Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The One Party System

We often read about leaders and governments “over there” that have elections that involve a single political party and the pundits and talking heads wax on and on about how unfortunate those citizens are. They talk about how much better they would be if they were exposed to our democracy, multiple Parties that provide choices and different philosophies. Unfortunately the truth is that we don’t have a multi-party system either and haven’t had one for awhile. We in the US feign democracy and tell ourselves we live in the most free nation on earth while in reality we in the US have long abdicated our responsibilities as citizens of a free society.

In a nation where barely half of all eligible voters actually vote, with voter disenfranchisement growing with every election cycle, and with new election laws restricting voter participation rather than encouraging it. We have long ago retired from the political process to pursue consumerism. Elections don’t really matter so long as they continue to feed the monster. No sacrifice and no surrender of the American “way of life”. We don’t want to hear about savings, we don’t want to hear about cutting back, and we don’t want to hear about fuel efficiency. In the midst of a thirty year energy crisis rather than cutting back and downsizing we became addicted to the largest vehicles in the history of automobiles.

We complain about the political system and the politicians but we don’t do anything to change it. We no longer have a multi-party system, in stead it has been replaced by a single party system. The single party system we now have is incumbency. Politicians today are concerned with only one thing, to be re-elected. Many of them begin campaigning right after coming to Washington. The founding fathers never conceived of career politicians, the concept was never even considered. They just assumed that our system would promote turn over among our public officials. Somewhere there has been a disconnect between what they had envisioned and what we have today. The political system we have today is a mockery of the original design of the founders of this nation.

When your major concern as a public servant is getting re-elected this prevents you from having any real convictions. It prevents you from making any tough decisions, because your main focus is fund-raising you follow the funding. The main funding is coming from special interests and corporations so all legislation is tilted towards those groups. Public officials today no longer work for the good of the country, today they work for re-election. The truth is that it doesn’t matter whether they are Republican or Democratic, they have all abandoned the people who they are suppose to be protecting. I believe that if the founders of this nation could see the system we have today they would not be able to recognize it. And the sad truth is that we have allowed it to happen through apathy and the pursuit of selfish pleasure.

A perfect example of this modern phenomenon is the case of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Senator Stevens is a six-term Senator. It is written that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The case of the senator from Alaska is a portrait in corruption and the arrogance of power. Senator Stevens has been a senator for forty years and in that time he has amassed a personal fortune as a public servant. The senator has been at the center of political controversy for many years, he has been a poster child for “pork barrel” spending and questionable donations. He is the builder of the “bridge to nowhere” and the “airport for no one”. Yet despite his obvious disdain for the American people and what is best for them, he has won every election with an average of 66% of the vote. Currently the Senator is under indictment on corruption charges. No public official should ever be allowed to stay in office for this long. It doesn’t matter who it is or what Party they belong to.

Washington is currently broken, it is broken because of this party of incumbency. The election of 2006 is another prime example of this phenomenon. The Democrats campaigned on the issue of ending the war or at least making the White House more accountable with the purse strings. Needless to say because of political pressure and fear of losing they did nothing. They allowed themselves to be bullied by a President with a 30% approval rating, despite the fact that the majority of people wanted the war to end. So rather than doing what is right for the country and standing for one of the most important issues of our time they are more concerned with re-election. Senator Reid and House leader Pelosi are typical of this attitude of appeasement for the sake of political expediency and in the process we all lose.

The list could go on and on. There would be the torture issue, the loss of personal freedoms, and of course the military tribunals in Gitmo. We are now facing a housing crisis, an economy that is tanking, and gas prices that are through the roof. With our country facing these monumental issues what can we expect from our representatives? Absolutely nothing. Unless one Party has an absolute majority no one will have the courage or be able to overcome the politics of obstruction now so prevalent in American politics. The American people have taken a back seat to re-election politics. Unless we begin to demand term limits and remove those who would rather obstruct than to govern, we can expect little to change.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Bankrupt Nation

It is becoming more apparent with each passing day that the American lifestyle as it currently exist is unsustainable. For more than three decades we have accepted the false narrative that we can live beyond our means and there will be no cost for the extravagance. Not only has our government accepted and promoted this falsehood, but we as a nation have accepted it as well. It has become so engrained into our national psyche that anyone who dares to point out its inherent flaws is immediately ridiculed by politicians, the media, and their fellow citizens. You see rather than looking at the real culprits of our failed domestic and foreign policies we want to create these “bogeymen” who want to destroy our sacred way of life. The truth is that it is always easier to blame others for our shortsightedness and faults.

