Posts from — April 2011
It seems to me that most Americans regard politics as some kind of game – like football or baseball. They’re fans of one party or the other and vote that way regardless. They treat the whole thing as a professional sport with no real consequences for their lives.
But politics is a matter of life and death. Literally.
The way you vote determines the way you live. Or die.
Never before have I seen this so nakedly on display.
Elected representatives are being asked to choose between two budget proposals for the next decade.
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan is based on the assumption that the way to economic recovery lies with the rich getting richer. That line of reasoning assumes the rich will spend their (excess) money creating jobs for the rest of the population, that their prosperity will “trickle down.”
To compensate for dramatic tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, Ryan would drastically reduce benefits now enjoyed by Americans – Medicare, for example.
An alternative proposal from President Obama is based on the belief that the best way to curb the unwieldy national debt and staggering annual deficits is to increase taxes on the nation’s top income earners.
You would think that voters would look at the proposed ways forward and decide which way serves them best. If I were in my forties or fifties, for example, I would vigorously oppose any attempt to renege on Social Security, considering how much I’ve contributed to the program over my working life.
And I would scream my head off when anyone suggests raising the admission age for Medicare or reducing its benefits.
Naturally, I would vote accordingly.
But here’s the rub.
These folks might not get a real choice.
Some Democratic members of Congress are sneakily siding with Ryan.
A Senate proposal by Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri would cap federal spending at 20.6 percent of gross domestic product within the next decade.
That’s the Ryan plan in disguise.
According to an analysis by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Corker-McCaskill proposal would require “enormous cuts” in Medicare and Medicaid and other programs, and likely force policy changes to the entitlement programs similar to the ones that Ryan has proposed.
Senator McCaskill is one of those Democrats in Congress who are “conservatives” at heart.
Senate Democrats supporting the Corker-McCaskill proposal include Virginia’s Joe Manchin. And, of course, Joe Lieberman is backing it, too.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that these folks are really on the side of the rich.
Today, more than ever before, voters must have their wits about them when they go to the polls. And go to the polls we must!
The way we cast our votes in the primaries as well as in the general elections will determine how we fare in the years ahead – whether we can afford health care, whether we can afford to retire, whether we (and our children, even grandchildren) can live a middle-class life.
This is a critical time for Americans. Elections have consequences in real life.
April 30, 2011 2 Comments
To appreciate the value of the wedding we all just witnessed – two billion of us, a third of the people on this earth – we must let go of the bitterness of the past while retaining the precious things we have inherited.
A reader commented on my earlier blog (click here to read it):
What is frightening (but not surprising … is … paying so much attention to (a) wedding of unbelievable riches and lavish life styles amassed by ripping generations of their possessions. As for ‘ the head of state is wealthy enough to have no need of further looting’: isn’t it so because his ancestors looted a lot and passed the proceedings down to the next generations ? And also being wealthy does not guarantee that such a person will not want use his wealth and power to have even more (and history proves that it is so in most cases).
So yes: let all people enjoy the grotesque wedding of a cast which luxurious lives are financed from slavery, suffering, genocide, wars and terror against other people. And the worst is that others envy all that and want at least to BE THERE and WATCH !
And I concede that the history behind the pageantry and pomp is deeply troubling.
As a child, I was steeped in the resentment that Scottish families everywhere – even in Jamaica – feel toward the English. And the Irish part of me bristles at the injustices Ireland has suffered at the hands of various English sovereigns.
And what about my Jamaican heritage?
What about the slave trade?
What about the jackboot fascism and blatant exploitation of the colonial government?
Still, like a lot of other people, there’s a part of me that tingled with pride and admiration at the show the English put on this morning.
You probably saw it, so I’m sure I don’t need to explain. I’m sure you wondered, as I did, at the discipline, the well-behaved horses, the skilled riders, the polite crowd… so very, very British, in the best possible meaning of the word.
But that’s not what I wanted to blog about.
Regardless of how it came about, the British (and Canadian and Jamaican and Australian and…) monarchy has value.
So they are overpaid. Well, that’s the way it is. Baseball players are overpaid. Soccer stars are overpaid. Actors and actresses and TV “personalities” are overpaid. Grossly overpaid.
