

In case the right waves the red flag of 'socialized medicine' in front of the centrist bull, keep this in mind: socialism is the idea that a society should care for its members and its members should care for one another. This philosophy is voiced by nearly every religion and denomination on the right wing of American politics. The simple fact is that the government is the embodiment of society's power and is responsible to society. The 'law and order' that the right wing is fond of advocating can only be enforced by the government.

The biggest problem American health care faces is crime and anarchy. Law and order will not be imposed from within, it must be imposed from without. If this leads to socialized medicine, good. If it doesn't, it can still lead to specific improvements. American health care needs a systemic policy, not a financial crutch or meaningless 'reform' of the existing system. Real health care reform must change the current system radically, or it will not succeed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Define Irony: The Traditional Party of Racism, Segregation, and the KKK's Nominee!

This is not exactly cutting edge news, but it is more than worthy of comment.

The American Independent Party was formed of segregationist Southern Democrats opposed to civil rights and equating anti-Semitism to anti-Communism. Their first presidential ticket was the dramatic one-two punch of racist Alabama Governor George Wallace and infamous advocate of the nuclear first strike General Curtis LeMay. Their agenda was so far to the right that it made Barry Goldwater look like Ted Kennedy.

The nominee of the AIP this election year is Alan Keyes.

I understand that homophobia is the new racism and abortion is the new communism, and that the bigots of the nation are more decidedly fixed on these issues than on racist agendas, but is their anything more cynical than a black clergyman (I don't care how conservative he is) running for the office of president on a KKK ticket?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Remember Kids, Sex is Bad: Sarah Palin and the Reinjection of the Abortion Issue

I have tried very hard, since opening this blog, to avoid writing about the issue of abortion. This is not because I do not have strong opinions on the subject, but rather because I believe it (along with gay rights) has become a litmus test issue which is more important to the two sides of America's ideological fence than many more important issues.

It is not that I believe the issue of abortion is not, itself, important, but rather that it (like many other social ills) is a side effect of problems of economics and education that cannot be addressed except by directly dealing with the problems of economics and education. The discussion of the abortion issue, divorced from issues of economics, education, and sociology, is like a church meeting in which half the members yell their point of view, half the members yell back with their own, and the final result is a deadlock which only serves to anger both sides.

However, John McCain has seriously returned the issue to the presidential table with the naming of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. Since Senator McCain says he knew about the family situation of the Palins before making his choice, I am forced to assume that McCain has done so deliberately. Abortion is a divisive, wedge issue which will have very little effect on the real problems of America as a whole but which will win votes.

I am not going to write about Governor Palin's family situation. There are plenty of places you can read about it online. Instead, I am going to write about my own feelings on life and how it informs my ideology.

I am Pro-Life in the broadest sense of the term, the original meaning intended before the anti-abortion movement took it as their badge of honor: I believe that the taking of a human life is a moral wrong. Abortion after the fetus is scientifically 'a person', murder, capital punishment, assisted suicide, and war are all morally objectionable actions. I do not subscribe to the 'Just War' theory of many Christians (though I do believe there are necessary wars, necessity is not the same as justice) and I would never kill myself nor ask another to help me do it. Were I to be left in a coma by accident or illness, my living will would say in bold letters: Don't pull the plug, period!

However, the issues of abortion, war, and suicide are not simple. World War II was necessary to prevent people who could casually massacre millions of their fellow human beings from ruling most of the modern, industrial world. Suicide is a personal moral choice and must be the most difficult moral choice in the world, and some religions have a very different view of suicide than the Western Judeao-Christian interpretation. Abortions are going to happen whether they are legal or not, and horrible things can happen with illegal abortions.

With the possible exception of hard-line feminists who believe that a woman's right to absolute control over her reproduction is more important than a potential child (and I believe, deep down, most of them have qualms), not one liberal who supports reproductive rights and the right to choose thinks abortions are a good thing or a desirable thing. The entire point of the majority of the advocates of reproductive freedom is that a woman should have access to all necessary tools and knowledge to avoid an unwanted pregnancy in the first place. The true agenda of the Pro-Choice movement is not the right to abortion, but the right for a woman to choose whether or not to become pregnant. Abortion is not a substitute for, or a means of, birth control. It is a last resort when birth control fails (which does not happen as often as the right would like you to think, and is usually the result of human error) or when no other options were allowed in the first place.

The issue of reproductive freedom, of 'A Woman's Right to Choose,' is not abortion. It is the plain and simple fact that motherhood can be, has been, and continues to be used as a tool to prevent women from enjoying the freedom of choice enjoyed by men. The notion that a woman needs a child to be fulfilled and that she needs a husband to take care of her and her children is not one easily escaped. A co-worker of mine, a nineteen year old girl with a clear view of her desired life and career, will frequently say such things as 'eventually I have to get married.' When she describes her life goals, she talks of her desire to go to school and to become a pharmacist, not the desire to be a housewife or even to marry at all. Yet her upbringing in the border South has preconditioned her to believe that she 'must' get married, and she believes that she will. This is a cultural trap, one which the feminist movement wishes to escape. This is a not a desire to escape responsibility, as there is no choice which carries more responsibility than that of an abortion, but rather the desire to choose one's responsibilities to the same degree as men are allowed in our society.

As a believer in equal human rights, the simple fact is that only a pregnant woman can make this choice and it is wrong for men to make that decision for her or to make the government punish her or restrain her from making her own decision. The government cannot prevent abortion, it can only make them more difficult and dangerous.

