Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Cost of Victory

The ultimate decision about what is accepted as right and wrong will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the disappearance of the groups that have adhered to the "wrong" beliefs. - Friedrich August von Hayek

As the President begins his victory laps and the pundicracy begins to fall back in line by touting the recent passage of some historic legislation I think it is important that we remember what the cost of these victories has been and what it will be in the future. So let’s be clear it took 700 billion dollars to get the Republicans to enact legislation that the majority of Americans supported. Is paying the ransom to the kidnappers a victory? I do not want to appear as if I am raining on the President and the Congress’ parade but the reason this legislation got passed was not because the Dems finally realized they had a majority that was due to expire or that the Republicans finally decided that bi-partisanship was worth pursuing, it was because the Dems gave them 700 billion dollars.

What we have seen the last few weeks is how our legislative system was created to work. Legislation was proposed, debated, and voted on. The only problem is that in America for our political process to work it took a bribe of 700 billion dollars. Welcome to the banana republic of America where payoffs and kickbacks are required to do the people’s business. The fact that everyone is so thrilled that the process worked just demonstrates how truly broken our system is. Forgive me but I will not celebrate this process as a victory. It may be a victory for this President but it is not a victory for the American people. The question we must ask is simply this, is any one President’s personal political survival worth giving up our principles? The repeal of DADT is an historic achievement by this President but at what costs?

Some may say that I am being overly dramatic but I don’t think so. By making the concessions that this President and Congress have made they have created two very big problems in the coming years. The first is that they have embolden the wing-nuts to take more hostages and this will be played out following the holidays when they begin debating the budget for the fiscal year of 2011 since no spending bill was passed this year. Anyone who thinks that what has happened recently will ring in this era of compromise from the wing-nuts is in for a rude awakening. Their constant refrain has been and will continue to be that everything must be paid for except tax-cuts for the wealthy. Now that they have delivered on the tax-cuts they will focus their attention on paying for them through cuts to our social safety nets. Funding for health and financial reform will be their first targets followed by our regulatory apparatus.

The second problem will be that by accepting the wing-nut philosophy of tax-cuts the President has now opened the door for negotiations on Medicare and Social Security. Based on how they have negotiated thus far I am not convinced that these programs will remain intact. The wing-nuts have learned that if you say something loud enough and enough times it becomes fact and in this case it will be that we can no longer afford these programs. The wing-nuts don’t want to “pull the plug” on granny they just want to work her to death. Make no mistake about it Social Security and all of the other safety net programs we have come to accept will now be re-litigated and are now negotiable. Were the legislative victories of the last few weeks worth dismantling the last 50 years of liberal values and programs?

Unlike many of my progressive and liberal friends I am not calling for a primary challenge of this President. To me this would be counterproductive and would allow a group that I know does not represent anything I support to come to power and this to me would be foolish. I am not a purist but I refuse to accept that everything is negotiable. There has to be some principles that are not open for debate or negotiation. I refuse to accept this false moral equivalency being promoted by the media and funded by the wealthy. There is no moral equivalency between funding unemployment for those ravaged by the greed of Wall Street and the huge bonuses for those same Wall Streeters. There is no moral equivalency between funding the medical expenses for first responders and tax-cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Our job as progressives and as liberals is not to fall in line with the pundits and the apologist but to remain true to our visions and our principles that we may keep the light burning for those who may lose their way in the darkness. If those who seek our support will not stand for our principles then it is incumbent upon us to find those who will be willing to stand and create our own vehicles for success.

As long as we continue to allow these clowns the cover of moral equivalency then they will continue to take hostages. Our government has to become more representative of the people. We cannot continue to allow Senators from under populated and safe states to undermine the will of the majority of Americans. There is no moral equivalency between someone who represents 100,000 people and someone who represents a 1,000,000 people and by allowing this travesty to continue we will continue to have these obstructionists holding the rest of the country hostage.

Enjoy your victory Mr. President but know that those who were preparing your demise continue to lie in wait with their steely knives and their deceptive smiles.

In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him for then it costs nothing to be a patriot. - Mark Twain

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Failure of Liberalism

I think experience will teach you a combination of liberalism and conservatism. We have to be progressive and at the same time we have to retain values. We have to hold onto the past as we explore the future. – Oliver Stone

One of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century has been the decline of liberalism and the ascendancy of conservatism. While there are many opinions for the cause of this phenomenon the one that is the most fraudulent is that America is a conservative nation. This false premise has been propagated by those who want to maintain some fictitious sense of America’s past and a desire to reverse the progress we have achieved. Over the course of the last 50 years they have steadily and persistently chipped away at those ideas which defined liberalism (shared sacrifice, equality, and shared responsibility) and replaced them with greed, selfishness, and special interests while simultaneously demonizing liberalism as socialism.

Unfortunately, those of us who call ourselves liberals and subscribe to those principles that not only provided freedom, equality, and dignity to blacks and women, but also created the largest middle-class the world has ever known have allowed what we have accomplished to be tarnished and vilified. Unions which offered working-class Americans with livable wages, benefits, and organization became excessive and corrupt allowing themselves to be marginalized and thus laying the foundation for the corporate takeover of our political process. Without ongoing political organizations like unions to balance the scale the American worker has seen their share of the American Dream shrink while at the same time the wealthy class has seen their share increase to historic levels. While this is not a new phenomenon without the counterbalance of unions and organized political dissent the wealthy have been able to transform the political landscape in such a way that while the American worker is one of, if not the most productive worker in the world and yet they have seen their industries shipped overseas and their wages reduced or become stagnant.

