Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who won the first debate?

IMO there's a general consensus that when determining who "won" a debate you must first consider expectations. With the current economic meltdown, all polls reflect a moderate Obama lead of between 3-7 points. The Palin bounce is gone, the Iraq war is no longer front page news, and all trends are pointing in Obama's direction.

Given this, the two candidates' goals for the debate were:
A. Obama: to make no major gaffes, to convince voters he's sober and competent at foreign affairs, and to appear presidential.
B. McCain: to convince voters Obama is too risky both on economics and as Commander in Chief during time of war. McCain needed a knock-down (if not a knock-out) punch in this debate.

Given these preconditions, I can only believe that Obama "won" this debate. Here's a breakdown of how I saw each candidate's strengths/weaknesses:

Obama strengths:
-Best debate yet in terms of eliminating stammering, avoiding "you know", and making his answers more decisive and concise.
-Hammered home his tax cut proposals and displayed understanding of middle class woes.
-Excellent command of foreign policy issues. His positions are debatable, but he had the detail.
Obama weaknesses:
- His economic promises are absurd in view of the current economic meltdown. He wouldn't back off on a single major program and still promised tax cuts to 95% of Americans.
-Explanation of previous gaffes (invading Pakistan to get Bin Laden, and sitting down with Korea/Iran/Cuba without preconditions) was unconvincing.

McCain strengths:
-Decent job of linking explaining how previous Obama foreign policy gaffes make Obama unduly risky in time of war.
-Had one of his better debates in terms of displaying passion and making clear, concise statements.
McCain weaknesses:
-Looked twitchy and agitated. Couldn't stand still while Obama was talking. Failure to look at, and talk directly to Obama made him seem petulant.
-Incomprehensibly he did not drive home the pandering and unrealistic nature of Obama's tax cut promises, and the devastating effect Obama's tax hike proposals will have on an already reeling economy.
-Surprisingly, he said he'd vote for the economic bailout plan. Missed a major opportunity in not rejecting the plan and tagging Obama with supporting "welfare" of $700B for Wall Street incompetents/hucksters.

So, if things stay the same, I predict Obama will win a fairly easy victory in November. McCain must hope for some fundamental change in the equation, must hope that young voters and all the newly registered Dems stay home, hope his Base remains energized and turns out in record numbers, and hope for the "black tax" (those white voters who, at the last minute, simply won't vote for a black).

And Obama? All he needs to do is avoid major gaffes, continue to provide specifics on policy, and continue to present himself as a pleasant, intelligent, safe choice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hank "in the Tank" Paulson and the Last Great Bushist Power Grab

The similarities to 9/11 are stark: pass the bill, now! This is not a time for thinking, it is a time for acting! Sadly, we fell for this line twice already. In the House, a meager 66 Representatives opposed HR 3162 (62 Democrats, 3 Republicans, 1 Independent; 9 didn't vote), what would become known as the USA Patriot Act of 2001. In the Senate, Russ Feingold (D-Iowa) stood alone in his opposition to the bill. The whole thing was pushed through Congress by 1:54 PM Eastern Standard Time, on October 25, 2001. Those who opposed the measure were branded "unpatriotic," "bleeding-hearts," or accused outright of being traitors. In doing so, the Bush Administration silenced those who saw this as a cynical power grab. A year later, having failed to capture Osama bin Laden, but with a new interloper to divert the attention of voters, Congress voted 296 to 133 to invade Iraq (81 Democrats helped; 6 Republicans and one Independent didn't). Russ Feingold was no longer alone in his opposition, as 25 other Democrats joined him in voting against the invasion of Iraq in the Senate, which has since been proven to be an unnecessary and costly war: over 4,000 dead, hundreds of billions spent, the United States' international reputation in tatters and the removal of military capital from the threat of a emerging belligerent powers, such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia and Russia.

Then, starting last Monday, the failure of several key financial institutions, resulting , at least in part, from deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. As with 9/11, people were hoping for someone to step forward to save the day. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson's solution sounded a lot like a trick played by Dark Age mystics on a superstitious and ignorant populous during a total solar eclipse: "Grant me power without oversight, and I will bring back the economic sunshine." His proposal consisted of three pages - three pages, stark in their simplicity, horrifying in their cynicism and arrogance, summed up in the now infamous "Section 8" of the proposal:

Sec. 8. Review.
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

It is perhaps an unintentional coincidence that Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman, Benjamin Bernanke picked "Section 8," which was, at one time, the rule cited for discharging mentally unfit soldiers from the army. Indeed, the suggestion that the systemic collapse caused by deregulation could somehow be cured by an individual demanding more deregulation, is madness. It has even less rationale when one considers that this is the same, former CEO of Goldman Sachs who raised his company's debt from $20 billion to $100 billion in his 6-year tenure there. Finally, it has been reported that Paulson and Bernanke drafted this astonishingly elegant proposal six months ago, and hence, saw this collapse coming. Their concern, clearly, was not for the taxpayer or for how many innocent people would be hurt through this nightmare, but themselves and their friends and colleagues on Wall Street.