Being Pro-Life, I therefore have to side against the criminalization of abortion: it leads to more death, not more life.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Well Armed Lamb

"Democracy is a lamb and two wolves voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well armed lamb."
-Benjamin Franklin

While I'm not going to go into deep detail about various Supreme Court decisions of late (I've already written about one of the three really controversial decisions of the last couple months, in my last entry and I agree with the striking down of the DC gun ban and the Guantanamo decision as well), I am going to comment on them: it is a staple of American politics to trumpet democracy when you've won more popular votes than your political opponent and to trumpet the constitutional process when you've won a disputed election. In the same fashion, it is a staple of American politics to trumpet judicial activism when you like a Supreme Court decision and to trumpet the 'will of the people' and popular democracy when you don't.

'The will of the people' is an interesting and very abstract concept. It was the idea of political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and it was one of the guiding principles of the French Revolution. It was later expounded upon by such widely differing thinkers as Lenin and Trotsky (the intellectual disciples of socialist Karl Marx and rationalist Rene Descartes and the creators of 20th Century political communism) on the one hand and by Fichte and Hegel (the fathers of the German muscular Romanticism that led first to Nietzsche and then to Hitler) on the other. Rousseau's definition is the one that concerns us, as we live in much the kind of political society that Rousseau imagined.

In Rousseau's nation state, elections are not merely head counts of popular opinion with the majority getting its way. In his view, the election is a spiritual-metaphysical process in which the moral spirit of the nation expresses itself in the voting process. The results of the democratic election signify the will of the entire nation, of all the people, even the minority voters whose idea or candidate was defeated. Thus every election result should be considered to be a unanimous result, regardless of how narrow a margin decided the matter, and opposition to the decisions of the majority are treason against the nation and attempts to undermine the rights of the people. This theory led directly to the worst horrors of the French Revolution, eventually collapsing on itself when the people elected Napoleon Bonaparte military dictator. The result was an absolute terror of liberal ideas in Europe that came to define the post-Napoleonic era.

Democracy is, as Benjamin Franklin said in another famous moment (only to have his line swiped by Winston Churchill), the worst form of government... except for all the others. This is why the United States has a constitutional democracy intended to define the powers of the government and protect the rights of the minority.

In this modern era (and indeed for much of the history the United States) the defining political arguments have all been about what our Constitution truly means. Even though the victory of the Hamiltonian interpretation of the 'necessary and proper' clause was sealed when Jefferson used it to justify the Louisiana Purchase, strict construction and liberal interpretation remain locked in an apparent struggle to the death. Even though the Constitution's 'absolute' nature was put to rest when the first ten amendments were tacked on to ensure ratification, and many of them have followed since, we still face a struggle over the question of whether the Constitution is truly a living document.

The United States Constitution was intended for two purposes: firstly, to integrate thirteen squabbling pseudo-nations into one real country under a national government strong enough to be able to protect those states from the rest of the world and, secondly, to protect the citizens of those states... from the governments of their states. Freedom of speech and the press was guaranteed not because of British colonial policy (if you read the newspaper polemics and published pamphlets of the day, not to mention the speeches, you will find that the British colonies enjoyed a Hell of a lot of freedom of expression and by God they used it!) but because of the laws passed in some states restricting such expression. The fundamental reason freedom of religion was guaranteed was because of the powerful state churches in Massachusetts (Congregational) and Virginia (Episcopal) and their treatment of dissenters.

The purpose of the constitution was thus two-fold: to establish a democratic form of government, and to protect the people from the disasters of democracy run amok. Majority tyranny is no less tyrannical because it is popular. Slavery was either supported in some form or else not actively opposed by the majority of Americans until the Civil War. The fact that slavery was politically protected by the majority did not make it any less tyrannical.

All of this brings me back to the Supreme Court. There have been bad justices and bad courts. Disasters like Plessy v. Ferguson and the Dredd Scott decision cannot be excused and the Court is not infallible.

These serious errors do not make the Court less important, though they do make the issue of judicial appointments even more serious than their political impact on voting blocs already makes them. The Supreme Court is meant to defend us from our government. In a neighborhood where the gangbangers all have guns, citizens should be able to protect themselves. In a society built on the recognition of fundamental human rights, denying those rights to others is fundamentally unacceptable. Excessive punishment is cruel and unusual whether or not is popular and its opposition controversial.

Democracy is the best form of government that we have available, but its maintenance requires that the minority be able to protect itself from the majority.

The Supreme Court is meant to be our arsenal.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

5-4 Against: The Supreme Court Strikes Down Capital Punishment In ALL Rape Cases

Rather than attempt to copy the journalistic aspect of this news, I will simply state that today the United States Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment for rape, regardless of the age of the victim, is cruel and unusual unless the victim is killed by the rapist.

This ruling is bound to be controversial, despite the fact that only five states had laws permitting capital punishment in cases of child rape and only Louisiana allowed such a sentence to be given on the first offense, because of the despicable nature of crimes against children and the moral outrage such crimes engender in the public. This moral outrage is the justification for the slippery slope sexual predator legislation that deprives sex offenders of many of their constitutional rights, which one could claim laid the mental justification for the battery of civil rights abuses in the 'Patriot Act' and the conduct of the Justice Department during this administration.

Despite the controversy, this ruling was the right one. Capital punishment is a slippery slope of its own, and every instance in which the government is allowed to kill people creates one more justification for the next instance. If one is morally opposed to capital punishment, one should be against capital punishment. Every horrible, vicious, disgusting crime which serves as an exception justifies judicial murder.

The author of the specific Louisiana law under scrutiny in this case said that even opponents of the death penalty would kill anyone who raped their own children. This is the natural parental impulse, yes. Parents defend their children or avenge them if they fail to protect them. Despite not being a parent, I can safely say that if I had a daughter and she was raped then I would want to kill the rapist myself.

