Posts from — July 2011
Looked at one way, a lot of Americans are to be congratulated on their willingness to sacrifice their standard of living so that the rest of the world can live better. From what I see and hear on TV and the internet, they want the United States economy scaled back to earlier times when the government was much smaller and life was much simpler.
The times reflected in Norman Rockwell paintings, for example.
In those times, a glass of soda water flavored with syrup was a big treat. People crowded around the few available radios. And many rural residents made do with outside pit toilets.
That was a while back, of course.
Today, kids yell at their parents if they don’t get the latest version of some $200 video game, and teenagers expect to have a car of their own when they get their driver’s license.
The population of America is flooded with luxurious gadgets – from high-tech cell phones and wide-screen TVs to adjustable ergonomic beds.
Meanwhile, in other less fortunate places around the world, children are literally starving. People are being murdered and mutilated in savage conflicts over scraps of food. Girl babies are being left to die on garbage dumps because their families cannot afford to raise them.
If you consider the standard of living that Americans enjoy and the misery that afflicts so many other countries, it seems only fair that wages in America should decline while wages in poorer countries should rise.
That is precisely what’s happening. And the trend will inevitably accelerate unless current U.S. policies are changed.
Global corporations employ the cheapest labor they can find on the face of the earth and sell their wares in the richest markets available. To retain any production capability in such an environment, Americans must accept ever-lower wages and ever-fewer benefits.
The only possible brake on this process is government intervention.
Governments of countries that provide the most robust buying power – such as the United States – can and should demand compensation for the privilege of selling in their markets. This would not only provide revenue, it would also enhance the competitiveness of locally produced goods and slow the flight of jobs overseas.
But a lot of Americans don’t seem to want that.
The loudest cries I hear today are for smaller, weaker government and more powerful global corporations.
It looks as if an increasing number of Americans are dreaming of a return to the “old days.”
They should be careful what they wish for; they might get it.
Obviously they have forgotten what it was like when land barons ruled supreme and the mass of the people consisted of dirt-poor tenant farmers, enslaved miners and abused minorities.
July 30, 2011 1 Comment
President Obama is not a fool. He is a Harvard educated professor who usually sounds quite reasonable. But everyone has a blind spot. And his blind spot is bipartisanship.
I sensed all along that there was something inherently wrong about the way the president insists on meeting “the other side” half way, but it took Nobel laureate Paul Krugman to focus my feeling. Krugman was talking about the dumb way media pundits discuss political disagreements, but I think his remarks are just as applicable to the president’s bipartisanship.
Here’s an excerpt from Krugman’s recent New York Times column:
Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.
So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.
The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president — actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform — his only major change to government — was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else — including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment — is according to the conservative playbook.
If you say that 2 plus 2 equal 4, and “the other side” insists that 2 plus 2 equal 6, it does not make sense to “compromise” and agree that 2 plus 2 equal 5. Does it?
There is no compromise between the right answer to the nation’s problems and the wrong answer.
It is a fact that cutting taxes for the rich does not create jobs. There is ample empirical evidence to support that conclusion.
Yet the president allowed Republicans and “moderate” Democrats to talk him into devoting a huge chunk of the stimulus package to tax cuts. That left far too little actual stimulus to build roads and repair bridges, activities that would have created jobs.
Then in a “bipartisan” deal to get help for the unemployed, the president agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, even though he had promised in his campaign to let the cuts expire for couples making more than $250,000.
Now, with America’s economic recovery virtually stalled, he has yielded to conservative demands for austerity policies that will inevitably impede future job growth.
It is a mathematical fact that the more people who are out of work the less revenue the government will collect in taxes. And the less income seniors have the less consumer spending there will be. So when you implement policies that cause higher unemployment and cut back “government spending” on programs like Social Security, the inevitable result will be a weaker economy.
(And cutting back “government spending” on Social Security would be theft. The recipients earned that income by contributing to the Social Security fund throughout their working lives. The contributions from workers and their employers were invested in government bonds, and it is this obligation that forms a large part of the national debt that conservatives like to yell about.)
There is no bipartisan solution to the nation’s economic woes. The right solution – the one that will produce results – is to stimulate the economy now, especially by addressing infrastructure needs, revise the tax code to eliminate loopholes and subsidies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and start backing away from trade policies that have proven disastrous.
Sadly, there seems to be no chance of this happening.
July 29, 2011 4 Comments
As dueling deficit reduction plans compete for victory in Congress, I am left wondering why the real source of the hemorrhage in America’s economy is being ignored. Surely, anyone can see that the root cause of the country’s problems is “free trade”?