The failure of liberalism is that while we focused on the physical aspects of inequality and poverty we did little to focus on the psychological effects of these issues. To use the analogy of “cream” rising to the top as that happens what is left at the bottom is more concentrated and more difficult to rise. You get less cream rising to the top and more sediment at the bottom. That sediment becomes more intransigent and begins to develop a mindset of poverty. Unfortunately today America is suffering from a large segment of our population with both situational poverty and generational poverty. Many of the people who are now dealing with situational poverty (poverty caused by a situation such as unemployment, medical reasons, etc.) will find it more difficult to overcome these circumstances as we face large unemployment as the new normal. Those suffering from generational poverty (poverty that has lasted over multiple generations) will find it next to impossible to overcome their external as well internal obstacles.

A couple of generations ago we had a strong manufacturing base that could absorb many of these low-skilled workers and offer them a pathway out of poverty. Today there are fewer opportunities for these workers to make a livable wage and move out of poverty. Because there is no longer a connection between effort and benefits or success we now have an intransigent underclass which is mostly urban and mostly black that lacks the opportunities to become middle-class and also lacks the desire to put in the work. Overcoming poverty requires hard work on the part of the individual to overcome the many obstacles designed to prevent their success and there appears to be an attitude among many of our young people that success no longer requires hard work. They instead seem to believe that there are short-cuts and easy money. It is important to be prepared for the opportunities but opportunity must also exist.

What we failed to realize is that while the fight to reduce poverty and inequality to us are self-evident concepts worthy of support there are many people who view them as collateral damage of capitalism. We falsely assumed that most caring people agreed with our position and supported the fight that has been waged yet there has been a slow erosion through materialism and greed undermining our social safety net and demonizing those who rely on it. We have not done a good enough job of combating the immorality of their argument and have allowed them to couch it in economics. Instead of it being our moral obligation to help those less fortunate, the weak, and the aged it has now come down to we can’t afford them. We can afford to give tax-cuts to the wealthy and corporations but we can’t afford to help the poor and less fortunate.

If we are to overcome the propaganda of the wealthy to demean and undermine the needy then we have to once again regain our moral footing and call out these tactics and their proponents for who and what they are. We must also be willing to address the excesses of our programs and be willing to innovate to overcome the intransigence of poverty. It is difficult to make the case for “food instability” while at the same time we have high rates of juvenile and adult obesity in these same communities. There is and has been a concerted effort on the part of the wealthy to undermine our social safety net. It has become fashionable to label the poor as lazy and morally bankrupt, but it wasn’t the poor who extorted billions of dollars from our economy, it wasn’t the poor who nearly brought our economic system to the brink of collapse, and it certainly wasn’t the poor who requested and received billions of dollars in wealth transfer.

There is this talk about class-warfare and I find it amazing that the only time we have this conversation is when the wealthy are being asked to contribute. I didn’t hear the term class-warfare when the rich were asking for TARP, bail-outs, and tax cuts. Hmmm, I wonder why? I guess it isn’t a transfer of wealth if it is going up only when it is comes trickling down.

My generation of the Sixties, with all our great ideals, destroyed liberalism, because of our excesses. - Camille Paglia

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Older Unemployed and Social Security Reform

But that does not seem to matter, not for her and not for a growing number of people in their 50s and 60s who desperately want or need to work to pay for retirement and who are starting to worry that they may be discarded from the work force — forever...Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older. Nearly half of them have been unemployed six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate in the group — 7.3 percent — is at a record, more than double what it was at the beginning of the latest recession. - New York Times

One of the least covered issues facing this country is the growing number of older workers who are now unemployed and who because of it have gone through their savings, investments, and retirement accounts and who may never become employed again. Many of these workers had planned to retire with their savings and retirement accounts to supplement their Social Security and now they will have to rely entirely on the government for their retirement and medical needs. While this is a tragedy in and of itself, the real calamity is that not only will these people be old and poor but they have become the means by which the wealthy has decided to balance the budget. The really sad thing is that many of them will also be highly in debt and will spend their golden years struggling to survive.

As a nation we have decided that our best years are behind us and we are determined to repeat them especially the “Gilded Age”. If the wealthy and the wing-nuts have their way not only will there be no retirement accounts for many but there will also be little if any Social Security to sustain them. Folks this isn’t about class warfare, this isn’t about being envious or hating on the rich, and this isn’t even about taxes, this is about what is the fundamental character of this country. Many of these workers through no fault of their own have found themselves unemployed through downsizing and the “great recession” created by the same folks who want to displace them from the only thing that will separate them from elderly poverty the likes of which we haven’t seen since prior to Social Security.