This argument for judicial murder fails on two levels. First and foremost, people want to kill other people all the time. Violence is part of the package of instinctive responses to anger. Yet we, as sentient human beings, do not simply kill someone every time we want to kill someone. When we do, we are arrested and tried for murder. Parents may want to kill the rapist of their child, but the expression of that desire in the statement, "I would kill anyone who raped my child," is not proof that they would actually commit the deed under the circumstances. It is an expression of the natural emotional and instinctive reaction they experience at the mere thought of such a thing. If people truly killed people every time they wanted to do so, the murder rate would be far higher than it is even in our relatively murderous nation.

This leads directly into the second failure of the 'you'd do it if it was your kid' argument: people who know right from wrong know that murdering your child's rapist is not morally justified in a modern society of law. That doesn't mean that they would not choose to do so anyway, but it is no more morally justified to kill a child rapist because 'any parent would do it.' Despite the genuine and justified admiration for democratic input into the legal system, morality is not democratic. Something is right or it is wrong, and its popularity does not make it morally acceptable. Nor, as all our parents told us from a young age (whether they believed it or not) do two wrongs make a right.

The ancient Romans believed that there were only three appropriate legal punishments: punitive fines, exile (always accompanied by extremely harsh punitive fines unless undertaken voluntarily in lieu of trial), and execution. That's the moral ground that the slippery slope of acceptable capital punishment finally reaches if taken to its fullest measure.

If that's what you believe, then you are entitled to your opinion.

That doesn't mean that we should allow the government to be ruled by your standard.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

'Major Blunders': Another View of Obama's Recent 'Mistakes'

CNN chose to make a big deal of what a terrible political mistake it was for Obama to announce that the chief of staff for his running mate would be a fired Clinton campaign manager. While the Democratic strategists they had on to discuss the issue did their best to legitimately explain the decision, they made no attempts to strongly communicate its clear and important message or the strengths of the decision. Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, and the various Republican strategists (of course) were negative and very heavy-handedly so. The words 'blunder', 'error', 'insult', etc. were spoken quite bit. Dobbs, a man whose economic populism suggests strongly that he should be backing Obama loudly, was the most abusive in tone.

Was it really a mistake? I don't think so. The decision to hire Hillary Clinton's fired campaign manager as the chief of staff for the vice presidential campaign sent a clear message that Hillary would not be the running mate. It sent this message without a big speech by Obama about why Hillary wasn't going to be his running mate or revealing what his other thoughts on his choice might be. When Obama announces his choice and it is not Hillary, the angry shock that would have inevitably followed without this announcement will have been diluted by the foreknowledge created by the hiring being criticized. It's better to take a small hit in the short term and to move on strong than it is to take a big hit when you can least afford it. So far, to me, it appears that Obama and his campaign staff have been operating in full understanding of this principle and have been unafraid to take the jabs to slip the right crosses. I can only praise a political toughness seldom seen in Democratic nominees, even if Obama isn't my nominee of choice.

Obama has also received a slough of criticism for his decision to opt out of the campaign finance system. I can understand this criticism, as there is a strong belief in the need for political campaigns in which corporate and PAC bribe money plays a smaller role. However, the loopholes in McCain-Feingold allow for massive amounts of soft money to be used in elections. Just bribe the party instead of the candidate, the candidate will know where the money came from.

I applaud Obama's decision to opt out of the public finance system. Yes, that's right, I applaud it. Vigorously. The Republican Party traditionally outspends the Democratic Party on soft money 'issue ads' that amount to the most vicious kind of attack ads. Small, private PACs like 'Swift Boat Veterans For Truth' have been added to the mix in good measure and no one knows where their money comes from. With all due respect to the necessary process of reform, you do not enter into a fistfight with one hand tied behind your back when your opponent has a knife in his pocket. Gore and Kerry both did this, and it ended badly for both of them.

When someone pulls a knife, you pull a gun. Obama doesn't intend to be passively knifed. He intends to fight back and win.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fixing the Roof When the House Has A Bad Foundation: Real Tax Reform

John McCain and Barack Obama have been sniping at each other over their respective tax plans, each assuring the American people that their plan is the best and that the other candidate's plan is wildly irresponsible. McCain insists that Obama's tax plan will drastically raise taxes, using a disingenuous tone of warning intended to suggest to everyone who listens to him speak on the subject that their taxes will go up. Barack Obama argues that the working and middle classes are overtaxed and that McCain's tax cuts will benefit the wealthiest segment of American taxpayers and not benefit the vast majority of Americans. This is the expected tax argument between Democrats and Republicans during an election year, and everyone is used to it by now... but the issue of taxes is still, for some reason, the strongest weapon in the Republican arsenal. Obama's language in this election suggests he intends to actually debate the tax issue on some level rather than resort to the standard Democratic counter of social programs, though he has those ready too.

Yes, the richest American taxpayers would benefit greatly from McCain's tax plan. The biggest cuts in his plan go to the top two tax brackets. At the same time, however, his tax cuts for the working and middle class are real. They are not as big as Obama's, it is very true, but they are real. Obama's plan does raise the taxes of Americans in the very top bracket by more than $700,000 a year. Yet his tax cuts for the bottom two tax brackets are nearly ten times McCain's cuts.

So McCain's argument is that the rich are overtaxed and the working class and the middle class are taxed about right, but could pay a little less. Obama's argument is that the working class, the middle class, and the mildly rich deserve tax breaks and the very rich are undertaxed. Each tax plan applies corrections to the perceived problems.