Well, I have a six point plan for what we can do about this mess. Review this, Bushies:

1) By purchasing bad debts, the United States taxpayer gains controlling interest in these firms. Those CEOs who opt out, risking the collapse of their firms will be required to surrender their passports, will undergo a criminal investigation, and may be subject to criminal prosecution and seizure of their personal assets; we do the same thing to drug dealers, embezzlers and child pornographers, and while I wouldn't place what they've done on the same plane as kiddie porn, I personally find it equal to embezzlement and worse than selling drugs. Those who opt in would be given immunity from criminal prosecution. That's their incentive for helping to keep the economy from crashing: they won't go to jail.

2) All executives suspected of having a role in the banking collapse must surrender their passports until they are cleared; those who opt in that are found to be instrumental in the banking collapse will be terminated with no additional compensation (no golden parachutes). Because the taxpayer has essentially enacted a hostile takeover, any contracts between executives and the firms they were employed by are null and void. They get nothing; they can stand in the unemployment line next to the people they sold out.

3) Absolutely no quarter should be given to the housing speculators who drove the housing bubble. If there were a cost-effective way to do so, I would ask for a mandate making them wear a scarlet letter ("A" for asshole).

4) A moratorium should be declared and defaulted home loans should be evaluated. Those home buyers who clearly have no visible means of paying for their homes, or whose homes are clearly beyond their means, should be foreclosed upon. Those who are in affordable homes should have their loans refinanced so that as much money as possible can be recovered. The United States will recover money from the sale of foreclosed homes at fair market value, only. These properties should not be auctioned off or sold at any discounted rate. This will prevent further damage from speculators.

5) All firms participating in the bailout agree to a similar, best-effort financing agreement offered to responsible, but troubled home buyers. In other words, the companies that caused this mess will ultimately have to pay for their mistakes in the years to come. They will be responsible for paying back the amounts of money that the government is short from housing sales and loan payments. There is no reason that the United States should give away the store without getting something back. Agreement to such terms - along with contractual obligations of transparency - could be offered as a condition for some executives to continue their employment in certain cases.

6) The regulatory boards that were gutted by the Reagan, Bush and Bush Administrations will be funded by the payments from the firms participating in the bailouts. There should be additional oversight by Congress to make sure that the regulatory agencies don't wind up in the pocket of the firms they regulate.

If my plan sounds punitive, good: it's humane, compared to what I would do, were I not an employee in a large firm with payroll expenses exceeding $100,000. Were that the case, I would say, let the banks fail and put their CEOs in prison next to rapists, murderers and drug dealers. Secretary Paulson's proposal was a naked power grab by an administration already grotesquely bloated on them. Once again, the Bushists have presented us with a crisis and told us that if we do not act against our own best interests, we are doomed. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us; fool us a third time and clearly, we are too stupid for the responsibilities necessary to be a citizen of this, or any other Republic.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The EU Concedes to Russia

I take no pride in being right about Russia, at least not today. European Union French President M. Nicholas Sarkozy said in a statement to Moscow on Friday that Russia must withdraw its troops from Georgia proper and Georgia must withdraw its troops to military bases no later than October 1, 2008. Russian peacekeeping (his words, emphasis added) troops would be replaced by 200 UNOMIG (United Nations Observer Missions in Georgia) and OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) international observers. The UNOMIG and OSCE observers will investigate in Georgia proper only and Russian troops will be allowed to remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as per the September 12, 2008 agreement reached between Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

It was a deferential move for the economic superpower to cede these sizeable regions of the Georgian State to Russia. It is frankly, reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain's concession of Czechoslovakia to Germany in 1938. Except that, to Paraphrase Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, if Russia had meant to capture Tbilisi, their forces could have done so in as little as four hours (given how they steamrolled over them in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, I doubt he was exaggerating).