The insidiousness of what the wealthy are trying to do with Social Security reform is that they recognize that not only is America getting older, but also the aged are going to have fewer resources. Prior to the real estate bubble crashing many of these workers had already racked up tremendous debt using their homes as credit cards which they will be carry into retirement. This environment will cause many people to have to continue to work beyond retirement and thus increasing the pressure to extend the retirement age for Social Security. I suppose the thinking will be since they can’t afford to retire anyway we may as well hold off on their government checks. The unfortunate aspect of all of this is that the wealthy through their minions have convinced a number of Americans to believe that these programs have become obsolete and a waste of taxpayer money. The main impetus of this strategy is to blame the poor and the elderly mantra casting them as lazy and a drain on society.

These were the same folks who lambasted this administration for “pulling the plug” on grandma during the health-care reform debate. I guess they want the elderly to live, but only in poverty. The strategy is the same in all of their proposals. They fight for the unborn until they are born then they are on their own. They refuse to provide for their education, to stabilize their families, or offer a pathway out of poverty besides their bumper sticker rhetoric. It is obvious they see the writing on the wall and realize that in order to address the long-term structural problems of this nation revenues will have to be increased so in their usual preemptive fashion they are laying the groundwork to minimize their portion or to shift those obligations to others. It is becoming painfully clear that reducing spending will not be enough but I guess they have adopted a scorched earth policy to squeeze as much from the most vulnerable as they can before we even begin to discuss increasing revenues.

I predict in the coming years that poverty amongst the elderly will increase dramatically as they watch their investments being looted, their homes being devalued, and their pensions disappear. These won’t be people who were marginally involved in our economic system but people who had worked hard and played by the rules but who have become expendable like so many before them. These people will be the collateral damage of globalization and free trade. Those who have profited from these strategies will continue to obstruct and demonize any policies to help those they have sacrificed for their own gain. We can continue to ignore the coming catastrophe by clinging to the fear and uncertainty being propagated by the wealthy or we can take a cue from our European brethren and demand that the system begin to work for the 98% for whom it no longer does.

If we refuse to act then many of our parents and relatives who have been replaced way before their time will become the new faces of poverty. Millions of workers will be too young for retirement and too old to work in a shrinking job market. They will have no health-care, no savings, and plenty of debt as they float in this purgatory of not knowing what their future will hold. In this backdrop the true character of America will emerge and to be honest I am not sure what that character will be. The more I read comments from folks extolling the virtues of giving the wealthy more the less hopeful I am for the future.

“You know, if I listened to him [Michael Dukakis] long enough, I would be convinced we're in an economic downturn and people are homeless and going without food and medical attention and that we've got to do something about the unemployed.” - Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Selective Amnesia

You don’t have to abandon your principles to cut a deal. You just have to acknowledge that there are other people in the world and even a president doesn’t get to stamp his foot and have his way…They believe nonliberals are blackmailers or hostage-takers or the concentrated repositories of human evil, so, of course, they see coalition-building as collaboration. They are also convinced that Democrats should never start a negotiation because they will always end up losing in the end.David Brooks

This is what drives me crazy. Why is it that if Dems stick to their guns they are called immature or irrational but when the wing-nuts do it is a principled stand or a policy difference? Let me clear this up for you Mr. Brooks when you hold up 98% of Americans tax relief for the benefit of the wealthiest 2% by borrowing money from foreign countries and mortgaging our future that is not a difference in policy and that is not negotiating. It is blackmail pure and simple. So my question is how do you build coalitions with people who are willing to block all legislation until they get their way? Sounds to me like they are stomping their feet or holding their breath, but I am no student of politics like you.

Here in a nutshell is why Dems can never maintain the majorities like they did following WWII, they have lost the art of politics. It has only been two short years since one of the worst President’s in the history of America left office and they were given majorities in both Houses and the White House and now they are on the outside looking in. This is the same President who stomped his feet and invaded another country under false pretenses, who passed two tax-cut bills for the wealthy, and presided over the collapse of our economy. Remember how the wing-nuts were on the verge of regionalism and extinction as a major political party? What happened? Most Dems think that the power of their arguments and the strength of their ideas will carry the day. If we just educate the public to what we are trying to accomplish of course they will side with us. No, they won’t. You are bringing a knife to a bazooka fight and you are getting killed.

People on Madison Avenue make a boatload of money figuring out how to sell crap to a bunch of people who don’t need it. I mean really do you need a 500.00 cell phone? The wing-nuts have brought those same tactics to politics and the media. They have used branding to not make the country completely conservative, just more conservative than it was 30 years ago. So now the center is no longer the center. You now have Dems espousing former wing-nut positions as if they were now mainstream and rational.

The Dems refuse to call what the wing-nuts are doing for what it really is, immoral. During the healthcare debate it was never couched in terms of its immorality to allow the insurance companies to continue doing what they were doing to people. Is it immoral to have people dying, going broke, or be uninsurable because they happen to have gotten sick in America? No, it became an economic issue. The same thing is happening today concerning the tax-cuts. It isn’t about morality and fairness it is about economics. As long as Dems continue to allow the wing-nuts to frame their positions in purely economic terms they will continue to be defensible. We are just having a difference of opinion about economic policy so the rational thing to do is to split the difference. As if connecting Social Security, unemployment insurance, tuition support, and earned income tax credits with tax breaks for the rich is morally equivalent. And as long as we continue to allow the wing-nuts and their talking heads to get away with creating this false moral equivalency argument we will continue to lose.

