Archive

Archive for January, 2011

Revolution Egypt: No American Intervention Necessary

January 30th, 2011 No comments

It is positively inspiring to see what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt these days. When the Tunisian people successfully ousted their corrupt rulers, the Ben Ali family, I wrote about how this may be just the tip of the iceberg in a new global era of human rights through a series of revolutions brought about by the unprecedented powers of communication available to ordinary people through the internet. Inspired by their success, the Egyptian people are now attempting a revolution of their own and appear to be right on the verge of ousting their own leader, Mubarak.

Nic533623

If this trend continues, there is good reason to be optimistic about humanity’s long-term future. The internet contributed enormously to help the people of Tunisia and Egypt get a clearer view of what life was like outside their countries and show them that things could be better. It’s what allowed them to read leaked documents confirming that their governments were corrupt, and it’s what allowed them to organize their uprisings and get the word out to the rest of the world. If the internet can help to facilitate this much change after only a couple of decades in existence, imagine what it has the potential to do over the course of the next century.

I won’t delve into the details of what’s happening in Egypt. The Huffington Post has a great live feed of the latest news as it breaks, and this piece by an Egyptian who returned there from America in the midst of the uprising paints a wonderfully vivid picture of the situation on the ground for those who are interested. I only want to make a point that I hope I start hearing more often in the American media:

This should prove once and for all that United States military force is not required to advance the ideals of freedom and democracy elsewhere in the world. When people suffer under corrupt or brutal regimes and those regimes continuously ignore the plight of the people while their abuses of power grow more and more egregious, eventually a tipping point is reached and the people rise up against them. True democracy can only established from the ground up—it can’t be imposed by an external force.

When weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, the people responsible for that invasion started pretending that the actual justification was to liberate the Iraqi people, and now they claim that because Saddam Hussein is gone the whole operation can be considered a success. Something similar can be said about Afghanistan—while 9/11 was the initial reason for going in, our rationale for staying there now is to prevent the Afghan people from having to suffer under the brutal rule of the Taliban.

Well, the events in Egypt and Tunisia should blow giant holes straight through these justifications, as one can easily imagine the Iraqi people eventually overthrowing Saddam Hussein themselves, or the Afghan people eventually rising up against the Taliban and achieving for themselves the goal that the United States is supposedly aiming to achieve for them. Both revolutions could conceivably result in far fewer civilian casualties than those we’ve inflicted, as neither the governments of Iraq or Afghanistan nor their oppressed peoples have F-16s or predator drones.

While we all would love to see the people of the Middle East enjoy the same kinds of freedoms we have, trying to force these ideals on societies that may not be ready for them almost always results in disaster. And more importantly, the regimes that we have set up in these countries are not really any more democratic than those they replaced. They may be less brutal, but they are still corrupt and unresponsive to the needs of the people. We didn’t bring real democracy to these people—we merely replaced their old leaders with leaders more willing to play ball with us.

Revolutions that happen organically may not be in the best interests of the United States, but we have to accept that. Indeed, this particular revolution in Egypt is quite the inconvenience for our government today, as Mubarak was one of those leaders willing to play ball. If a new regime takes power, it may not cooperate so easily but it will be far more legitimate.

For a revolution to succeed it must be driven by the will of the people. We may wish that the people of the Middle East would hurry up and demand their basic human rights for the poor, for women, homosexuals, non-Muslims, and every other oppressed group, but rather than try to force these changes through military might we ought to be patient and trust that these changes will happen on their own just as they happened here. The people out in the streets of Egypt today are the younger generation who grew up with the internet and who are well aware of how much better life can be for their fellow citizens. As time goes on this knowledge will become more widespread, more universally accepted, and eventually a tipping point will be reached in each and every society in which the people demand fundamental changes. At least that’s what we should hope for.

 

[If you share my hope for a worldwide transformation over the next century, I hope you’ll consider joining Revolution Earth.]

SOTU: America vs. the World

January 27th, 2011 No comments

00state_of_the_union

After watching President Obama’s State of the Union Address, I didn’t think there was anything about it particularly worth writing about, and that any opinions I had would be expressed by other bloggers and commentators a million times over. But after a few days of reading and hearing others’ commentary it seems I do have something to say that nobody else is really saying.

Obviously there was much praise directed at Obama for how centrist and bipartisan the speech was, a perception greatly augmented by the fact that Republicans and Democrats had a mixed seating arrangement so it wasn’t as easy to tell as in previous years which policies were supported only by one party or the other (which in my opinion also made it much less interesting). And the speech-writer himself did a great job of lumping liberal ideas together with conservative ideas, often in the same sentence (as the mention of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was followed immediately by a call to college campuses to open their doors again to ROTC recruiters). One thing almost everyone can agree on is that Obama laid out a vision for America that transcends the partisan divide.