Clearly, taking over Georgia proper was not one of their aims. Had this been the case, it is unlikely that the Russian strategy would have focused so heavily on expelling Georgian troops from the breakaway regions with such intensity - if at all. Given their air superiority over Georgia, they could have easily razed Tbilisi to the ground in a matter of hours and had Georgian President Mikheil Sakaashvili in custody in a matter of days.

Why did the EU not define Georgian territorial integrity to include the breakaway regions? If my more conservative readers can stomach it, I would like to indulge in some educated speculation. Surely, the EU watched the United States, as did Russia, when their friend and ally, Mikheil Sakaashvili, called for their military assistance and received only weak reprimands aimed at Russia from President Bush and Senator McCain, and most recently, either an inadvertent or a veiled threat from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Sakaashvili, clearly unimpressed with Senator McCain's empty threats, called him out. Though aid has been sent to Georgia, American sabres - though rattled - remain firmly in their scabbards.

There was a very good reason that the French and the English engaged in a policy of appeasement with Germany in the 1930s: they didn't want a Second World War. The first had been horrible. The machine age had unleased horrible weaponry, munitions that disfigured soldiers so profoundly that it found its expression in a new genre of feature-length films in the twenties: horror. But if the thought of another mechanized war with Germany was horrifying to England and France, staring down the business end of the Russian nuclear arsenal must have them in a solid state of panic.

If the EU has any grasp of the history of the past two decades, a few facts are doubtlessly, not lost on them. First, the United States military doesn't move at lightning speed. That's not a bad thing. Operation Desert Shield prepared our troops well for Operation Desert Storm - it only took them four months. But Russia was able to mobilize within hours, and defeat American and Israeli-trained (and armed) Georgian troops within five days. Further, in his candidacy for President, John McCain (who is ahead according to Gallup Polls, as of Sunday) has resisted talk of withdrawing from Iraq. George Bush's drawdown is still 8,000 troops heavier than pre-surge levels. And even Barack Obama's strategy for withdrawal ties up our forces in Iraq until 2010. There simply is no plan on the table that allows the United States the ability to spare the military personnel necessary to honor NATO in the event of a Russian invasion, no matter what.

That leaves the threat of American interceptor missiles, one that has Putin aiming nukes at Europe (again) and negotiating for Western real estate with Castro (again) and Chavez to park ICBMs closer to the US (again). It is also a threat that makes it in Russia's best interests to take advantage of Europe while the United States is busy elsewhere.

So who in NATO will stand up to Russia, should they decide to play rough? The British are still strong, but they can't take on Russia alone. Their greatest advantage - naval power - would do little against a nation that is (and whose neighbors are) mostly landlocked. US troops in Europe have been cut by half (to around 25,000) since 2006. The French haven't had a strong military since Napoleon, and Sarkozy's concessions to Russia speak volumes about the EU's attitudes toward Russia. Finally, Georgia already had been promised membership with the EU at the time of the conflict; clearly Sakaashvili was counting on that when he rolled the dice on forcing South Ossetia and Abkazia back into the fold. But no one came to his rescue.

Whether this was because the EU recognized they were being used in his game with Russia or simply realized that Georgia simply wasn't worth the risks inherent in going to war with a re-vitalized Russia, no one in NATO - outside the United States - even breathed the word war. And if it were simply a matter of the United States being busy elsewhere, it would have been enough for the EU to flinch. But there is a lot more going on in the United States than two foreign occupations.

The U.S. banking system, which has been built up primarily through an assembly-line mortgage system, drove housing values to inflate as much as 300%. The bubble, of course, burst. Indy Mac in California suffered a 1929-style run-on-a-bank: the Fed took over. Bear Sterns Cos. collapsed: the Fed loaned JPMorgan and Chase the money to buy them out at a bargain basement interest rate. Then Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had to be bailed out. Friday, Lehman wanted the same deal Bear Sterns got; the Fed told them they were on their own.

Which tells us the well is running dry. What we know of modern warfare is that it requires a strong economy. The Big War turned the United States - temporarily - into a socialist country. We mobilized for war: women went to work in munitions factories and young men joined, or were drafted, into the military. Rationing was imposed. By the end of it, soldiers came home, dreading the poverty of the Great Depression, and were shocked to find a revitalized economy.

Times have changed. War doesn't create new jobs anymore; corporations, beholden to their investors to maximize profits, either outsource or build outside of the United States. The Keynesian economic policies that hauled us out of the Great Depression required government investment into the economy, and while the movement to "privatize" as much of the government as possible is certainly attractive to the free market purists, the long term evidence isn't promising.