What is going on in America today is not about economics, it is about strategically weakening and eventually removing our safety nets and our middle-class. Think about it what better time to set this in motion than when we were are in the midst of the “great recession” and everyone is fearful and trying to hang on to what little they have. This is no time to increase taxes, this is no time to increase infrastructure spending, this is no time to think about the environment. Basically this is no time to do anything but continue to provide the wealthiest more assistance because we know that if they drink enough champagne eventually some will trickle down on us. Of course it may be a little warm and discolored. This is about shared sacrifice and not about class warfare as the wing-nuts and wealthy apologists continue to claim. If I am receiving most of the benefits isn’t it only fair that in times of crisis I be willing to give back more than those who are not. This isn’t about economics it is about the so-called “Christian values” these folks are so proud to espouse and criticize liberals for not having until it actually requires having to live up to them. I am a Christian unless that means I have to stand up for the poor and sick against those who fund my campaigns, or my reality shows, or my library additions.

You did get one thing right Mr. Brooks we do believe that “these” Dems should never enter into negotiations because as the record plainly demonstrates they have a tendency to capitulate before any punches are thrown. This isn’t about purist versus non-purists it is about basic fairness or have you lost sight of that concept. After the way the teabaggers purified the last election how anyone could accuse the Dems as purist is beyond me. Again, it is how the media covers the traits of the two parties. Wing-nut intransigence and obstructionism is doing the people’s will, but you Dems are just being a bunch of crybabies and whiners. Buck up. The wing-nuts are forcing the Dems to take all of the tough votes so that no matter how it plays out they win. If you allow the tax-cuts to expire you raised taxes, if you put in the tax-cuts you have increased the deficit, and if the economy doesn’t turn around then it was your wasteful spending. Call me crazy but if you are going to get it no matter what, then you might as well do the right thing.

The main problem I have with all of this is that we are about to put more money into tax-cuts than we did in the original stimulus bill. Since when did cutting taxes become a Democratic solution to anything? No, Mr. Brooks it isn’t coalition building when you take on the policies of your adversaries. Would it have been negotiation with al-Qaeda if we had agreed to no longer recognize Israel in exchange for anything? If you begin to change your policies to match the opposition to get their approval that isn’t coalition building or collaboration, it is capitulation and that Mr. Brooks is what has so many angry. There was a time when we knew what the Dems stood for. Today the more I read and hear the less I know what they stand for.

If the administration wants cooperation, it will have to begin to move in our direction. - Mitch McConnell
The Disputed Truth

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Armageddon Again

I think that this is a long and winding process. But I think at the end of the day, members are not going to want to be in their districts, senators are not going to want to be in their districts when their constituents find out on the 1st of January that their taxes have gone up by several thousand dollars. - Robert Gibbs/Press Secretary

Can someone help me out here; why is it that every time the wealthy in this country are facing any type of loss of income through taxes or corporate malfeasance the situation becomes the onset of Armageddon for the rest of us? Remember the beginning of this “recession” at the end of the Bush Administration that was brought on by the investment community and bankers gambling with our economy? We were on the brink of Armageddon and had to pony up 800 billion dollars to rescue our economy which was being held hostage by the same people who were handing out multi-million dollar bonuses right up until the day of the bail-out.

Now two years later we are faced with another Armageddon this time over tax-cuts for the wealthy. If we don’t extend all the tax-cuts we will have another “great recession”, the stock market will tank, and we will suffer double-digit unemployment. Really. That’s funny when Bill Clinton enacted them not only did our economy not go into free fall, but it actually laid the foundation for one our biggest economic expansions. I agree with Mr. Tom Buffenbarger, President of the Machinist Union when he said that when the Bush tax-cuts were enacted his members who make a decent living barely felt any change and so having them expire will have little effect. He went on to state that for his members it is about sacrifice for the good of the country and if paying a few hundred dollars a year to insure the long-term health of America they would consider it an honor. It would be an honor because they still have jobs.

The problem today is that no one wants to sacrifice especially the wealthiest and most fortunate amongst us. Some people say that letting all of the tax-cuts expire would be just a symbolic ploy to stick it to the wealthy and would hurt working folks more. I could not disagree more. This isn’t about sending a message to the wealthy; this is about the very nature and future of this country. At some point the middle-class and poor have to take a stand and say enough is enough before there won’t be any middle-class left. If I hear Lawrence O’Donnell scream at one more guest concerning the 50% increase in the tax rate for the lowest brackets I am going to scream. Yes on paper and how Mr. O’Donnell is framing the question does appear ominous but the truth is that those lower brackets would not see a substantial increase in taxes just as they did not see any substantial relief when they were enacted.

I understand that the President promoted himself during the campaign as a pragmatist and not an ideologue. I get that. What I don’t get because I pride myself on being a pragmatist is how the President and his advisers cannot see how once you open the door to negotiating with terrorists that they continue to take hostages. Does he or anyone in the White House believe in two years it will be any easier to decouple the tax-cuts? It kills me how even the President’s own advisers talk about the tax-cuts as if there is no evidence about their effectiveness. The President’s chief economic adviser speaks about the tax-cuts as if they haven’t been in effect for the past 10 years. He stated, “I don’t believe that tax-cuts will work.” Really. How about all the evidence compiled the last 10 years are we suppose to discount it?