Obama’s essential idea was this: the most important battle of our time is not that of Republicans vs. Democrats or conservatives vs. liberals, but rather America vs. the rest of the world.

America, the president basically said, is losing its edge. Foreign countries—China in particular—are catching up with us rapidly and unless we come together and find solutions that can push us ahead again, we are in danger of falling behind. We should think of this as a “Sputnik moment” in which Americans of all political stripes join forces against the real enemy: foreign countries.

“What’s wrong with that?” many might say. It seems a perfectly acceptable tactic—the best way to unite two foes is by invoking a bigger foe that both have in common. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we would all like for America to remain top-dog on the world stage, wouldn’t we? Heaven forbid we become some kind of second-rate world power like those countries in…ugh…Europe. We all know how miserable those Europeans are.

I live in Europe and every day I hear people lamenting their non-superpower status. “I can barely make myself get up in the morning,” they say. “What’s the point of living if your country isn’t the most powerful nation in the world?” Sure, they work shorter hours, take longer vacations, enjoy guaranteed affordable health care and the comfort of knowing that losing their job won’t mean financial ruin, but none of that matters when their country can’t kick every other country’s ass economically and militarily. Yes, their existence is pretty dismal.

But in all seriousness, there are far more important things than being Numero Uno. There are far more important divisions than those of nation-states. Yes, conservatives and liberals share more common ground than we think, but so too do average Americans have more in common with average citizens of other nations than most of us think.

It seemed to me that the president was drawing a line across a battlefield with both Democrats and Republicans on one side and other nations on the other. In my mind, this is not where the line should be drawn at all. America is perfectly capable of out-competing the rest of the world without the middle class reaping any of the benefits from our nation’s success, which is the way things are going now. As the president said, we still have the world’s largest and strongest economy. We also have incredibly high rates of unemployment and poverty. American-based corporations are kicking ass on the world-stage (usually by hiring workers from other countries) but that doesn’t translate to more prosperity for the people.

In my mind, the most important line on the battlefield is between the haves and the have-nots in every country in the world. As a member of the middle-class, my interests are far more closely aligned with a German factory worker or Chinese schoolteacher than with the CEO of General Motors or the president of Wal-Mart. Everywhere it’s the top 2% vs. the bottom 98%, and everywhere that top 2% are cooperating to keep the other 98% down. Most corporations we think of as “American” are actually multi-national corporations, and they’ll cooperate with any foreign business leaders they can to increase the bottom line regardless of the effect on the overall prosperity of average Americans.

It’s the same old scene from the oft-referenced film Network in which the chairman of the network explains to his top news anchor how the world really works:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no Third Worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems. One vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels…We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.

In a way, the mixed seating arrangement at this year’s State of the Union was the most honest representation of our government we’ve ever actually seen. The Democrats and Republicans in our government are not enemies—they are two different parts of the same system. While one party may be more overtly pro-corporate than the other, both parties essentially work to advance the interests of multi-national corporations ahead of the interests of average citizens, be they Chinese, Russian, German or American.

I have to give the president credit for bringing people together. In the wake of the tragedy in Arizona I think it’s just what the country needed. I think the speech he gave in Tucson was highly appropriate and I was glad to see the partisan rancor toned down a bit in recent weeks.

But what good is coming together if we’re just going to be marched out to fight the wrong kind of battle? Are we just going to wave our miniature American flags and cheer on the success of our most successful institutions while ignoring the plight of the unsuccessful? Are we going to be the inverse-Europeans, working longer hours, taking shorter vacations, unable to pay our medical bills and being forced out on the street if we lose our jobs, yet unfazed by any of this because we can still cheer “we’re number one!”?

I’d like to see this question asked in a poll: “Which would you prefer: 1- America’s standing in the world goes down but the quality of life for the bottom 98% of Americans goes up, or 2- America remains the world’s most powerful nation but the quality of life for the bottom 98% of Americans goes down?”

Of course this is a false dichotomy—both our corporations and our average citizens can prosper, but not if we set ourselves apart from the rest of the world. Corporations would have to sacrifice some of their profits in order to share their wealth with the general population (most of whom do the nitty-gritty work which allows them to become successful in the first place), and if they did that the corporations in other countries unrestrained by social conscience would pull ahead.

Global cooperation is the only way forward if we’re to start bridging the gap between the enormously wealthy and everyone else. The common good, rather than the unrestrained pursuit of profit, must be the guiding principle for all businesses all over the world. That is the vision I wish a president would lay out, but I’m not holding my breath. “America vs. the world” is a much easier vision to get people behind, and it’s much better for the corporate bottom line.

[If you share my vision of global cooperation among the underprivileged citizens of the world, I hope you’ll consider joining Revolution Earth.]