Certainly the EU is aware of the US's economic woes. The bailout of Freddie and Fannie is little more than band-aid on a compound fracture. At least one economist (Michael Hudson) has indicated that the bailout exists solely to prevent the two mortgage giants from collapsing - and taking the economy with it - prior to the elections in November. Further, Michael Hudson alleges that these bailouts will protect Bush supporters from something that anyone responsible for a fraction of this destruction would inevitably face: prison. So if Angela Merkel (who, incidentally, is opposed to Ukraine and Georgia obtaining NATO membership) and Nicholas Sarkozy are at all forward thinking and aware in the present, the US isn't looking so healthy. And given the EU's dependency on Russia for oil and natural gas, the old NATO alliance may not seem so important to them lately.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Was McCain's selection of Palin cycnical or legitimate?

Cynical of legitimate? Well, I think it was both.

All VP picks are a combination of two things: a candidate who can take over as President in an emergency, and a candidate who can help win the election. IMO it's fair to say that a pick with too much of the latter and too little of the former is cyncial and less legitimate.

Although a McCain/Palin supporter, I must concede that Palin is not ready to take over for McCain on day-one. My initial impression is that after 1-2 years in the VP slot she'll be ready...but I can't be sure of this until she's been vetted by the media and has her debate (surely there should be more than one!) with Biden. So, yeah, it's a cynical pick.

However, I think it's also legit for two reasons:

1. She does have adequate (not great) qualificatons: She's got excellent Executive experience which is the most valuable type to have for the Presidency. She's also got a stong record of reform, has shown real "balls", and based on what we've seen appears to be very smart. Also, I'll paraphrase from Obama's primary campaign here...experience is only one of many important criteria; character, judgement, and intelligence are just as important.

2. I've been saying for months that McCain MUST pick a female if he was to have any chance of winning. Every statistic/metric/trend is in the Dem's favor this election. McCain's only shot at winning was to peel off a large group of voters from Obama. IMO the only two big groups really in play were Hispanics and blue collar white women over 30. In picking Palin, he was going for the latter group. My first pick was Kay Baily Hutchison (nat'l name recognition, lots of experience, decent creds with the base); rumor has it she wasn't interested. I liked Condi Rice too, but whoa! She's a neocon and linked to Bush at the hip. A non-starter for sure. So...through process of elimination that left Palin.

And guess what? The pollos on 09Sep indicate it's working. There has been a huge shift in blue collar white women over 30 from the "undecided" block to McCain. We'll see if it holds up. We'll also see if Palin holds up through the barrage of vetting that's headed her way.

And finally, give me credit for not pointing out that if lack of experience in sufficient reason to torpedo Palin, the same must be said of Obama (oops! I just pointed it out!).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Patriot Act and the Jackboots of St. Paul: We Saw it Coming

Poland started World War II.

That was the National Socialists story, and they were sticking to it. It went along with other stories, like the Reichstag fire, Anschluss and German nationals at the mercy of anti-German Czechoslovakia. And each of them were in equal measure, bullshit. And not calling bullshit lead to more bullshit, which lead to still further bullshit, which . . . you get the idea. The bullshit kept snowballing, until Germany was in some deep shit. At some point, calling bullshit was impossible - not that it was ever easy. Someone would have had to risk their comforts, their freedom, perhaps their families, even their lives. Finally, after it was too late to call bullshit, some of them did exactly that. The attempt on Hitler's life failed. The conspirators were caught and executed. Even the great Fieldmarschal, Rommel who had no involvment, died mysteriously. It is understood by historians that the Nazis had him killed.

Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it.

Which is why I'm calling bullshit, now, in America, on the UNPATRIOTIC, UNAMERICAN, ANTI-DEMOCRATIC meatheads that call themselves police in St. Paul, Minnesota. Buried behind all of the sensationalism which was bound to follow a woman Governor, extremist Republican, mother of five with a Down syndrome baby and pregnant daughter, cum-Vice Presidential nominee, was another story that I likely wouldnt have heard about until I was on my way to work Monday morning . . . except that I tried getting ahold of one of our members the only way that I know how - through his email on YouTube. Oddly, someone had emailed me some videos about the riots at the RNC.

Though I remember hearing about them peripherally, I blocked them out. It was just a bunch of jerks from the left trying to stir up trouble, I had decided. Why not let the GOP have their convention in peace, the way that the Democrats had been allowed to have their convention? It was just a bunch of rabble rousers, stirring up trouble, and I wanted no part of it.