I was watching the news today and saw how the student demonstrators in England were willing to take to the streets of London and lay siege to Parliament over an issue that impacted their future. I was thinking the only way we could get that many people out to protest an issue it would have to be a Viagra recall or an Xbox 360 recall. How have we become so indifferent and apathetic? Is it any surprise that the wing-nuts and the rich have been able to transfer so much wealth from the middle-class to themselves? Unfortunately, in America it appears that by the time the middle-class decides to take a stand America will have already become a two-class society. The wealthy and the poor. This is the real message that the politicians and the talking heads don’t seem to get. There has to be a line in the sand if we are to salvage the future of the middle-class in this country and what is left of the American Dream.

My question is how have we connected help for those people who through no fault of their own are unemployed with giving tax-cuts to people who for the last 10 years have done very well and don’t need them. How are we even having this conversation? How can the wing-nuts make this case and get away with holding 98% of the country hostage and not pay for it? What we are seeing is the disintegration of our historical safety net and an unprecedented indifference towards those who are less fortunate. We are seeing it in our insensitivity towards the homeless and our refusal to spend the money necessary to attack what has now become the permanent underclass in our urban areas. I’ve never understood how we see folks struggling as just the way of the world, but when it comes to the wealthy it is the end of the world.

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. - Robert M. Hutchins

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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Fight That Never Was

Weakened by the election, Obama would be likely to bear most of the blame as opponents accused him of intransigence and arrogance. Republicans are always happy to run campaigns based on tax cuts, and this impasse might set up 2012 nicely for them. - Larry J. Sabato

Now that the President has caved on the tax-cuts the question progressives must ask is this, “If not this issue, then what issue is this President willing to fight for?” This was supposed to be his signature issue. The one issue that he claimed was a “principle”. If this was a principled fight then I would hate to see an issue he didn’t care about. This issue was a no-brainer for the Dems. If you can’t win a fight against tax-cuts for people who have already made out like bandits for the last 10 years by borrowing from China to finance them, then what fight can you win?

I think this White House has underestimated the wrath of a scorned base. I think what this White House and President failed to realize is that while he is the President of those who didn’t vote for him, he owed it to those who did vote for him to stand up for the issues they elected him to stand up for. Those who did not vote for him will never vote for him. Does he think that if he passed all of the Republican agenda that they would not run a challenger against him in 2012? The progressives have for the last two years been waiting for this White House to fight for something. It began with the stimulus package that was too small and loaded with concessions to the wing-nuts and still did not get a single wing-nut vote. Then we had health-care reform where everything was bargained away before the negotiations even begun and progressives thought at least they would fight for the public option which didn’t happen. And of course we had financial reform and again no fight.

We haven’t even gotten to cap & trade, DADT, Dream Act, or Afghanistan and the White House continued to tell the base either this was not an important issue or that they got the best they could get. Here is where I get lost. The wing-nuts used intransigence and arrogance to not only block the Democratic agenda, but also rode it to victory at the polls but we are now expected to believe that on a Democrat it wouldn’t work? There is something sinister going on here folks. If this President won’t fight for the middle-class or progressive issues then what President will? If after this any progressive believes that the Democratic Party will fight for them I don’t know what it will take to wake them up. This game is rigged and if progressives can’t read the writing on the wall then God help them. These folks are lying, whether it is the blue dogs, talking heads, or Ivy-League economists there would have been no Armageddon by letting these tax-cuts expire. This nonsense about a second recession, the largest tax increase will hit the lower tax rates, or a massive stock market sell-off is a smokescreen designed to cover the massive give-away to the wealthy.

After listening to the President make his concession speech I was struck by how he looked like a defeated man. This White House cannot see that now the wing-nuts smell blood in the water and any chance for future compromise on any issue is finished. If you know that this is the only shot at compromise for your complete agenda then I would recommend that you get more than 13 months of unemployment benefits and the small tax-cuts from the stimulus package. What the President has done is kick the can down the road again which he said he would not do. In two years we will have this same fight again and if you can’t win a fight with 2/3 of the American people behind you then when can you win a fight? I thought we had this fight in 2008 with the election and we won or did we? From where I sit the wing-nuts must have won the election because they have been setting the agenda as if they had.

This President doesn’t seem to have the spirit for conflict and would rather be seen as more conciliatory than as a fighter. Maybe it is his fear of being seen or referred to as an “angry black man”, but whatever it is he is in danger of becoming a lame-duck President. This President cannot win without his base and right now he doesn’t have his base and I don’t know if he can get them back. This isn’t about the “professional left” this is about real voters feeling betrayed by this President. Sometimes you have to fight even if the odds are that you may lose. This is what is known as principles, you fight for them. If this White House was not willing to go the distance they probably shouldn’t have left Chicago. It’s like Martin Sheen said in Apocalypse Now, “If you are not going to get off the boat you shouldn’t go up the river.”