Donkey say the worl’ no level.
So let’s set that aside for another day.
For whatever reason, people need stars, larger-than-life figures to admire and emulate. And the couple who exchanged wedding vows this morning seem to be perfect for that role.
And there’s more.
They have made a profound statement about the mores and customs of modern society. The ceremony this morning put the seal of approval on the once-taboo practice of living together before marriage.
It’s now also perfectly fine for a prince to marry a “commoner,” a career woman from a middle-class (though extremely wealthy) family.
It’s now OK for a prince or princess to whip up the evening meal for themselves, to drive their own cars or take a spin on a motorbike if they like, to share a quiet evening in front of the television…
In other words, royal consent has been conferred on the way the western middle class has been living for years.
Welcome to the modern world. And a monarchy that reflects it.
And, on a lighter note, it’s OK for a young (and glamorous) man to be losing his hair.
April 29, 2011 5 Comments
So you think the nasty nonsense about President Obama’s birthplace will die away now that he has released his “long-form” birth certificate? Think again.
It’s just beginning.
Lies and false allegations are flooding the Internet. Books are being published. Bumper stickers are coming off the press. The money-making machine based on absurd conspiracy theories (click here for details) is ramping up even more vigorously than before. And about a third of the American public will be lining up with their money in their hands, eager to get in on the game.
Questions are being raised about such details as the certificate’s designation of Obama as “African,” instead of “Negro,” which – the questioners say – was the more “natural” word at the time.
A torrent of articles are examining the document in minute detail, desperately trying to make the case that it is forged.
And, of course, there’s the “humor.”
The piece of trash shown above is just one example of the contemptuous and contemptible venom spewing forth from the depths of American racism. I found it on Google. It originally appeared on rense.com, a web site operated by one of those right-wing talk radio nuts.
Now it’s no longer a sly crusade, laden with code words and euphemisms. By releasing the original “long-form” certificate, the president has flushed the creepy-crawlers out from under their rocks.
Of course, the “birther” crusade has been racist all along.
A recent study from the University of Delaware shows that the president’s race-minded detractors view him as “less American.”
The study concluded that:
Many in the media have speculated that current criticisms of Obama are a result of his race, rather than his agenda. We believe that the current results are an empirical demonstration that this is sadly the case. As the United States approaches important decisions regarding issues such as economic reform, health care, and overseas military interventions, the intrusion of racial attitudes in the evaluation of political leaders’ performance is ironically inconsistent with what many believe to be ‘American.
But I’m sure you didn’t need a study to tell you that. Most intelligent people realized it all along.
April 28, 2011 1 Comment
The western powers stand exposed before the world as immoral hypocrites. And it serves them right.
For centuries, they have pursued a policy of self-serving inhumanity – in Africa, in Latin America and in the Middle East, wherever their business and military interests are involved.
If you are a student of history, I invite you to review the adventures of the various East India companies, of the United Fruit Company, of Standard Oil (and other petroleum giants), of the Chinese Opium Wars – of all those who have roamed the world in search of profit, from the time of Marco Polo and before.
And I call your attention to the deceptions and abuses of the Cold War, the subversion of sovereign states, the death squads, the oppression, brutality and torture carried out in our name – yes yours and mine. May God forgive us.
Now, this web of cynical imperialism has been partially exposed by the uprisings in the Middle East (click on map above).
Questions are finally being asked.
Why are western leaders intervening in Libya? Why did they intervene in Egypt? And Yemen?
Why are they not intervening in Bahrain?
Why will they not intervene effectively in Syria?
The answer is obvious. Some despots are more valuable to the west than others.
However despicable they may be, they remain untouchable because they are the pillars of a worldwide corporate empire.
But this empire is tottering. The underlying moral corruption has eaten away its foundation.
An analysis of U.S. foreign policy, originally published on TomDispatch.com and picked up by Salon. com today, concludes that:
For more than 50 years, Washington has been served well by a system of global power based on subordinate elites. That system once facilitated the extension of American influence worldwide with a surprising efficiency and (relatively speaking) an economy of force. Now, however, those loyal allies increasingly look like an empire of failed or insubordinate states. Make no mistake: the degradation of, or ending of, half a century of such ties is likely to leave Washington on the rocks.