Some of these so-called rabble rousers, it turned out, were my morning fix. I listen to Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman during my morning commute. Somehow, like everyone else, I became distracted from the important issues by the shiny, new running mate, Sarah Palin. I'd stopped listening to the alternative news sources that had been a source of strength to me. Then, I found out that Amy Goodman had been arrested while questioning police about the arrests of Democracy Now! producers Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar.

This is how it happened. The riot police descended on the crowd where Kouddous and Salazar were filiming. As the police approached her position, Nicole Salazar displayed her press credentials and asked the police for an avenue for retreat. This was their response:

Koudous and Salazar were arrested and faced felony charges for "Probable Cause" Inciting a Riot and Salazar was handcuffed and dragged by her feet, causing her face to be scraped on the asphalt and her nose to bleed. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was on the floor of the Republican National Convention, when she received a call on her cell phone that Koudous and Salazar had been arrested. Concerned for the safety and health of her associates, Goodman left the convention and went outside to confront the police, demanding to speak to a police supervisor:

Goodman was arrested and cited with misdemeanor obstruction of a legal process and interference with a peace office (emphasis added).

To say that I am angered by this would be a gross understatement. That Salazar's brutal arrest failed to provoke a firestorm of media outrage against this kind of monopolistic abuse is evidence that the mainstream press - once fairly labeled liberally-biased - is firmly in the pocket of the corporations which fund and promote both parties. Days after starting her new program on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on both MSNBC and Air America, mentioned this story briefly, but has not discussed it since. The bombastic and wry-humored Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown has yet to make so much as a cursory reference to the fact that his journalistic colleagues were arrested.

The silence is deafening.

It has taken me over a week to find a way to place this outrage into a written format that doesn't include expletives. It would be easy enough to indict a police force, whether caught up in the excitement of the crowds, or acting on specific orders to satisfy specific political aims. It would be easy to call the St. Paul riot police "Jackbooted thugs," denouncing their actions as draconian and as undermining the first amendment. But the responsibility has passed beyond the scope of the St. Paul Police, or City Attorney John Choi, or Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. As a people, we did not inherit this Republic as a trust of bottomless plunder, but as a responsibility to ourselves and our posterity to maintain and defend. It was through that spirit of responsibility that we became a nation, and it is in that spirit that I offer the following reminder of history to a complicit and dangerously inane media:

In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me -- and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.

In other words, Pastor Neimoller warned us that silence not only gives consent, it invites your own destruction. Dangerous things have happened since 9/11; things which the Democrats and the Media have quietly pretended not to notice. And now we face a government that wishes to silence not only the voices of protest and dissent, but those that would hold them accountable. You would think that the media would respond with outrage, making the collective fates of Amy Goodman, Nicole Salazar and Abdel Koudous the same historical indictment on silence that The Diary of Anne Frank became on Fascism. Yet regardless of the monopolistic style of government, the use (and defense) of torture and cronyism apparent in the Bush Administration, the abuses of power and the cronyism apparent in Governor Palin's record, and regardless of the fact that journalists have been, and are being arrested for doing their jobs, only Dr. Maddow dared mention this attack on free speech.

Amy Goodman does what no other journalist has the strength or courage to do: her sacred duty as a member of that little-valued people's branch of government, fourth estate. That her colleagues who sold us out for million-dollar salaries, six-figure wardrobe budgets and overwhelming fame, have not stepped forward in her defense, is hardly surprising, but it does expose their legitimacy - or rather, lack thereof. So it is up to us, the people of the United States, to fight for our inheritance: this Republic.

UPDATE, 9/16/08: When I called the Ramsey County Attorney's Office today, the individual I spoke with said that no felony charges were going to be filed. Whether or not these two journalists will face lesser charges, it is clear that Ramsey County Attorney and gubernatorial candidate Susan Gaertner, at some point conceded that these charges were excessive and false.

UPDATE, 9/22/08: Charges have been dropped against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Koudous. This was not reported by mainstream news, and all letters protesting these arrests came about as a result of a savvy internet community getting involved and demanding justice. A further investigation into the excessive force used by police is pending.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

There are 10 Kinds of People in the World: those that Understand Binary and those that Don't

I begin this entry by welcoming John and Lord (of Logic) to the discussion. Both have points of view that will make the discussion interesting, and both offer well reasoned arguments.