The flaw in both tax plans is that, while the working poor and the middle class are overtaxed in the present economy, the wealthiest Americans are both overtaxed and undertaxed. The highest tax rate, currently, is thirty-five percent. Even I find that excessive. Unfortunately, the percentage of people in the top bracket who pay taxes on their full taxable income is not particularly large. Ridiculous definitions of 'income', high priced tax attorneys not available to the middle class and working class, and a bevy of loopholes and tax shelters add up to equal an entire industry in legalized tax evasion.

The most important cure for the system is to reduce the defintion of 'income' to its real meaning: money received. Eliminate capital gains taxes and the estate tax and classify all capital gains above a specific level and all inheritances as 'income.' This would exempt bank interest and eliminate all taxes on the vast majority of stock dividends, while taxing high risk-high interest mutual funds like any other form of gambling. It would fairly tax inheritances, without confiscating them nearly in their entirety. In an age where stock brokers' questionairres for new customers include an 'income' category and mega-investors make their entire living off capital investments or playing the market, calling capital gains anything but income becomes ridiculous. An inheritance is income, it's money you didn't have that you have now.

The program would also entail the elimination of legal tax shelters and closing of the loopholes available to the wealthiest Americans. Deductions for charitable contributions would be more carefully capped and the definition of 'charity' would be reduced to its true intent much as the word 'income.' The website of the American Prospect advertises that donations to the liberal magazine are tax deductible. I'm certainly on the political left and I am a great fan of prospect contributors Sarah Posner and Courtney E. Martin, but voluntary donations to a business (and the American Prospect is a business, one must subscribe to the magazine to read much of the content, full access to to current issues online is only available to subscribers despite the very fine free content on the website) is not a true 'charitable donation' and should not be tax deductible. The loopholes that allow the 'overtaxed' to pay far less than they are required to pay need to be closed.

Perhaps most importantly, the way corporations are taxed needs to be changed. Instead of the unstable system of corporate taxes currently in place and constantly under conservative attack, corporate entities need to be assessed on a basis of corporate income as if they were individuals paying income tax. Extra taxes not based on this formula should be eliminated and loopholes closed.

Not being a financial expert, I will not presume to set actual tax rates myself. However, I would reduce the number of brackets to three and tax the richest Americans at the same rate as the mildly rich Americans. This would increase the taxes on the latter and significantly cut the taxes on the former. Some of the lower end of the current second highest tax bracket would be readjusted into the bracket below them.

Economists have been saying for some years now that the poverty line should be raised to about $25,000 a year, so I would give the Earned Income Credit to every taxpayer making less than $25,000.

Once the new tax brackets were established and the rates set, tax cuts and tax increases should all be temporary rather than permanent. Tax cuts on the working poor and many of the middle class are entirely appropriate in difficult economic times, but should not necessarily last when conditions improve. Tax hikes on the wealthy might be appropriate when times are flush, but should be rolled back in a bad economy.

I think that this system makes more sense than the system currently in place, and I think that conservatives would be more happy than unhappy with the simplification of the system and the cutting of tax rates at the top levels. Liberals would find that more money came into the system as loopholes closed and corporations and wealthy individuals were taxed more logically and fairly. The tax burden on the working poor would be drastically reduced.

This is a very radical change to our present system, but the problems of government spending and mushrooming debt are real. Our current, conservative administration has proved they can be a nightmare. It's time to do something about it on a practical level, not an ideological level.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ms. Iscol, This Is How I Dare

On May 26, about an hour before I went to bed (I never go to bed that early, but I was worn out by the hellish last leg of my flight home from my vacation), Jill Iscol posted this HuffingtonPost. Clearly, she feels passionately about the Clintons and Hillary's candidacy. I respect her passion.

That said, I don't agree with her logic. I don't speak out when Hillary is called foul names because being disrespected is part of the game of politics and she chose to run for senator and now for president for reasons I don't fully grasp. I've always had the feeling she was more interested in power or status than in any specific agenda, and I have the natural misgivings of someone from my time and place (a second generation Southern California born Californian, even if I do live in Tennessee now) of people who move somewhere new so they can run for office. Maybe, as a man, I find her off-putting, I admit it's theoretically possible... but I don't think so. I think I find her off-putting because, as someone interested in voting on qualifications and issues rather than personalities, she has so carefully trimmed and tacked her answers on nearly every issue and because her campaign rhetoric says one thing about Iraq and her votes in the Senate say something else.

John McCain was accused of fathering an illegitimate baby by a black woman and forcing his wife to consent to the adoption of said baby. Bill Clinton was accused of everything, almost literally. Adlai Stephenson was called an ivory tower scholastic with no understanding of the real world. Andrew Jackson was accused of being an adulterer and his wife was called a whore, they also called him a murderer. George Washington was accused of stealing his step-childrens' inheritance. Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all poured so much abuse on each other in the political spectrum that it made what happened to Bill Clinton look mild. Then Hamilton was actually shot and killed by a political opponent. Slurs, insults, and slanders are part of the parcel when you decide on a career in politics. Hillary knew that and Ms. Iscol knows that too, and her feminist ire regarding the words 'bitch', 'whore', and 'cunt' doesn't change that fact. Worse things can be said.

Ms. Iscol is outraged that that the Clintons have been 'smeared as racists.' I don't believe that they are racists and I will say it repeatedly if desired: Hillary Clinton is certainly not a racist.

Yet she had not received those smears for no reason. Her campaign (and her husband) have stooped to race baiting tactics and pandering to racist impulses. When she tells unemployed or underpaid blue collar, blue-dog white Democrats in Kentucky or West Virginia that she is one of them, what does Ms. Iscol think she means? Senator Clinton is not blue collar, not unemployed, not at all poor, and claims not to be a blue-dog (though her voting record on the GWOT perhaps belies those claims), so what is left? She is white.