The authors are Brett Reilly, a graduate student in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is studying U.S. foreign policy in Asia, and Alfred W. McCoy, professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation” and “From the Cold War to the War on Terror.”
I know I sound naive. You might dismiss my rant as unworldly and unsophisticated.
I plead guilty to those charges – if being worldly and sophisticated means condoning evil on the rationale that the end justifies the means.
Yes, I am naive enough to believe that doing the right thing is the right thing to do.
April 26, 2011 1 Comment
Sometimes, there are lessons to be learned from something senseless, something tragic, something so awful our minds can scarcely grasp it. I am talking about the vicious and mindless assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
And I am thinking of her fighting spirit and the lessons we can learn from her display of old-fashioned American guts.
Shot through the brain, most of us would close our eyes and give up.
What would we have to look forward to, even if we did not die or become a vegetable?
Who wants to limp through life, struggling to walk or speak, every step a challenge, every word a battle?
Yet Gabby Giffords did not close her eyes and pack it in.
She is battling back, walking and talking. Not just walking but forcing her paralyzed left side back into action. Not just talking but uttering encouraging words like “awesome” and “love you.”
She is even planning to attend Friday’s space shuttle launch commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly (pictured above with Congresswoman Giffords).
Words cannot express my admiration for this woman.
Way to go, Gabby!
April 25, 2011 2 Comments
Remember when people talked about America’s “liberal media bias”? You don’t hear much along those lines any more. The reason is that there’s nothing liberal about today’s mainstream media in America.
Their blatant conservatism is displayed not only in their pro-war propaganda and excessive coverage of melon heads like Michele Bachmann, Tea Party ignoramuses, and self-glorifying buffoons like Donald Trump, but also by what they ignore.
Take the current chatter about the national budget, for instance.
From the stuff you hear on radio and TV or read in the press, you would think only two choices exist: the Republican rob-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the rich plan and the president’s middle-of-the-road, share-the-pain alternative.
But there’s another proposal on the table – one you don’t hear or read about.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has put forward a plan.
And Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman thinks it’s a pretty good one. Here’s how he sums it up:
The CPC plan essentially balances the budget through higher taxes and defense cuts, plus some tougher bargaining by Medicare (and a public option to reduce the costs of the Affordable Care Act). The proposed tax hikes would fall mainly on higher incomes, although not just on the top 2%: super-brackets for very high incomes, elimination of deductions, taxation of capital income as ordinary income, and — the part that would be most controversial — raising the cap on payroll taxes.
None of this is economically outlandish. Marginal tax rates on high incomes would rise substantially — enough to make even liberal economists slightly uncomfortable — but the historical evidence suggests that the incentive effects wouldn’t be too severe. Overall taxes as a share of GDP aren’t given, but they would clearly remain well below European levels.
Krugman points out that:
…If you want to balance the budget in 10 years, you pretty much must do it largely by cutting defense and raising taxes; you can’t make huge cuts in the rest of the budget without inflicting extreme pain on millions of Americans. So the CPC plan is actually much more of a real response to the deficit worriers than all the nonsense we’re hearing from the right. What it doesn’t do is address the long-run health cost issue, which is essential looking beyond the next decade. But as a medium-term proposal, it’s quite sensible.
So sensible, in fact, that Krugman figures “in the end we’ll do something along these lines, although probably with more of the tax burden falling on the middle class.”
He wonders out loud “why does this plan get no attention, while the cruel fantasies of the right get headlines?”
And he says, “I’ll leave that as a question for readers.”
But I bet he knows why.
It’s a matter of record that conservative interests, hugely wealthy and powerful conservative interests, have spent the past 40 years or so deliberately shaping the media to their purpose. To counteract the liberalism generated during the Vietnam era, they have funded think tanks, established university departments, bought up most of the media outlets and intimidated the ones they do not own.
They have invested millions – make that billions – in public relations campaigns, rooted in the Internet and fronted by
“grassroots” organizations, to brainwash the American public and control the country’s political machinery.
The plan has borne fruit, and today mainstream America is far to the right of Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, Dwight Eisenhower and probably Barry Goldwater. Even the first black president in the country’s history – a so-called Democrat – is surprisingly unliberal.