Today's subject is the Great American Political dichotomy, left/right, liberal/conservative, or Democrat/Republican, if you prefer. At it's narrowest definition, politics is binary: either you're one of us or you're one of them; either you're with us or you're against us; you're either a liberal or a conservative. The broader, mainstream definition has politics as a continuum with the Democratic party at one extreme, the GOP at the other and independents in the middle. But go on any third party website, and you'll see for yourself and the two-party system actually shares the center, with non-partisans and Reagan Democrats making up the middle .

First, I think the more important question is what is conservative and what is liberal?

A wise, pragmatic conservative once told me that the core purpose of any government is to defend wealth. This goes along with the the concept of laissez faire, per Adam Smith: the strongest economy is maintained when the government does not intervene to regulate it. So political conservatives have an interest, at their core, in defending wealth, by preventing the Government from squandering it or interfering in the market process. But if this is true, how do conservatives explain the Great Depression, or the more recent energy crisis and housing crunch? Had the market not experienced periods of unabashed freedom from regulation - and in all cases, were, in Reaganomics terms, poised to create a "trickle down" of wealth - would it have still collapsed? At the same time, does anyone deny that wealth was generated in those years leading up to collapse?
At the same time, liberal is exactly what it sounds like - the liberal application of government. For example, a social program was started by Franklin D. Roosevelt to assist the elderly during a time when many of them literally starved to death. Lyndon Johnson made the next major step by offering assistance to non-working families - generally single mothers with children. In the first case, social security prior to FDR was the family, and in fact, the architecture of the American home reflected a more corporate than immediate structure. I knew a man once who was fired from his job because he couldn't work as many hours as they needed him to without having it effect his social security. In the second case, the Johnson Administration created nearly three generations of families dependent on government assistance, who did not and would not work. And though It was, ironically, through Bill Clinton that aid for dependent families would hear its swan song, social security disability has been re-defined to further burden the tax payer while drug addicts, alcoholics and those claiming to suffer from mental illnesses (e.g. bipolar disorder, depression, etc.) wallow in a sea of self-inflicted misery, and are never required to "get well."
But that's where the appropriateness of the labels appears to end. Republicans may not want government intervention in business, but the religious right sees no contradiction in having the government deciding the appropriateness of what is read, watched or listened to, what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults, and a woman's right to choose responsibly. The party in general sees no contradiction between it's view of the second amendment (the right to have and bear arms) and it's apparent contempt for the first amendment (guaranteeing both protection of religion and freedom of the press), its prolonged attack on the fourth amendment (guaranteeing an individual's right to general privacy, without proper warrants) and its end run around the sixth-through-tenth amendments (guaranteeing the right to due process). As a bar chart of the budget deficit from the last 20 years shows (see below), the party of "fiscal responsibility," which decries the "tax and spend" policies of the Democrats, have driven up the budget deficit to record highs. Finally, as yet another bar chart of the trade deficit shows, this notion of "trickle down" economics has hardly made the United States more competitive in the global economy (see right). Simply put, we're in debt up to our eyeballs, and the Repub-licans who've spent us there seem to be asking us not to believe our lying eyes.

But if the Democrats thought they were getting a pass today, keep dreaming. Rupert Murdock gained a toehold on the media for doing what no one else at the time had the guts to do -report the news. "The folks" as O'Reilly affectionately calls them, were frankly sick of the generationally monopolistic, self-aggrandizing, baby boomer-run media's head up Bill Clinton's ass. His first hundred days in office, attacking an entrenched system of military discrimination against gays were a wasted first hundred days. Not that gays should have been discriminated against in the first place, but pick your battles, for crying out loud. The single issue on which the Clintons stood out was health care. Unwilling to compromise, the Clintons wasted four years of Democratic majority in which some kind of health care bill could have been passed to help working families. They literally rented out the Lincoln bedroom as a re-election fundraising gimmick then stole the White House china on their way out.

And if the Dems were hoping to cast themselves as the party preserving the Constitution, they shouldn't brag so much. Senator Biden's bill that resulted in the Violence Against Women Act undermines a vital part of the fifth amendment, which protects individuals from being forced to testify against their spouse; it further assumes that women are incapable of saying what they mean under oath, and prosecuting attorney's often threaten victims of domestic violence with perjury (and sometimes prosecute them). Bill Clinton's highly publicized "land grab" also violated the Third Amendment for many, and Hillary Clinton voted to allow FEMA to take privately owned firearms in the event of a natural disaster (which actually happened after Katrina) leaving decent citizens unarmed and at the mercy of looters. Barack Obama's vote in favor of the FISA bill mocked his previous stances against the Bush Administration.