As a liberal Democrat seeking radical solutions to egregious social ills and injustices, I never had any intention of supporting Hillary and I did not vote for Obama. Having been raised in a pacifist church and having opposed the Iraq war from the first, I take strong issue with Hillary's anti-war rhetoric when every vote she has cast in the Senate on the issue has been in support of the Iraq war and she more recently voted in favor of a declaration that may be used by a Republican president as an excuse to invade Iran. I may vote for Obama in the general election, but Mike Gravel's proposed third party candidacy may win my vote. My principles may overpower my party loyalty, and I like Gravel. So I am no Obama supporter bashing Hillary for political gain.

The Democratic party needs a candidate and, for good or ill, we have two choices. Neither is a genuine liberal, both are center-left at best. Obama may be a closet conservative, though at least he has genuine ideas that can be described as progressive. Hillary is definitely a moderate, in most of the worst aspects of the word. In time of great moral and ethical debate in politics, moderates make the safe choice because they don't want to rock the boat.

That may be more damning than any 'b' or 'c' or 'w' word out there, and it's why I feel entirely comfortable not coming to Hillary's defense.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Few Random Thoughts

Bear with me.

I usually approach these entries as if I were writing an opinion column and try to adhere to certain standards, and right now I'm not doing that. I'm simply sorting through random thoughts in my head. More column-style entries will follow, naturally, but I just feel the need to purge right now.

As a registered Democrat, I wish our nominee wasn't going to be Obama or Clinton. I respect Obama and the man gives hell of a speech, but for all the 'dangerous liberal' rhetoric from the right, he strikes me as too centrist in a world that requires more radical solutions. I think those solutions will have to come from the left, as the right is unwilling to solve problems. They want to profit from problems. The other choice for Democratic nominee? Hillary Clinton, or as her friends call her since she started campaigning so hard for the redneck vote in places like West Virginia and Kentucky, 'Lyonne.' That's a Lynx and Lamb joke. If you don't get it, Google 'Prussian Blue.' I know Hillary isn't genuinely a racist, but her pandering to racist motivations is disturbing.

Why didn't any of you people who claim to be against the war in Iraq, torture, illegal surveillance of American citizens, and corporate corruption and for national health care and the rebuilding of a just social safety net for America vote for Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel?

That's what people mean by 'blue collar white voters' and 'rural voters', you know. Rednecks afraid of the idea of a black president. Since when did Hillary think we were in a war against the liberal elitists anyway? Isn't she supposed to be a liberal elitist?

I really wish I could bitch-slap John McCain with a rubber chicken. He used to be my favorite conservative and now he's so busy campaigning for the General Robert Toombs vote that he sometimes appears to be to the right of the president who once beat him in a primary by circulating fliers accusing him of fathering his adopted daughter (Bangladeshi, for the record) with a black mistress and then forcing his white wife to take her into the family home.

General Robert Toombs is the man who, in a classic case of 'damn the revolution, don't sully the cause', wrote to Jefferson Davis that offering black volunteers their freedom in return for fighting for the Confederacy should not ever, ever be contemplated because if freedom was an inducement then slavery was morally wrong and of course slavery could never be morally wrong. A true conservative.

I was born and raised in California. I feel better qualified than most of the politicians involved in the debate to have an opinion on illegal immigration. My opinion? Let anybody who wants to come into the country come into the country. If everyone in Mexico comes to the United States, maybe the Saturn factory will move north of the border again.

Regulation of trade and commerce is necessary to ensure free markets. A free market is a competitive market in which the consumer and the producer are as free as the capitalist and the merchant. An unregulated market leads to a monopoly economy in which no one is free. If you don't believe me, ask Alexander Hamilton. Then take a look at the history of the oil industry.

If you're opposed to all corporate and income taxes, what will pay for your corporate welfare and government bailouts?

Now the right is using its own failures as proof the left is wrong. Conservatives are using the Bush administration's total failure in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as an argument against the perils of government. What sort of a political process do we have where one side uses its own failures as proof of its argument against the other side's successes and solutions?

What is the last problem you can think of that was actually solved by conservatism? Think about it. Take all the time you need.

Will the Democrats really take advantage of the Republican implosion to implode even more self-destructively? And do I get to blame Hillary for it?

Let's think about elitism for a moment. Is it a really a bad idea to let qualified people do jobs for which they are qualified? Is it really a good idea to let scientific laymen and the clergy decide what science should be taught in schools? Is it really a good idea to elect a 'man of the people' if the aristocrat actually knows what he is doing? Would anyone with an understanding of history choose Cato over Caesar or Wilkie over Roosevelt?

Have you noticed the people who cry out against 'elitism', from Jefferson down to Bush, are all rich aristocrats who've never done an honest day's work in their lives?

Thank you for bearing with me. I'll try to be more coherent next time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Our Dirty Laundry: Reverend Wright Has A Point

It finally happened this week. It was going to happen, of course. Most of us knew it. Yet it was still a surprise when it happened, because the issue had been bouncing around for so long that there was a good chance it would lose traction.

Yet, last week, Reverend Wright held a press conference defending himself and Barack Obama. In that press conference, he pushed too far. He spoke for the presidential candidate without the candidate's leave, always a big mistake. He presumed to know what Senator Obama was thinking and the results didn't go well for him.

Barack Obama threw the good reverend under the bus.

More than that, he sounded generally angry and hurt that Rev. Wright would go so far. He looked to be a man shocked by the betrayal of a close friend, and his repudiation of Rev. Wright was not merely political. It was very personal. The friendship was over.