So where do we go from here?
I don’t see the climate becoming more liberal. Indeed, with the vast wealth and power at the disposal of conservative activists, and with the complicity of the U.S. Supreme Court, the radical right seems destined to control America’s future.
Perhaps America’s liberals will eventually give up and move to Canada, where liberalism is still alive and well.
April 24, 2011 2 Comments
The media frenzy is silly, of course, but I have to admit there’s something appealing about Prince William’s approaching wedding. It’s a modern fairy tale, the real-life equivalent of every little girl’s dream… well not every little girl but you know what I mean.
It got me thinking about the monarchy and the centuries of history that will be reflected in the wedding’s pageantry.
History. Ah, there’s the rub.
So much oppression, so much deception, so much betrayal, so many horrors…
So why has the monarchy persisted through the centuries?
The short answer is that a lot of people like it.
When most people conceive of Heaven, they don’t conjure up a democracy run by an elected council. They picture a benevolent dictatorship.
Of course, the United Kingdom is no dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise. It’s ruled by elected politicians, much like America. The monarch is a symbol, not a ruler.
But the monarchy has been retained – not only by the UK but also by Australia, Canada, Jamaica and other members of the British Commonwealth. I suppose the objective is to assure a measure of stability, to be a reminder of the glory days of an empire on which the sun never set, and to reflect the social and ethical standards that citizens of these countries would like to live up to.
It’s an awe-inspiring responsibility, and it is perhaps impossible to achieve, but Prince William seems a good lad, and Kate seems quite solid (pictured above). I think they’ll do a good job when their time comes.
And I know this sounds cynical, but there’s something to be said for a system in which the head of state is wealthy enough to have no need of further looting.
Far too many elected officials see their time in office as an opportunity to feather their nests.
Furthermore, in countries like the United States, even the most honest politicians are obliged to play nice with the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak – and the country as a whole. The facts of life are that it costs so much to get re-elected that incumbents are dependent on the deep pockets of corporations and the wealthy. Inevitably, the system produces an oligarchy.
An article in Salon today, describing the way in which Washington has converted the idealistic freshmen in Congress, includes this revealing piece of information:
Many of the Republican freshmen in the House won election vowing to shake up Washington, so it’s a little surprising that many of them seem to be playing an old Washington game: raising much of their campaign money from corporate political action committees.
More than 50 members of the class of 87 GOP freshmen took in more than $50,000 from PACs during the first quarter of 2011, according to new campaign disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Eighteen of the lawmakers took in more than $100,000.
In my darker moments, I wonder if – human nature being what it is – good government is even possible. As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others.
So we might as well enjoy the fantasy of a prince’s wedding – if only to remind ourselves that fairy tales sometimes do come true.
April 23, 2011 2 Comments
I hate to mention Donald Chump. He gets more than enough publicity without my help. But he said something during one of his multitudinous appearances on TV that got me thinking, something so stupid that I can’t ignore it.
He said he would solve the American job-loss problem by warning China he would impose a 25 percent tax on the goods they export to the U.S. He didn’t explain how the warning would make American jobs come home.
The remark shows how little Mr. Chump knows about the way the world works. Compared to him, Sarah Palin is a sage.
First of all, China would laugh in his face. America owes the Chinese more than a trillion dollars and is set to borrow more from them.
Second, it’s not the Chinese who stole America’s jobs. It’s Americans.
American corporations operating in China.
Here’s a list. It’s almost endless.
Many of those companies used to produce stuff in the U.S. And that provided jobs for Americans.
Now they produce their stuff in China, providing jobs for the Chinese.
What happened was that the American government decided to allow American companies to move to China, make their products more cheaply there and then export them tax-free to America.
It was union busting, plain and simple.
By moving from a country where the work force was (partly) organized to a country where there are no labor unions, employers can pay employees anything they like. And you can be sure that’s not going to be much.
It’s not just China. American companies have “outsourced” their production to low-wage countries all over the globe.
What’s Mr. Chump going to say to India and Bangladesh and Taiwan and all those other “job thieves”?