So how do we define the Bill of Rights? Is it liberal or conservative, since both sides both protect and abuse it equally? I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that neither party has the Bill of Rights in mind when pushing an agenda. The so-called Constitution Party seeks to redefine the Constitution as a document that defends only the right of Christians. The Independent party has its own definition of the Constitution, and picks and chooses its "favorites" from the first ten, discarding the others as either unimportant or unintended. The Libertarians, who share the absolutist economic philosophies of the GOP, have an equally absolutist attitude with regard to individual rights - it is unequivocally NOT to be screwed with.

Whether we agree that the "hands-off" approach to the economy is best, it's hard to make the case that it actually works., given the recent economic downturns. Mitt Romney, a prime example of extreme conservatism, if ever there was one, had the following to say during the RNC:

"Is Government spending, putting aside inflation, liberal or conservative if it doubles since 1980?"

The answer, of course is "liberal," but the question sidesteps the fact that most of that spending occurred under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush; deficit spending actually went down to $18 billion the last year Bill Clinton held office. And particularly in the case of Dubya, in which the Republicans controlled both houses, the notion of government largess being a product of liberal politicians is hard sell to anyone except low information voters. But Romney goes one further by lying outright:

"Democrats want to use the [economic] slow down as an excuse to do what their special interests are always begging for: higher taxes, bigger government and less trade with other nations. It's the same path Europe took a few decades ago; it leads to moribund growth and double digit unemployment."

Since Romney's a business man, I'm sure he's taken a gander at charts and graphs, and knows what he's talking about. So either he's seen this same chart and is lying, or he hasn't and he's trying to pass himself off as more knowledgeable than he claims. Either way, he's full of bunk. You don't have to be a business man with international trade experience to see that in terms of trade deficit, the practice of supply-side economics hasn't helped us to be competitive, and the former Massachusetts Governor is full of it. Romney went on to attack the same Supreme Court that helped the current President win a controversial election, as "liberal."
"Is a Supreme Court Decision liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with Constitutional rights?"

I dunno, Mitt. Why don't you ask Al-Jazeera cameraman, Sami al-Hajj, who was subjected to "enhanced interrogation" - not to find out what he knew about terrorist networks, but to press him about the news organization that he worked for. Romney's statement also pretends that the recent conservative victory in the United States Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which gun rights were upheld as absolute, simply didn't happen. I find it fascinating that a man just this year was struggling to sell himself as a mainstream Christian, has the audacity to take exception to the notion that people have a right not to be held indefinitely without having charges brought against them; that such people, whether enemy combatants or innocent civilians, should be subjected torture - just as Senator John McCain was - is frankly an extremist view. Romney can call this "political correctness" if he chooses, but if he fails to see the contradiction inherent in his statement, he is both foolish and immoral. Then he insults anyone who's been watching FISA:

"It's time for the party of big ideas, not the party of Big Brother."

Since Mitt brought it up, FISA had the complete support of Senate Republicans - including John McCain - with the exception for Phil Graham, who didn't vote on the measure. The votes in opposition were Democrats, with Sens. Clinton and Obama joining Graham in pretending that it didn't matter.

I pick on Romney because he is an extremist - supposedly farther to the right than any other politician in this race. But he once said that we should "double Guantanamo" - which will require more government spending on holding more people who may not even be terrorists. He blames big government on "liberals," though most of the "growing [of] government" that he talks about happened on the Republican watch. And then, there's his record of being pro-choice: I know he's a Mormon and is in no-wise in favor of abortion; but he found it politically expedient to hold a "leftist" view for the sake of winning an election. Let the record show, however, that Clinton and Obama, both of whom repudiated John McCain for not voting on the new GI Bill, didn't vote on FISA either; that Clinton (and all Senate Democrats, except Russ Feingold) voted to invade Iraq; and that Obama voted against FEMA being allowed to take personal firearms in the event of a natural disaster.

There is no right, no left. It is an arbitrary label upon which political careers are hung and ideologies are fought over. We see conservatives who favor liberal government when it suits their ends and liberals who favor a return to constitutional conservatism when it means creating contrast between themselves and an unpopular President. But the liberal/conservative dichotomy really reflects the limitations of a political landscape written in the binary language of for/against, yea/nay - 1/0. We have the language and the capacity to evolve into a multi-party system, in which multiple opposing views can be expressed. But Romney's speech is salient for one other reason: it brings to bear extreme notions deeply embedded in his religious psyche: good and evil. And to him, Muslims - not just terrorists - are evil, and Christians are good. And it is this kind of absolutist thinking that keeps the American political structure firmly in the grasp of binary.