What this compromise has demonstrated is that these tax-cuts will now become permanent and it is just a matter of time. At a time when these tax-cuts should have been allowed to expire and replaced by more targeted ones we get this. The reason these awful tax-cuts will become permanent is that there will never be a better time to let them expire. If now was not the time to let them expire, then there will never be a time to let them expire. We are borrowing money from a foreign country to pay for tax-cuts for the wealthiest people in this country. What about this makes any sense? Does anyone really believe that if the economy turns around these greedy people are going to just voluntarily give up their tax-cuts? How is giving the wing-nuts two years of tax-cuts and prolonging the estate tax instead of making them permanent a victory?

Bear in mind that Republicans want to make those tax cuts permanent. They might agree to a two- or three-year extension — but only because they believe that this would set up the conditions for a permanent extension later. And they may well be right: if tax-cut blackmail works now, why shouldn’t it work again later? - Paul Krugman

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

America’s Insurgency Campaign

When murder clearance rates were first documented in the early 1960's, about 90% of murders were solved. According to the latest FBI figures, just over 60% of murders were solved in 2007. Over that time period, the annual number of murders reported in the U.S. have increased from 4,566 to 14,811. - Shorstein & Lasnetski

Recently there was a story done by the newspaper in my city about how the number of unsolved homicides has increased to about 70% that means out of every 10 people murdered the local police solve about 3.5 of them. This is down from about an 80% closure rate in the 70’s. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t make me feel very safe. While there have been a number of reasons offered up for this frightening trend what strikes me as odd is that while the nature of the threat has changed how the police counter the threat has not.

I believe that there are two main reasons for the increase in unsolved homicides. The first is that despite changes in who commits homicides the police are still using the same methods for solving them. Because of our refusal as a nation to deal honestly and effectively with the “War on Drugs” many of the new homicides are drug related where there may not be a direct connection between the victim and the perpetrator. Continuing to use the same methods used when most homicides were committed by people who were connected to the victim to me seems counterproductive. What the police should be doing instead is developing more human intelligence resources inside these communities. This of course would require becoming connected to the communities they serve and getting out of the safe confines of their squad cars.

Because of how we are prosecuting the drug war we no longer do community policing. The idea of community policing has been replaced by the idea of having more police on the streets but in squad cars to cover more territory as a possible deterrent. The problem is that by using this technique the police never make contact or connections to the community because all they do is ride through the neighborhoods. What you see riding through a neighborhood is not the same things you see walking through a neighborhood and also you make personal connections to the residents who live in those communities. This squad car technique may work in some communities and should be continued where it is effective, but the truth is that for most of the urban areas it has been a disaster.

We should be placing small police substations in these neighborhoods to send a message to the community that the police share their concerns and are taking a stand with the community. By having these substations the police are saying to the community we have a presence and we will be here when you need us. This I believe will help to build relationships with the community that have been strained by the tactics of the drug war, which criminals have exploited and rightly so as a war against our community.

The second cause of this exploding number of unsolved homicides is the growing insurgency that is taking place in many of our urban areas by gangs of terrorists. I refer to it as an insurgency because many people in the community are harboring and abetting these criminals by not cooperating with the police. One of the main reasons we cannot repopulate our urban areas (not just with whites but also successful blacks) is the belief that not only will the community stand around and watch someone shoot, mug, or rob them but will also refuse to identify the people who did it. Few people are willing to put their families at risk under these conditions. The time has come for people living in these communities to take a stand and turn against this penitentiary mentality of no snitching. Reporting and helping to solve crimes is not snitching, it is what citizens in a free society do. The reason so many of our neighborhoods are in the condition they are in is because we allow them to be that way. We accept this penitentiary nonsense as if we were living in the penitentiary and not in a free society. By refusing to uphold our duty as citizens we not only allow murders, rapist, and robbers to walk free and continue to prey on us, but we also give them a feeling of invincibility and brazenness to do more heinous crimes.

With the increase of gang and drug related murders, murders have increasingly been committed by people who had no or little connection to the victim making it more difficult to solve...Another factor is that witnesses have become less likely to give statements to police and testify in court. In some communities, people are becoming very proactive in letting residents know that if they talk to the police about a crime, there would be serious repercussions. - Shorstein & Lasnetski

The solution to this phenomenon will be more difficult and require the same type of tactics we have been forced to use in other insurgency campaigns throughout the world. We must begin to attack the conditions that feed the insurgency. This means we have to create more employment, education, and training opportunities for the people living in these neighborhoods. We should also begin to change how we view and redevelop our urban areas. It makes no sense to me to believe that the people who moved out of these outdated and inefficient homes fifty years ago are now going to move back into them. We should be looking at ways to begin rebuilding entire neighborhoods. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it is valuable. We should be offering people incentives and homes that are comparable to those they are looking at in the suburbs. This cannot be accomplished one house at a time; we must be willing to do large scale rebuilding projects. If we do not then we are condemning these neighborhoods to always be what they are today.

Right now many of these neighborhoods are crime incubators where instead of raising productive and successful children they are raising the next generation of criminals. The work to turn this around will not be easy. We have become a photo-op society where we want to take the turkey or toy to the poor family and watch them smile and say thank you and then we go back to our safe neighborhoods and fine homes feeling good about our efforts. What we don’t think about is that someday the turkey will be eaten and the toy will be broken and that family will be right back in the position they were in. We are trying to defeat insurgencies abroad by nation building. Isn’t it about time we started doing some nation building at home? We should move beyond sustaining lives to changing lives.