For more than three decades we have been taught and believe that if we could just change the world into our image all of our problems would be solved. The latest and a perfect example of this strategy was our response to the 9/11 attack. After being attacked our first response and really our only response was to say if we can only change those godless and depraved Arabs and the Middle East to be more like us this would prevent anymore attacks. Now think about that response for a minute. They hate us for our freedoms so our answer is to offer them those same freedoms? Rather than sit down and analyze the situation and the causes behind the attacks, we commit ourselves to this “global war on terror”. A war in which no one seemed to have considered the cost in lives, material, and national psychology. We developed this strategy that the way you prevent war is by starting wars. No one considered the truth about military power, that it has limited effects on the outcome of international events.

You see we live in a country where following the Cold War we believed that we were invincible. We believed the hype that we were the only “Super Power” and that by being such we were entitled to exert our control (influence)over the rest of the world. That we could solve not only all of our problems, but the rest of the world’s problems by using our forces to recast the world in our image. I mean after all it worked in Germany and Japan didn’t it? This belief or thought pattern is not exclusive to Republicans or Democrats, it is deeply seated in all of us. The sooner we acknowledge this fact the sooner we will be able to address it and that in stead of demagoguery we should look in the mirror and see that we have found the enemy and it is us. It is this insane belief that we can continue to enjoy this lifestyle without paying for it that continues to fuel our downfall. Somewhere there has been this disconnect on Main street and in Washington that there is this unlimited supply of money, credit, energy, food, etc. and that if we just change them or drill more or buy more we can solve all of our problems.

The only President in recent times that had the temerity to begin the discussion of how we were on the road to bankruptcy was ridiculed and loss in a landslide to the king of false hopes. Jimmy Carter in his now infamous “malaise” speech said some very thought provoking things. He tried to tell America that we could not continue on this road of consumerism based in living on credit, foreign oil, and importing all of our products. He stated that we had switched from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers. He stated that we had begun to rely to heavily on others to do what we had once done for ourselves and that ruin lay at the end of that road.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure...The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

We can manage the short-term shortages more effectively and we will, but there are no short-term solutions to our long-range problems. There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice.[1]

I would ask anyone interested in the subject of what we are facing as a nation to please read the speech in it’s entirety. I would also dare anyone to deny how so many of the issues and proposed actions given by Carter were not at least a beginning to resolving the same problems we are facing still. If we had initiated some of the solutions proposed by President Carter I doubt we would be facing the problems today to the magnitude that we are. But of course he was immediately branded a pessimist and a loser, it kills me how so many people say tell us the truth we can handle it. Well, when someone decided to try that radical strategy we see how it was received.

The truth be told we as a nation are on the verge of losing what little democracy we had. We have decided for the sake of consumerism and expediency to abdicate our rights to control our government. We no longer believe in government by the people for the people. We want to make all of the tough problems go away by outsourcing them to the poor, the mentally weak, and the uneducated. So long as we can continue to feed our vigorous appetites for more of everything. Every President since Carter has won elections by promising one thing; that we could continue to live this irresponsible lifestyle without any sacrifice. We could have our bullets and butter at the same time. We could extend American power without having to give up anything. Sacrifice and hard work which were once the bedrock of the American experience are now viewed as negatives and old fashioned.

The days of the free lunch are quickly coming to an end. We can no longer continue to live beyond our means. Most Americans have maxed out not only their credit cards, but their mortgages and retirements. Our government and business leaders have resorted to borrowing from foreign countries to finance our debt spending spree with little or no concern about the strategic repercussions of these decisions. They would have us to believe that we are safe from foreign intervention or pressure from our indebtedness. As if the borrower has the power over the lender through sheer military force. It they don’t give us what we want then we will destroy and take what we want.

We as a nation must use this crisis as a starting point to return to production and innovation. We could use this opportunity to create an alternate energy source industry and production. When Senator Obama proposed such an idea he was immediately ridiculed. It is this type of closed minded, corporate financed rhetoric that has to stop if we are ever going to overcome the problems that beset us. Thirty years after President Carter’s speech we are still no closer to finding and using alternative energy technologies. We are still locked into the mindset that we can dig more holes and destroy more of the earth to solve our problems without any sacrifice. The snake oil propaganda must stop and stop now.