I can't condemn Obama. He held on and refused to disavow the man when it was just a matter of controversial political beliefs, but when Rev. Wright presumed to speak for Obama as a presidential candidate then the only choice was to agree (either silently or vocally) with the reverend's statements or to disavow them.

Yet the statements that Reverend Wright has made, as controversial as they may be and as hard as they hit home with white Americans who are either pricked by a guilty conscience or convicted of their own superiority and the perfection of the United States of America, they are not entirely full of shit.

No, the U.S. government did not 'unleash' AIDS on the African-American community... but President Reagan did completely ignore the pain, suffering, and death of AIDS victims for years. Federal funding for AIDS research always lagged in the Reagan and George I years, and the breakthroughs in AIDS treatment finally made are available only to those who can (through government aid, private charity, or personal assets) afford them. Bill Clinton's failure to push a national health care program through a liberal and Democratic Congress in his first term in office meant that the poor and unemployed were no better off than they were before. The government may not have 'unleashed' AIDS on anyone, but it did far too little and too late to help anyone.

As for the statement that the United States brought the events of 9/11 on itself... this is a much more difficult and complicated issue. No country deserves to have its civilians killed by a horrible terrorist act. Certainly we did not deserve to be the victims of 9/11. Yet, ever since the end of the Cold War, the ringing shouts of American triumphalism and imperialism have been heard through the world. Have American capitalists really forgotten the maxims of their own classical prophets? Thomas Malthus noted that for the middle class to be comfortable and the rich to be rich, the poor needed to be poor and exploited. He argued that attempts to ameliorate the plight of the unemployed and of the exploited working class would destroy the entire British economy. Is this far from the cries of the American right that we cannot 'afford' national health care, social security, unemployment, or any sort of social safety net whatsoever? Now take this one step further: for the United States to be a rich consumer nation, the Third World nations who now provide the resources we consume must be exploited and oppressed in the same manner as the Victorian working class of Dickens. Britain's workers got angry. Clearly, parts of the third world are angry too.

Malthus was not necessarily right, but his doctrines provide a warm blanket of necessity to keep the cold of guilt away from the rich, powerful, and corrupt. 9/11 tore through that blanket, and the actions of the rich, powerful, and corrupt certainly contributed to the anger that motivated 9/11.

Louis Farrakhan is a bad guy and I, personally, believe the Nation of Islam to be a protection racket disguised as religion. I don't have any more sympathy for anti-Semites than I do for racists, black men and Jewish men are equally my brothers. Yet, the concept of black militancy is not entirely negative despite the attempts of those uncomfortable with the status quo to frame it as such. The original black militants of the 1920s and 1930s created black businesses, a black baseball league, and black entertainment. They proved that black communities could be self sufficient and that blacks really were equal, whatever the law dictated or racists believed. The sporting successes of Joe Louis, Bill Spiller, Jackie Robinson, and Bill Russell would not have been possible without them. Many of the civil rights gains of the 50s and 60s would not have been possible without black athletes having convinced white America that blacks could be heroes.

When drugs, crime, and the institutional and geographical segregation of the urban north appeared to be even more frightening adversaries than white men with guns and ropes, black militants attempted to encourage self-sufficiency once again. The notion of racial separatism may be abominable, but to many of them it seemed that black communities had been strongest when racism was strongest and that too many African-Americans were failing to take action to improve their own lives. The idea that we should all take action to improve our own lives has another name: 'The American Dream.'

I don't know if Reverend Wright loves the United States of America, but if he is truly as 'anti-American' as the Clinton Democratic Establishment and the Republican Party would paint him then it is possible he has some cause to be. Perhaps we should solve the problems, instead of condemning the men who call our attention to them, however misguidedly.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Most Liberal Candidate? Do Conservative Writers And Commentators Really Understand Obama?

The first time I heard Senator Barak Obama speak, I was told to have very high hopes. I was watching the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and had been told by a friend of mine that I needed to hear Obama speak. She had extremely high opinions of Senator Obama, living in a suburb of Chicago, and had followed his career in state politics and had been very enthusiastic about his possible future presidential candidacy. Her only regret was that her particular suburb of Chicago was across the state line and she couldn't vote for Obama in state elections. This probably increased her desire to see him run in an election in which she could vote.

As a speaker, Senator Obama blew me away. The man could give a speech and make you feel it resonate, not just hear the words. When I took a few moments to really consider the words, however, I felt a cold, naked jolt of strong discomfort mingle with my enjoyment of his speaking style. He sounded like Ronald Reagan. I don't mean his speaking style, or that his resonation reminded me of President Reagan's admittedly glorious speaking ability. No. Embedded in the substance of what he was saying there was a faint echo of the substance of Reagan's appeals to the left to move closer to the center in order to join his notion of mainstream America. Now, I hardly think I really am in the mainstream of American politics. My view of the government's responsibility for social welfare is closer to Dennis Kunich's view than to Senator Clinton's view or that of Senator Obama himself. On the subject of 'national security', while I understand that the situations into which Neo-Conservative Neo-Romantics have plunged us in service to their Hegelian world-spirit must be faced with extreme judgement and cannot be solved by such an easy measure as a unilateral withdrawal, I feel that our present administration is really interested in corporate security and I'm not sure that either of the two contenders for the Democratic nomination would be a huge improvement. I'm not moved to Nietzchean sacrifices on behalf of Repulican leaders who see themselves as world-historical figures on the path to empire. On the subject of economics, my views are capitalist but hardly in line with those of the Austrian School free market anarchists who whisper in the ear of conservatives in this era; I believe in Ricardo's labor theory of value and feel that allowing corporations to commit acts that would send individuals to prison is a fascist market rather than a free market. With the possible exception of the late Paul Wellstone, I doubt there's a Senator that's been close to my politics since Robert LaFollette.