“Sell a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish, you ruin a wonderful business opportunity.” - Karl Marx

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Why We Must Allow The Bush Tax Cuts to Expire

It was a time when higher taxes did not sink the economy. Instead, after Clinton passed a tax increase in 1993, the economy enjoyed an epic era of economic prosperity with over eight years without a recession in sight highlighted by an unemployment rate that fell below 4 percent - a level no one thought possible only a few years earlier. - Jules Kaplan/The Hill

Despite the propaganda from both the Dems and the wing-nuts the economy will not suddenly come crashing down if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire. The reason most people on both sides want to keep some form of the tax cuts is because they have a vested interest in their continuation. Many of the television pundits and reporters who have been covering this story have not called for letting all of the tax cuts to expire even though letting them expire is what is best for the country as a whole. The reason is because we have all become special interest groups who are choosing our own interests at the expense of the country. Does anyone remember “Country First”?

There are two reasons why I believe we should let all of the Bush tax cuts expire. The first reason is because as long as all of the tax cuts are connected then all of the tax cuts can be held hostage. As long as the middle-class tax cuts are directly connected to the higher rate tax cuts then the wing-nuts can continue to hold the entire tax cut process hostage into perpetuity. If all of the tax cuts were allowed to expire then the Congress would have a clean slate to create targeted tax cuts if that is the direction they want to go in. Every objective economist has stated that tax cuts are the least effective method for stimulating the economy and yet we are still having this debate. Because of decades of tax cut propaganda by the wealthy it has almost become political suicide to even discuss the removal of tax cuts regardless of their effectiveness. Every time anyone (ever) proposes allowing these or any tax-cuts to expire they will immediately be accused by the wing-nuts of raising taxes, is this a great strategy or what?

The wing-nuts under George W. created the perfect trap for all future Congresses despite their political makeup. By combining the tax cuts, no Congress will be able to separate them without catching the full wrath of the wing-nuts and their minions as demonstrated by the recent debate. Remember when the tax cuts were enacted it was because we had a surplus and the wing-nuts argued that same old tired argument from the 80’s; that the “people” knew better how to spend their money than the “government bureaucrats”. So tax-cuts were good during good times was their argument. Here is where the circular argument begins and why there can be no negotiation with these clowns. Now that the economy is bad they argue that tax-cuts are needed to stimulate the economy. So the previous 10 years of tax-cuts did not stimulate the economy, but now magically they are going to start stimulating the economy. My question to these wing-nuts is simply this, “When is it a bad time to give tax-cuts?”

By allowing all of the tax cuts to expire you diffuse the hostage crisis we currently find ourselves in by removing the incentive or reward for maintaining the crisis. To allow these tax cuts to expire of course would require political leadership and the courage of one’s convictions to be able to withstand the echo chamber and the false meme that is being propagated by the wealthy. The President should tell the wing-nuts that as a matter of principle he does not negotiate with hostage takers and to prove it he is willing to allow all of the tax cuts to expire. I have yet to see that sort of strength and leadership from this White House so I am not holding my breath.

The second reason for not extending all of the Bush tax cuts is because of all the folks who have benefited from the economy the last few decades the wealthiest have seen the largest increase in wealth since the gilded age. So while the majority of Americans have seen their wealth shrink and personal income stagnate the top earners have continued to see theirs expand. One of the fundamental values extolled by the wing-nuts is fairness except of course when it comes to paying one’s fair share. The federal revenues derived from personal income taxes and payroll taxes are at 15% of GDP, the lowest it has been in a decade. If all of the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire the revenue would grow to 21% of GDP by 2020 or at the percentage of GDP they were during the 90’s.

The common argument among the wealthy is that because only 47% of Americans actually pay federal income tax they are already shouldering the bulk of the tax burden but that argument belies why we have income taxes in the first place. You may want to re-litigate the whole income tax argument or you may disagree with the concept on philosophical grounds but that does not afford one the luxury of ignoring the law of the land. We must decide (I thought we had already) if we are a serfdom society or we are the nation created by those founding fathers that the wing-nuts are always so quick to quote, except of course when it doesn’t fit into their narrow definitions of “conservative constitutionalism”. What the hell does that even mean?

If we are serious about fixing the mounting problems that are threatening our country then the first step towards demonstrating that resolve would be to allow these tax cuts to expire and begin to increase revenues. History has shown time and again that the doomsday scenario of raising taxes and wrecking the economy has never materialized and in fact the opposite has occurred when we have left the wealthy and the corporate interests to their own devices they have wrecked the economy. I hate to break the news but the free ride is over America. The decade of waging two wars, increasing entitlements through giveaways to drug companies and oil companies while at the same time cutting taxes is over. The time has come to face the music even though the sun is shining through and we are hung over and revolted by the partner laying next to us it’s over. It is now the morning after in America.

Bush said despite that current prosperity, “It’s time for a change” in Washington. “Some say [the economy] is doing pretty well - well it may be,” he said. But “People need more money in their pocket, as far as I’m concerned.” – George W. Bush

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where Have All The Democrats Gone?