It’s the free traders who opened the door to let America’s jobs pour out. And “free trade” has deprived America of a key source of revenue.
Yet, President Obama is continuing the policies of the past, urging approval of more free-trade agreements.
And the Republicans, who are nothing more than a front for the global corporations, want to give more tax breaks to companies that sell in America and invest abroad.
Even Donald Trump can see that those “free trade” agreements are bogus. In his brief presidential pseudo campaign, Trump made the point that China imposes a 25 percent tariff on imports from the U.S., and America lets Chinese-made products into this market almost duty-free.
Who decided these trade deals would be good for America?
Why, the global corporations, of course. And the agreements have been good for many “American” corporations.
In the new “global” economy, companies producing goods abroad have access to the American market without paying for the privilege.
That adds up to huge profits, which the companies cunningly hide overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes. And they invest those profits abroad, where wages are low and where environmental and safety laws are lax.
It’s no wonder Big Business dedicates huge sums to lobbying Congress. They don’t want lawmakers to change the tilted global playing field that’s making them so rich.
It doesn’t really matter which plan this cockeyed Congress finally chooses as a band-aid solution to the country’s economic woes.
The only bottom-line solution is to end the “free trade” charade, and bring the jobs home.
With millions of American workers unemployed, the government is deprived of the taxes (and Social Security contributions) they would be paying if they were working.
And with import taxes severely diminished, another key source of revenue is unavailable.
I think Congress should look at two ways to tackle the national debt: End the pointless wars and close most of the military bases around the world; and revise the absurd “free trade” policies that enrich other nations at America’s expense.
July 28, 2011 2 Comments
As Shakespeare noted in The Merchant of Venice, the Devil can cite Scripture to his purpose. And I think that’s the kind of sin that’s forbidden in the commandment against “taking the Lord’s name in vain.”
I’m sure you were told growing up that you shouldn’t cry “Oh God!” or “Jesus!” when you hit your thumb with a hammer. But I don’t think God will punish us for that.
I think it’s hypocrisy that irks God, not profanity.
I believe in God. And I believe the Bible is a holy document. But I suspect the people who proclaim their religious beliefs most loudly are often the ones most in danger of incurring God’s wrath.
So, it was with interest that I read a piece by Truthdig’s Chris Hedges today in which he warns that fundamentalism puts America at risk. I don’t agree with everything Hedges says, but some of his arguments resonated with me. Here’s a paragraph with which I identify:
The battle under way in America is not between religion and science. It is not between those who embrace the rational and those who believe in biblical myth. It is not between Western civilization and Islam. The blustering televangelists and the New Atheists, the television pundits and our vaunted Middle East specialists and experts, are all part of our vast, simplistic culture of mindless entertainment. They are in show business. They cannot afford complexity. Religion and science, facts and lies, truth and fiction, are the least of their concerns. They trade insults and clichés like cartoon characters. They don masks. One wears the mask of religion. One wears the mask of science. One wears the mask of journalism. One wears the mask of the terrorism expert. They jab back and forth in predictable sound bites. It is a sterile and useless debate between bizarre subsets of American culture. Some use the scientific theory of evolution to explain the behavior and rules for complex social and political systems, and others insist that the six-day creation story in Genesis is a factual account. The danger we face is not in the quarrel between religion advocates and evolution advocates, but in the widespread mental habit of fundamentalism itself.
I believe it is a sin to use God’s name to justify our prejudices and promote our self-interest.
I believe it is a sin to turn religion into show business.
And as long as Americans abandon the narrow path of truth seeking and reflection in favor of the broad and easy way of emotional venting and simplistic shibboleths, the country cannot thrive.
With God’s help, American fundamentalism might not trigger the kind of bloodbath that has left Norway in mourning, but it constantly frustrates attempts at rational debate, precipitates political crises, and leaves the martyred bodies of abortion doctors, politicians and innocent bystanders in its wake.
July 27, 2011 2 Comments
A few blogs back I peeked behind the curtains in Washington and found a puppeteer named Grover Norquist pulling the strings. He is the head of a lobbying organization dedicated to protecting the rich from taxation, and he has persuaded nearly every Republican member of Congress to sign a no-tax pledge.
This pledge is one of the main stumbling blocks to a debt ceiling deal.
But from what I’ve been reading lately, Norquist is not the only power behind the throne.