[1] http://www.eoearth.org/article/Jimmy_Carter's__malaise_speech_

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The End of The Civil Rights Movement?

It is ironic that with the ascension of the Barack Obama candidacy many people believe that it is ringing the death knell for the civil rights movement as we have known it. After 50 years of struggle, are we reaching the end of the movement that has defined the state of black America for decades? Has America or more importantly the black community outgrown the type of politics and confrontational style of the previous generation? Is black America better served by the rhetoric of reconciliation and personal responsibility being touted by Senator Obama. The answer largely depends on who you ask.

The roster of supporters for the two Democratic candidates I think speaks volumes about the generational fissures being displayed on the national stage in the black political arena. While the majority of civil rights leaders of the past came out in full force for Senator Hillary Clinton, the newer black political leaders supported Senator Obama. How could there be such a disconnect between the two groups who supposedly want to achieve the same goals? The most vocal critic of Jesse Jackson after his ill-advised comments concerning Senator Obama was his own son, the younger Jackson stated that he was “deeply outraged and disappointed” by the comments. There is a palpable stench of jealousy and envy surrounding the Obama campaign emanating from the early civil rights leaders.

Many of whom have never welcomed the Senator because they view him as an outsider. Some may even believe like many wing-nuts that he is not fully invested in America. Maybe it is because he doesn’t share the heritage of slavery or the legacy of Jim Crow, but the truth be told while many publically support him they also don’t trust him. You would think that the Obama campaign would be seen as the culmination of decades of hard work and sacrifice on the part of the civil rights leaders, but unfortunately it is not. His ability to garner support from large numbers of whites and his references to personal responsibility have won him few friends among the black elders.

The growing riff between the elder civil rights leaders and the new class of black leaders is not new. There has been a push by younger more educated blacks to unseat older black elected officials for close to a decade. The younger black candidates do not share the experiences of their elder counterparts with the fire hoses, police dogs, and blatant racism. They recognize that racism has become more subtle and that new methods must be developed to combat it. The older civil rights leaders continue to cling to the politics of confrontation and blame. The problem with this strategy is that it loses some credibility when there is no discussion of individual responsibility.

When you have more black men in prison than in college, more than 70% of black children are being raised in single female homes, and the institution of marriage is all but forgotten in the black community then it might be time to adjust strategies which the older civil rights leaders seem to be unable or unwilling to do. Sometimes when you are so close to a situation it is difficult to see it clearly. It is hard to know you’re in a forest if you continue to stare at one tree. That tree for many years has been race at the exclusion of so many other variables that are plaguing the black community. For many years it was unthinkable or unimaginable for a politician or celebrity to comment on or to publically expose those self defeating behaviors that plague black America. It was looked upon as treasonous to talk about the internal misfortunes in the presence of whites. Part of the reason I think some of those elder black leaders had a problem with Senator Obama was his refusal to play the game by their rules.

According to their rules he would have to bow at the feet of previous civil rights leaders regardless of their current status in the community or their ability to deliver anything more than memories. You see Senator Obama did not pay his dues; not only has he not paid his dues but the growing crop of new black leaders have not either. These new young upstarts are not keeping the focus on the real enemy of black people; racism. Instead they are no longer identifying themselves as black politicians or as speaking for blacks only. They are willing to reach out to white voters and represent all voters.

Many of the old black politicians and leaders came up in a time when the best a black politician could hope for was a congressional seat or a mayor’s office. Usually the mayor’s office was in some urban center with a reduced tax base, failing schools, and a decaying infrastructure. Many of them also came from the black pulpits and felt as if they not only represented the black community but also spoke for it. The other blacks were unable to speak out about the deplorable conditions they faced so it was up to the empowered clergy/politicians to address these issues. The newest round of black politicians are college educated, some even at prestigious schools and are just as comfortable with diverse groups as they are with black voters. They refuse to be pigeonholed as “black” politicians, instead preferring to be referred to as politicians who happen to be black.

As the black community is facing enormous challenges both internal and external there are many voices that want Senator Obama to tilt his campaign towards these issues. The problem is that as a candidate for President of the United States it would be political suicide for Senator Obama to follow those voices. Senator Obama should not be required to fill the gap vacated by the “so-called” black leaders nor should he be expected to have to prove his “blackness”. How bewildering it must be for those older black leaders to see the culmination of all their efforts being realized in Senator Obama and they not being able to recognize it. I guess one should be careful what one wishes for.

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