The people he needs to talk to are the guys who run the corporations. And they’re the ones who fund the Republican Party. So you can bet he’ll be very polite when he talks to them.
If he tells them any nonsense about imposing tariffs on their goods, they’ll set him straight in a hurry.
April 22, 2011 2 Comments
It’s a complicated world, and it becomes more complicated every day. Now, more than ever, political decisions are based on incomplete analysis. But however difficult the decision, once a conclusion is reached, action must be unambiguous.
There’s a story about Alexander the Great that goes something like this:
When Alexander was rampaging across Asia, he came to a place where some ancient monarch had left a tangled knot behind with the provision that whoever could untie it should be made king. Many wannabe rulers had tried and failed to untie the knot, but Alexander simply drew his sword and slashed it apart.
That may be one reason he was so great. He refused to be distracted by complicated nonsense.
I liken this legendary conqueror to Harry Truman. The decision to drop the atom bomb was obviously very difficult. The implications were horrible and the pros and cons complex. But had he not dropped the bomb, we might still be fighting World War II.
No modern American – or British or European – politician has shown that kind of decisiveness.
They’re like Wile E. Coyote trying to change his mind after running off a cliff (see illustration above).
The same is true of NATO. And especially the UN.
Look at what’s going on in Libya, for example.
The super-powers obviously want Gaddafi out of there. But instead of taking whatever action is required to achieve that objective, they utter mealy-mouth platitudes and take tiny steps, letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,” like the poor cat i’ the adage (as Lady Macbeth put it).
That kind of cowardly indecision can be fatal. While western politicians and pundits ponder the possibility of blowback from a full-scale assault, thousands of rebels are dying.
I say get in or get out. But stop this nonsense.
April 21, 2011 No Comments
I used to enjoy cowboy movies. It’s comforting when the most complicated problems can be solved with a Colt .45 revolver. But I never thought these simple-minded morality plays reflect real life.
Suddenly, all over America, politicians are reinventing the Wild West.
In Florida, for example, a proposal before the Legislature would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry their guns openly. And the trend is nationwide. In some states, new laws even allow guns in colleges.
In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer had to veto a bill that would have allowed guns on K-12 campuses.
Texans always have been free to carry guns. When I was a Hearst editor in Clearwater, we used to get visits from the editor of the Beaumont newspaper, who reportedly carried a hogleg on his hip when he went to work.
That was one reason I didn’t go to Beaumont when Hearst closed the Clearwater Sun. The Wild West is much too wild for me.
So I was not surprised to read this morning that a Texas toddler took a gun to kindergarten, and that it accidentally discharged injuring himself and two other kids.
Here’s an excerpt from the wire story:
HOUSTON – Police are trying to determine how a Houston kindergartener got a loaded gun that he brought to an elementary school, where officials say it accidentally fired when it fell from his pocket as he sat down for lunch, wounding himself and two other students.
Some parents said the incident has made them think twice about safety at the school and they wonder if additional security measures, including extra officers and even metal detectors, are needed. School district officials said extra security would be in place Wednesday to allay parents’ fears.
One bullet was fired Tuesday around 10:35 a.m. in the Ross Elementary School cafeteria, spraying fragments at the students, said Houston Independent School District Assistant Police Chief Robert Mock.
“It dropped on the floor, under the table. It was loud, it was so loud,” 6-year-old Kennedi Glapion said as she was being picked up from the school by her grandmother.
It’s the kind of craziness I expect from Texas. There are an awful lot of crazy people in that state – including the secessionist governor Rick Perry.
It’s not just childish, it’s criminally irresponsible to walk around with a loaded gun swinging from your hip. But don’t tell that to millions of Americans. They cherish their “right to bear arms.” And they’re being brainwashed by PR experts in the pay of the gun merchants. No politician today dares to stand in the way of the lucrative arms trade.
I doubt that the incident in Texas will change many minds. Even the shooting spree that left Congresswman Gabby Giffords critically wounded has apparently had no impact on the gun nuts. But it might provide a little ammunition for members of Congress who are trying to limit the size of magazines on semi-automatic weapons.
Meanwhile, America’s Wild West nonsense will continue to escalate – until something really devastating happens.
April 20, 2011 1 Comment