Where have all the Democrats gone? Long time passing
Where have all the Democrats gone? Long time ago
Where have all the Democrats gone? Hiding in their bunkers every one
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
– Remake of Where Have All The Flowers Gone

I hope Pete Seeger won’t mind my remaking of his beautiful song, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”, but it seemed appropriate considering the times we are living in. If anyone still believes that the Dems are gonna fight for the middle-class of this country the next few days should remove all doubt about where their loyalties lie. The truth be told there is no longer any Party that speaks for the middle-class of this country or speaks to the issues that are crushing them. The dreaded Bush Tax Cuts that were the bane of the Party just a few months ago will be extended.

This transfer of wealth will be extended because once again the most powerful political party in America is incumbency and the word is out if you want political donations you wash the hand that feeds you and that includes Dems, wing-nuts, and tea-baggers. The wealthy in this country have co-opted both political parties and are laying the foundation for the outright theft of this country. The Dems talk about fighting for the middle-class but it is empty rhetoric. What the Dems have become is Republican lite. What kills me is all the internet chatter about how much better the Dem candidates are than the wing-nuts and tea-baggers and what that demonstrates is how pathetic we have become. Are we so desperate that we are willing to accept anybody who is not a wing-nut just to have somebody?

Here is what is not being discussed seriously by the media or the politicians, it doesn’t matter who the candidate is or what party affiliation they hold. The weapon being used against us is not politics, it is distraction. The goal of the wealthy is to keep the public so distracted with nonsense that no one notices that the country is being stolen right under their noses. This is why we are more concerned about Bristol Palin on "Dancing With The Stars" than we are about who is underwriting her mother’s new show or who is buying her books to keep her on the best sellers list when everyone knows she can’t write. Why Sarah Palin? Because Sarah Palin will not bring solutions to this country instead she will bring more distractions to the public discourse.

If the Dems were really concerned about the middle-class they would be doing the following. They would let all the Bush tax cuts expire, they would penalize every corporation that is shipping jobs overseas, they would focus on infrastructure improvements, and they would make college affordable again. Those four things would benefit the middle-class of today and create a larger middle-class in the future more than any of the red herrings being debated in Washington. By letting the Bush tax cuts expire we would return to the tax rates of the Clinton years.

Let’s look at this for a minute, under the Clinton tax rates more than 8 million jobs were created while under 10 years of Bush tax cuts we have lost jobs.

We have got to, got to, got to… give tax break to billionaires. I mean that’s what this whole place (Congress) is about, isn’t it? They fund the campaigns they get what’s due to the…” - Senator Bernie Sanders

Manufacturing in the US as a percentage of GDP has shrunk to its lowest levels in history since before the industrial revolution and we have tax breaks in place for those companies that are shipping American jobs overseas. Manufacturing was one of the major impetus for creating the middle-class and yet over the last 30 years we have not only allowed corporations to participate in this race to the bottom on cheap and slave labor we have funded it with tax dollars. If we are to ever return America back to competitiveness we must once again manufacture something. Less than 30% of the American public graduates from college so even if we were to find all of those clean high tech jobs we were promised while our dirty manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas we don’t have the workforce to sustain them. What are we going to do with the 70% of Americans with a high school diploma or less?

In order to be competitive globally in the future we need to rebuild our infrastructure. It lays the foundation for future growth and it also provides good jobs now. If history has taught us anything it is that during times like these we need to focus on putting Americans to work and if the private sector is unable or unwilling then the government must be willing to fill the gap until they are. This isn’t rocket science we have gone through depressions and recessions before but because of the influence of the wealthy every time we go through these cycles it is always like the first time. It’s as if we have no history to reflect on or policies to institute.

Finally, college affordability must be addressed. Education is the foundation of our upward mobility, it is known as the great equalizer. Education allows the child of an immigrant to move beyond his birth into the American dream. If we continue to allow our college graduates from lower classes to graduate with crushing debt into jobs at Wal-Mart we will have sealed our fate as a banana republic once and for all. For the life of me I cannot understand why anyone under 30 is not up in arms and protesting in the streets concerning the impending collapse of the middle-class. It is your country that is being stolen. It is your future that is being sold off. It sort of reminds me of the slow boiling frog. You may think that you are in a nice warm sauna but you are really in the steam pot. There is no profit in getting a degree and then owe 100,000 dollars before you get your first job. This game is rigged and you continue to bet. The sad truth is that instead of having to drag you to the polls to vote you should be screaming at the top of your lungs, but I guess “Call of Duty” or “Snookie” is more important than your future.

If anyone is still expecting one of these impotent political parties to stand up and fight for the middle-class then you have another thing coming. The fight will not happen unless you do the fighting. Both of these groups have been bought and sold and with it so has your future. As long as you continue to be distracted by this nonsense the pillaging will continue unabated. Where are all the Democrats? They are hunkering down in their fox holes waiting on Armageddon or the next election whichever comes first.

“The sound shivers through the walls, through the table, through the window frame, and into my finger. These distraction-oholics. These focus-ophobics. Old George Orwell got it backward. Big Brother isn't watching. He's singing and dancing. He's pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother's holding your attention every moment you're awake. He's making sure you're always distracted. He's making sure you're fully absorbed... and this being fed, it's worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what's in your mind. With everyone's imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world.” - Chuck Palahniuk

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