Apparently, the Republicans in Washington are cowering before clowns like Rush Limbaugh and Erik Erickson.
Here’s how Salon’s Alex Pareene describes the pathetic collapse of the Republican leadership:
A lot of people were alarmed Monday – with good reason – to learn that the House Republicans were relying on radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh and vile blogger Erick Erickson to tell them what to do about this whole debt ceiling thing. As everyone in Washington went into separate rooms to write their own horrible debt ceiling plans (my one-step approach: NO new revenue, ten zillion dollars in cuts to non-defense spending, Social Security replaced by personalized/market-based packs of roving hyenas), Erickson reported that he’s been taking “call after call” from unnamed “members of the United States Congress,” all of whom were seeking his approval, because this dumb, disingenuous hack is who the Republican Party is actually accountable to.
Meanwhile, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, gave his five-step “two-step” plan to famous shouty radio guy Rush Limbaugh, before he showed it to his own conference. (Of course, his conference is full of morons and extremists, many of whom wouldn’t have known what to think about Boehner’s plan until Uncle Rush explained it, so this was more shrewd than disrespectful.)
This is, obviously, a Bad Sign For America. Erick Erickson and Rush Limbaugh are, at best, entertainers — they’re certainly not policy experts — and at worst (and they are very often at their worst) they are extreme demagogues, stirring up shit for fun and attention, always more interested in tribal victory against their enemies on “the Left” than they are in governing, or doing anything at all to improve America beyond constantly crowing about how much better it used to be.
I knew about Limbaugh (photo above, right), of course. Who doesn’t? The obnoxious loudmouth is a huge blot on America’s political landscape, too big and ugly to ignore. And I am well aware of the tyranny he exercises over Republican politicians.
I had to Google this guy as the name didn’t ring a bell.
Among other things, such as the fact that Erickson (photo above, left) grew up in Dubai and runs a right-wing-crazy web site called Red State, I learned that he has “a long history of incendiary, sexist, and racially charged statements.”
He urged voters to “march down” and “beat” lawmakers “to a bloody pulp” and he called former Supreme Court Justice David Souter a “goat f—-ing child molester.”
I also found out that this dangerous loon was recruited by CNN to analyze American politics. To me that says a lot about the decline of CNN – and the state of American “mainstream” media.
In a situation like this, where the democratic system has so clearly been perverted, it seems to me that President Obama has no choice but to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and raise the debt ceiling by executive order.
The Republicans will accuse him of being a dictator, of course, and they will do everything in their power to retaliate.
But it is not Barack Obama who is the “dictator”; it is some enormously wealthy and powerful individual – or individuals. This “person or persons unknown” (as they say in police reports) wrangled control of the Tea Party, the media and the Republican leadership. It might be the Koch Brothers. I see their fingerprints everywhere in the right-wing propaganda network.
Or it could be someone – or some group – even richer and more powerful than the Kochs.
The way things are, America’s only chance for survival as a democracy is for the president to confront the hidden forces that have grabbed hold of the levers of power and appear to be driving this country over a cliff so they can rule over the wreckage.
July 26, 2011 2 Comments
I shouldn’t be sitting here. I should be marching somewhere, carrying a placard, shouting rebukes at America’s feckless stewards. But there are no protests to join. The population is diverted by the promise of football, by a singer’s overdose, by the tragedy in Norway …
To rule the masses, give them bread and circuses, the ancients advised.
Today, the circuses abound. But the “bread” is in danger of disappearing.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the people we elected to manage our lives are showing each other how tough they can be – and how reckless.
But the fault is ours, not theirs.
We have become too complacent, too passive, too ready to let slippery politicians decide our fate. Especially we liberals.
Look how the Tea Party has grabbed the Republicans by the throat, merely by getting out there and raising hell.
Look how the Republican leaders in Wisconsin are being routed now that the voters have decided they’ve had enough of their Simon Legree policies.
And we, the liberals, we the potential victims of the largest sell-out in U.S. history, we sit at our computer keyboards and tap, tap, tap away, sending out pleas like messages in a bottle, hoping someone, anyone, will heed our cry.
How do we expect politicians to fight for our cause if we don’t make them do it?
Have we forgotten FDR’s admonition to “make” him do what he already wanted to do?
Why don’t we make those idiots in Washington raise the debt ceiling – without shredding our social safety net?
I guess we’re waiting for someone else to do it for us.
Wall Street, perhaps?
I see the stock market is beginning its inevitable slide. I’m sure the money men won’t take that sitting down.