Now, as a registered Democrat, I don't feel that it's my duty to move closer to the center when I believe the center to be dangerously compromised by the right on far too many issues. I feel that it's my duty to do my best to advise the leaders of my party about my concerns and that it is their duty to bring the vast majority of Americans who make up the center closer to the left.

If all of the above wasn't clear enough, I'll be short and simple: I feel Barak Obama is far too moderate a candidate for president at a time when we should be boldly championing liberal issues in the face of conservative failures. Remember, that's what they did to us to win back political primacy? Hammer the voting public with conservative fiscal sensibility and moral honesty in the face of Democratic wishy-washiness? It's time for us to trumpet liberal social values and morality in the face of conservative mean-spiritedness, imperial aspirations, and corruption.

Fox News broadcasters and conservative journalists have been throwing about Senator Obama's liberalism. The fact that he is a Democrat automatically makes him a liberal in their minds, and the fact that he uses the word 'change' so often makes him some scary fringe lefty. Wake up people. There aren't any genuinely fringe leftists in the United States. That involves actual socialism, which just isn't popular here. There certainly aren't any genuine fringe leftists in the leadership of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is a free trader, a deficit hawk, and a voice of the party's post-Bill Clinton moderate establishment. John Edwards, whom many will shout deserves the VP nomination again, is a southern populist. Howard Dean, the party's chairman, is a utilitarian of the old school: he'd have been very liberal in Victorian England but is more center-left now.

The fact is, Senator Obama could very well be a closet conservative. He attends a church pastored by a man who looks on paper to be a likely supporter of Governor Mike Huckabee if Mr. Obama were not running. His economic advisors are a collection of moderate Republicans shut out of their own party by people who think it's better to trust a corporation not to rob its stockholders than it is to trust the government with the power to put people like Ken Lay in jail and meaningfully punish corporations for criminal operations. His campaign has attracted a significant number of fiscal and social conservatives leery of the Christian Coalition wing of the GOP. If we are to judge a man by his friends, as one proverb tells us, then we might be led to believe that Senator Obama would have been the most liberal candidate for the Republican nomination... if he could have persuaded Rudy Giuliani to endorse him instead of competing for the all-important pro-choice vote in the Republican primaries.

Of the possible choices for Democratic nominee that remain, I prefer Senator Obama to Senator Clinton. Doubts about his liberal credentials aside, I don't deny his ability to inspire a liberal revolution with his words. Remember, JFK was a moderate too. I distrust Senator Clinton's unwillingness to state her real positions on issues when they might be controversial and disapprove the way she attempts to appropriate moral high-ground in national security debates despite having followed the administration line on major policy votes on Iraq. If I have to have a pro-war president, at least John McCain will tell me he's pro-war to my face and I feel I can trust him to try to draw line between real terrorists and convenient targets. Senator Obama, however, may genuinely have something new to offer and I can't help but agree that his background and life give him more insight into a point of view beyond that of the corporate exploiter or the ignorant redneck bully, the two faces we have chosen to show the rest of the world far too often.

Still, while he may be the best remaining choice for the Democratic nominee, Senator Obama is no liberal.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Practical Politics and Consistent Morality: Why The Far Right Hates John McCain

I want to make it clear that I am not endorsing John McCain as a candidate for president. I merely believe that if we have to have a Republican president (as Hilary Clinton's resurgence is making it appear) that McCain is the best possible choice. I don't agree with McCain politically on every issue, and certainly I differ with him on social issues like abortion and gay rights. However, I respect that Senator McCain understands (as I do) that abortion and gay rights are very complex moral issues rather than the simple 'with-us-or-against-us' litmus tests that the Conservative and Liberal establishments in this country have made them.

It's that degree of understanding and independence that brings out reactionary anger at John McCain. It's important to understand that the leadership of the current conservative movement in this country consists of three separate camps: religious reactionaries whose personal doubts and insecurities in their own faith demand that the government legitimize it for them by legislation and judicial fiat, economic right wingers whose vision of corporate fascism is radically different from anything Adam Smith described or envisioned, and foreign policy hawks who want to see a new era of American imperialism. Senator McCain is not truly a member of any of these three camps.

He possesses a conventional Christian morality whose basic message is conservative in a social sense, but he is opposed to making evangelical Christian dogma the law of the land because he believes in the Constitutional freedom of religion. This is why Dr. James Dobson is against Senator McCain's candidacy even though McCain's pro-life voting record is perfect. He once spoke what reasonable people can only call the plain truth, calling the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson 'agents of intolerance.' The religious reactionaries have not and will never forgive him for that, but it was a much kinder way of speaking the truth about such men than the words 'bigoted and hypocritical State Church fascists opposed to everything Jesus Christ ever preached about love and the brotherhood of man.' Even the liberal leadership isn't willing to be that harsh in their judgment of the religious right. The point is that Senator McCain understands that, however positive a good faith may be on a personal and social level, not even all Christians agree on the same doctrines and that other religions have a right to practice and participate as well.

Senator McCain is certainly no liberal on economic policy, but he doesn't believe that corporations have the right to spend billions of dollars to buy candidacies and political parties. Health care corporations don't have the right to be immune from lawsuit when they put the fiscal bottom line over proper medical care for the sick and injured. Political bribery is a danger to the very fabric of our political system and bribery is not free speech. There are moral and social obligations in the medical field that trump profit margins and citizens must be allowed to seek redress for wrongs suffered when those responsible for providing health care fail to live up to those moral and social obligations. Senator McCain understands both those facts and, in addition, he actually believes corporations don't have a right to thoughtlessly destroy the environment to make money in the short-term either. These are the three issues upon which he 'betrayed' the Republican Party (though it's important to note that on the issues of political bribery and health care, his co-sponsors of the bills the Republicans call so very evil were betraying the Democratic party as well) by taking a committed, consistent moral stance. That's why the talk-radio mouthpieces for corporate fascism so aggressively condemn McCain.