Monday, September 1, 2008

McCain, Palin and Gustav: The GOP Faces the Perfect Storm

If you're still scratching your head about Republican Presumptive Presidential Nominee, John McCain's Vice Presidential pick, Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, you might also be asking why he's rushed headlong into a hurricane. After literally eating cake while Katrina destroyed New Orleans, Senator McCain appears to be seeking redemption through the destructive force of the category 2 Gustav.

Independents: are you honestly buying this?

I know that the once liberal mass media has closed ranks around McCain, stifling giggles as well as outrage at McCain's choice of running mate, then scrambling desperately as one after another of her scandals have trickled out - despite the GOPedia's best efforts to stem the tide. First, her ethics violations came out. Then, we're expected not to believe our eyes when we see an allegedly third-trimester pregnancy looking as lean as she did seven months earlier; not to mention the miraculous story of her water breaking in Texas - which, conveniently, no one knew about - and then a woman having her allegedly fifth child managed to somehow hold it until the plane reached Alaska, some eight hours later, without complaining about contractions. Even if she's telling the truth, any other woman would be in jail for child endangerment. Further, how does a parent with a Downs baby make time for a political career? Who's taking care of this kid? Oh, that's right, she has a seventeen year old daughter at home, who's conveniently five months pregnant to dispell the dreaded "internet rumours."

Five months? Of course it's conveniently five months. Six months would raise the Republican's favorite tool of campaigning, the auld October Surprise - as in, "SURPRISE! No baby, and she's still not showing (just like mom)!" And four months pregnant wouldn't work either, since Trig was born in April. Pardon me, former Miss Congeniality, Alaska, but would you mind releasing your medical records - and a certified ultrasound for your daughter? Oh, and a DNA test of yourself, your daughter and your "son" for comparative purposes, if that's not too much trouble.

But Sarah Palin aside, why is Senator McCain going to Mississippi? Come on, Independents; don't tell me you think McCain isn't politicizing Gustav. I know that the GOPedia, including Time magazine, CNN and the major networks have their talking points in hand (and aren't ashamed to use them), but we're Independents! We're smart enough to read between the lines, believe our eyes, and not fall for the magic bullets that history is heir to. Senator McCain couldn't show more cynicism toward the city of New Orleans if he were to say, "Category 2 - that's not so bad. When I was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, we had a real hurricane . . ." (Joe Lieberman pulls him aside, whispering in his ear, McCain nods, then returns to the mic), "Excuse me, it was a tsunami."

By going there, Senator McCain diverts law enforcement personnel from their vital tasks, such as controlling looting and rescuing people who aren't there for photo-ops. Yet the mainstream media unashamedly praise him for his choice to go to the Gulf of Mexico, just as they've managed to put on straight faces to rescue him from his self-inflicted disaster of choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. Why haven't they asked him if he's seeking political redemption for Katrina? Why haven't they asked him why he's diverting these key personnel during a crisis? And why haven't they asked him if this isn't just more cynical politicking?

People died in Katrina. Died while Senator McCain and his beloved George W. Bush ate cake together. And now, as a means of distracting us from the sea of scandal swirling around his choice of running mate - whose only real qualifications seem to be a wealth of experience in the type of cronyism we, as a nation, have been forced to endure these last eight years - uses real tragedy as yet another Rovian weapon from the "permanent campaign" arsenal of distraction, fear and misinformation.

We're smarter than this, Independents. John McCain, who we have revered for his maverick legislative style, his straight talk and his forthrightness, for whatever reason, is no longer that person. His judgement on selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate without vetting her - arguably the most important decision he will make before entering the White House - was not sound. His decision to go to the Gulf of Mexico during a time of crisis and potential tragedy was both political and self-serving. No matter what the mainstream press tells us, we have eyes, ears, memories and minds. We read between the lines because the media are unwilling to print the facts without spinning them. We seek alternative news sources to find the pieces that the corporate press has left out all together. And then, somewhere in the garble of spin, misinformation and non-information, we converge to expose a corrupt and unreliable "Fourth Arm of Government."

AKA, John McCain's base.

Update: Hurricane Gustav has been downgraded to a category 1 as it moves inland toward the Louisiana-Texas border. It is thought that little damage occured, and due to the evacutions, the casualties are expected to be low. We can breathe a sigh of relief that this time, at least, tragedy wasn't in the cards. It also shows that we can learn from the lessons of history: evacuation saves lives.