And they’re among the power brokers who fund those obscenely expensive election campaigns. They have strings they can pull.
We have our computer keyboards.
July 25, 2011 1 Comment
From my earliest childhood, I have been told to watch out for the bogeyman. He might be hiding under your bed or in the depths of your closet, or he might be waiting for you in the shadows if you venture outdoors on a moonlit night.
Even today, I look over my shoulder when I take out the garbage in the dark.
Fear is natural. It’s part of our survival mechanism.
And it makes us easy to manipulate.
Cunning politicians know this, and they use it to gain power over us.
Take Herman Cain (photo above, left), for example.
This candidate for the Republican presidential nomination conjures up the threat of menacing Muslims lurking in the underground, waiting to impose Sharia law on American communities.
Cain said he would be wary of naming a Muslim to his cabinet because they are so dangerous. And he supports community efforts to ban mosques, claiming the Constitution doesn’t protect the Muslim religion because it’s so “political.”
Cain is one of many conservatives who depict Muslims as potential terrorists and urge special precautions against them.
I wonder why he doesn’t fear Christians?
He must have heard of the Oklahoma City bombing, and he probably read about yesterday’s Oslo massacre.
No Muslims were involved in either attack.
Indeed, the suspected Oslo terrorist is described as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing views and a hatred for Muslims (click here for details).
Furthermore, the man, Anders Behring Breivik, is a blond and blue-eyed Norwegian (photo above, right).
That’s the type of racial profile that would probably slip by most American airport security agents.
But the Oslo massacre reminds us that a terrorist attack could come not just from a disgruntled Muslim but also from some Christian or Jewish zealot.
And it shows how people like Herman Cain exploit human tragedy and human nature to manipulate the public.
This is a dangerous world, and real bogeymen abound. We can never afford to lower our guard. But there is no one hiding place for the bogeyman. He could be wearing a turban or a swastika tattoo – or nothing out of the ordinary.
July 23, 2011 4 Comments
Sitting in my den, pondering the impact of the looming debt ceiling stand-off, I am heartened by the victory of Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke in the British Open golf tournament (yes, I know they call it The Open, but I find that pretentious and confusing).
At 42, Clarke seemed no more than a quaint has-been when the tournament began. The spotlight was on the young athletes – Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood – and established stars like Phil Mickelson.
But the golfing gods had other ideas.
It was Clarke who tamed that monster of a links course in driving rain and wind so blustery that it sometimes moved the ball about on the greens.
It was Clarke who walked away on Sunday with the claret jug.
“It will be full of that Irish black stuff tonight,” he promised.
His remark surprised nobody. Darren Clarke has been known to take a drink – or two… or more.
To me he is so very, well, Irish.
During my time in England, whenever I met someone I really liked, he or she turned out to be Irish. They were not “uptight” or judgmental. They enjoyed a drink, and they were quick to bet a shilling or two on a soccer game or whatever. They were also quick to laugh and just as quick to argue.
I don’t know Darren Clarke. But I could tell a lot about him by watching Phil Mickelson’s reaction to his victory. Mickelson had just suffered one of his patented self-destructs, missing any number of short putts after staging a miraculous display on the final front nine. But he was smiling and hugging the guy who beat him, looking as happy as if he had won the jug himself.
And from what I’ve read, Clarke is the kind of guy anyone would want to win a major championship – and close to $1.5 million.
I remember when he lost his wife to breast cancer five years ago, how broken he was. Left to raise two young sons by himself, he rallied to fulfill his Ryder Cup obligation – and to do it with gallantry and guts. After that he dropped out of sight for a while.
But he re-emerged recently, engaged to a former Miss Ireland and with new-found hope in his eyes.
It was his fiancee, Alison Campbell (with Clarke in photo above), who “put my life back on track,” he declared.
To romantics like me, it’s an irresistible love story.
And it shows that even when things seem darkest, the sun could come shining through the clouds at any moment.
July 22, 2011 2 Comments
Surely, President Obama can’t be serious when he proposes to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to get Republicans to allow an increase in the country’s debt. He must know that such a plan is unlikely to win approval in Congress, and that if it does, it would probably mean the end of his re-election hopes.
The president is not talking only about future “reforms”; he is talking about reducing the income of today’s Social Security recipients by changing the way cost-of-living adjustments are calculated.
There are still Democrats in Congress who believe in preserving the social safety net, and they cannot be expected to vote for such an assault on seniors.