The one issue in which McCain is in lockstep with the right wing establishment in the United States is foreign policy. He believes in a strong military, a certain degree of unilateralism in foreign policy decisions, and a certain degree of American political and economic imperialism. Since this has become, thanks to the out-going administration, one of the most central issues of U.S. politics one might think that the right wing would see Senator McCain as its logical champion. The problem is that he is a pragmatist on this issue rather than a dogmatist. He fell out of favor early in the 'Global War On Terror' because he spoke truth to power in telling President Bush the military realities of invading Afghanistan and Iraq. He advocated significantly larger troop assignments and time has proven him right. Afghanistan has degenerated back to anarchy and only the 'Surge' has allowed the U.S. military to maintain some semblance of order in Iraq, though it is important to note that things have not become as sunny and secure as the right wing establishment would like you to believe. If you don't believe me, watch the news.

If you study all of this, read for content, and then collate all the data then the reason that the leaders of conservative orthodoxy in the United States denigrate McCain becomes clear. John McCain speaks his mind when he disagrees with them and acts on his principles when he believes it necessary. American Conservatism of this modern era has one guiding principle: toe the party line and suck up your personal beliefs for the good of the movement. Don't dissent publicly. The Republican Party is a big tent, sure, but what that means in practice is that moderates and libertarians are welcome as long as they act like conservatives.

Like any reactionary movement, dissent is the cardinal sin in Modern American Conservatism. ' Individual rights over group rights' is a political phrase, when an individual is a member of their group then the group rights come first.

That's why MAC can't stand Mac.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Church and State, God and Country II: A Letter to a Newspaper

"We are facing the most crucial time that has ever existed in our nation's history. Politicians are fighting among themselves to attain power. What is desperately needed is to lead our nation back to Christianity. We were founded by our forefathers as a Christian nation. We have strayed so far from Christian principles that we are facing destruction.

Mike Huckabee should be a landslide choice. He is a devoted Christian and would lead us in the right direction. I believe he is God's choice. He was the 44th governor of Arkansas and he should be the 44th president of the United States.

Let's pick a leader who has character. Read Huckabee's book, 'Character is the issue.' It is very inspiring. It gives us insight as to what could be expected of him as our next president. Let's make this come true."

- J.W. "Bill" Smith in a letter to the Bristol Herald Courier, published January 31, 2008

While former Governor Huckabee appears to have little or no chance to win the Republican primary at this point, the above letter grabbed my attention immediately as soon as I read it. It shows the failure of an American citizen to understand the United States Constitution or the mind of its framers. It displays very dangerous misconceptions about the nature of our nation and its laws and it displays an intolerance that is all the more vicious for coming from well-meaning ignorance.

The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Many of the founding fathers were Christians, most of those were of Protestant denominations, but not all. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin, and others were deists. Washington may not even have been that, during his lifetime his enemies accused him of outright atheism. Very nearly all were firmly opposed to the establishment of a state church or to allow any church or denomination to make its own doctrine the law of the land. New England had been a hotbed of religious persecution, despite being founded by men and women fleeing it. The Puritans of Massachusetts persecuted those who did not follow their religious codes of morality. The exiles Anne Hutchinson led from Massachusetts Bay to Rhode Island, fleeing that persecution, would then persecute those who did not toe their own doctrinal line. This, and the memory of the persecution of Catholics by Anglicans and the warring between High Church Anglicans and Puritans in England, made the founding fathers determined to keep the churches out of the business of writing the laws of the land.

What is true, and what many liberals unfortunately forget, is that the United States was initially founded as a nation of Christians. It is true, as conservatives claim, that many Christian principles went into the development of our nation's laws. What conservatives do not understand is that those principles are not solely Christian. They come from philosophers and political scientists like John Locke and David Hume (from whose ideas our modern American system ultimately evolved), like Rene Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (both of whom strongly influenced Thomas Paine, as well as Jefferson and Madison and the future French Revolution), as far back as Plato and Parmenides, who gave us the idea of 'self-evident truths.' Most of these principles are shared by all the major religions of the world. More than that, they are shared by the majority of agnostics, atheists, deists, New Agers, modern pagans, and secular humanists.

What Mr. Smith and others like him wish to see legislated into the law of the United States are not 'Christian principles.' They are specific ideas of Christian doctrine as believed by the church to which they belong. They are the very things that the founding fathers specifically wished kept out of the United States Constitution and the laws of the states. The inability to separate between the concepts of a nation founded by Christians (in part, in great part, this cannot be denied) and of a Christian nation is one of the great challenges our country faces right now. It is a challenge our society will, ultimately, have to meet and overcome as it overcame slavery and as it still struggles to overcome bigotry, chauvinism, and prejudice.

Fortunately, this is a far cry from 'the most crucial time in our nation's history.' Nor is it the greatest challenge our nation has faced. The American Revolution, the War of 1812, slavery and the Civil War, and the World Wars were all crises far beyond anything we face now. The big challenges, the challenges of bigotry, chauvinism, prejudice, and religious intolerance are not 'national' challenges, despite of the manner in which they intrude so viciously upon politics. They are personal challenges that we must overcome in ourselves and help others to overcome. They are only national challenges in that it is our social responsibility to continue to combat such social ills as a nation.

I still have faith in us.