Not surprisingly, organizations like AARP are up in arms. I got a phone call yesterday inviting me to join a conference call that was in progress. AARP officials were discussing the issue and urging older folks to contact their representatives in Congress.
Some commentators suggest that the president knows Republicans will not accept the deal, that they will reject any proposal to increase tax revenue, even by closing loopholes and ending wasteful government subsidies. They see President Obama’s latest overture as political gamesmanship designed to make him look as if he is bending over backwards to placate the unreasonable Republicans in a last-ditch effort to avert an economic catastrophe. Annoying as that would be, I hope it’s true.
But if so, the president is playing a dangerous game. In his obsession with bipartisanship, he has antagonized organized labor, the anti-war movement and other key elements of the Democratic base. Now, he is picking a fight with seniors.
That’s no way to rally support for his 2012 re-election campaign.
It’s not as if he has no choice. He could accept the McConnell-Reid plan that would raise the debt ceiling in three stages.
Or he could do as Bill Clinton suggests and invoke his Constitutional authority to raise the debt ceiling by executive order.
Undoubtedly, that would enrage Republicans.
They would retaliate in every possible way – by a lawsuit perhaps, or even through an attempt to impeach him.
The way I see it, that would simply mean precipitating a battle that must be fought sooner or later, anyway.
This country is irreparably divided. Bipartisanship and compromise are no longer possible.
To end the gridlock that is paralyzing Washington, the battle must be joined. The victor will determine the path forward.
July 20, 2011 3 Comments
In my view, some of the people being considered for nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 are not just misguided but actually evil.
Michele Bachmann for example.
The Minnesota congresswoman (pictured above with her husband) claims to be deeply religious and boasts of raising 23 foster children, but her religion is bigotry and I pity those poor kids who had to live under her roof.
I make no excuses for the misdeeds of Catholic priests over the years, for example. But I think it is bigotry to declare that the Pope is the Anti-Christ. And the church that Bachmann and her husband attended until recently did just that.
Furthermore, I think her husband Marcus was bigoted when he described gay people as “barbarians” in need of “discipline.”
He is either a knave or a fool. Imagine taking tax money on the pretext of “curing” gays! Yet that’s just what his mental health clinic has been doing.
More examples of the Bachmanns’ bigotry come to light almost every day.
Today I learned that Michele Bachmann cited a government settlement to black farmers for blatant discrimination over the years as an example of “wasteful spending.”
Here’s an excerpt from the AP report:
The issue came up after Bachmann and Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa toured flooded areas along the Missouri River. During a news conference, they fielded a question about whether farmers affected by the flooding also should be worried by proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture cuts.
The two responded by criticizing a 1999 settlement in what is known as the Pigford case, after the original plaintiff, North Carolina farmer Timothy Pigford. Late last year, President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing a new, nearly $1.2 billion settlement for people who were denied payments in the earlier one because they missed deadlines for filing.
King has likened the Pigford settlement to “modern-day reparations” for African-Americans. He said Monday a large percentage of the settlement “was just paid out in fraudulent claims” and criticized the Obama administration’s plan to resolve separate lawsuits filed by Hispanic and female farmers.
“That’s another at least $1.3 billion,” King said “I’d like to apply that money to the people that are under water right now.”
Bachmann seconded King’s criticism, saying, “When money is diverted to inefficient projects, like the Pigford project, where there seems to be proof-positive of fraud, we can’t afford $2 billion in potentially fraudulent claims when that money can be used to benefit the people along the Mississippi River and the Missouri River.”
Do you doubt that her distaste for the Pigford settlement is motivated by antipathy toward African-Americans? I don’t.
Where is her outrage over the $40 billion the government gives oil companies annually as an incentive to drill in the United States?
Where is her objection to the billions in lost corporate taxes resulting from loopholes in the American tax code?
Why doesn’t she demand that Wall Street financiers pay the normal tax rate on their earnings instead of an absurdly low capital gains tax?
To me, Bachmann’s positions are a reflection of today’s Republican Party – racially and religiously bigoted, anti-minorities, in bed with the multinational corporations at the expense of the American people.
Not only the people but the environment, too.
A study just released by Greenpeace names 15 members of Congress who persistently block attempts at regulating pollution. Eleven of the 15 are Republicans.
Here is the list.
Representative Jason Altmire (D-PA), Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL), Representative Mark Critz (D-PA), Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH), Representative Jim Matheson (D-UT), Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM), Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), Representative Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY).
As I would expect, Michele Bachmann’s name is on the list.
July 19, 2011 1 Comment