State of the Blog 2011

January 26th, 2011 No comments

I was going to write about Obama’s state of the union address today, but the speech was so bland, boring, and unremarkable that there’s really nothing to say about it, so instead I’ll just write up a quick entry explaining where my political blogging stands as of now and where I expect it will remain for the year.

I recently put myself through the arduous task of archiving all of my political posts from 2010, during which I spent several months dutifully composing at least one entry a day and sometimes several. It was a little experiment to see if more content would generate more traffic, and while the average number of hits per day did rise steadily it didn’t result in more comments which was the whole point. And now, the recent addition of a meta menu to the blog which allows people to register has generated several new registrations a day, virtually all of which appear to be spam-bots that automatically register on any blog for which one can register. It seems that just as few actual people are reading this blog now than when I started it.

I stopped forcing myself to write an entry a day because it was tiresome, but now that I have a good reason to believe that most of those entries went unread by anyone anyway it now seems completely pointless. I would often write about something I didn’t really care about just to have something to write, and a good deal of the 2010 entries are complete garbage.

So let me now make official what has already been apparent for quite some time: I’m no longer writing an entry a day or with any kind of regular schedule. Instead, I’m only writing when I have a topic I feel is worth writing about and when I feel I have something worthwhile to say. I cross-post almost all of my entries to Open Salon anyway (where people actually read and comment on them) and it would be excessive to post there every day.

At any rate, this year in politics looks like it’s going to be just as boring and predictable as Obama’s speech. We’ll see the Republican House pass all kinds of nonsense legislation only to have it fail in the senate or be vetoed by the president, and Obama himself continue to triangulate in preparation for the 2012 re-election campaign by catering to the establishment even more than he did in his first two years. No significant legislation will be passed, no major change delivered. And because it’s virtually a mortal sin to so much as suggest a progressive primary challenge, it’s a safe bet that the country will remain on the same steadily declining course for the next 6 years minimum (assuming the next financial crisis doesn’t come along and hasten that decline).

Blogging will hardly make a lick of difference, as no one in the establishment pays any attention to the chatter in the blogosphere anyway. Corporate America is the Borg, and it has both political parties and all major media outlets fully assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Nevertheless, I will continue to occasionally offer my thoughts on certain issues in the slight hope that I can sway a few opinions here and there and provide arguments for my fellow progressives to use in their own political debates, mostly for the mental exercise and the satisfaction of contributing in whatever virtually insignificant way I can to the national conversation.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep trying to figure out a way to get Revolution Earth off the ground, starting with a “topic of the month” in February which I hope will generate some activity. The best way to recruit participants is to spend much more time reading other people’s blogs, making contact with those I find impressive, and inviting them to join. Stay tuned.

In conclusion, the state of this blog is not very strong but I’m satisfied with where things stand. May God bless you (all of my non-robotic readers), and may God bless the internet.

Revolution Tunisia

January 22nd, 2011 No comments

It’s rare when it comes to news these days, but every once in awhile a story comes around that is genuinely encouraging with regards to the future of the human race. Yes, giant corporations and corrupt governments are funneling wealth into fewer and fewer hands while ignoring any impact their actions have on the environment or ordinary persons, but in some places all it takes to push back against this trend is a little sunlight.

article-1347112-0CC23D4C000005DC-103_634x397WikiLeaks provided that sunlight in Tunisia’s case, turning what had been a more-or-less impotent protest movement into an all-out revolution that has succeeded (at least temporarily) in toppling the grotesquely corrupt government and sending the ruling Ben Ali family into exile in Saudi Arabia.

It began with a leaked June 2008 cable from a U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia which confirmed everything the anti-government protesters had been charging. Here are some excerpts:

Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants. Beyond the stories of the First Family’s shady dealings, Tunisians report encountering low-level corruption as well in interactions with the police, customs, and a variety of government ministries. The economic impact is clear, with Tunisian investors — fearing the long-arm of "the Family" — forgoing new investments, keeping domestic investment rates low and unemployment high (Refs G, H).

Although corruption is hard to verify and even more difficult to quantify, our contacts all agree that the situation is headed in the wrong direction. When asked whether he thought corruption was better, worse, or the same, XXXXXXXXXXXX exclaimed in exasperation, "Of course it’s getting worse!"He stated that corruption could not but increase as the culprits looked for more and more opportunities. Joking about Tunisia’srising inflation, he said that even the cost of bribes was up. "A traffic stop used to cost you 20 dinars and now it’s up to 40 or 50!"

President Ben Ali’s extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to indicate which family you mean. Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage.

The cables go on to describe how First Lady Leila Ben Ali built an International School with government funds and then sold it to Belgian investors, keeping all of the profits for her family. They also describe how Ben Ali’s nephews stole the yacht of a French businessman, how the financial sector is riddled with corruption and mismanagement, how nepotism plays the most important role in the awarding of jobs and academic scholarships, and so on.

Tunisians were already viscerally aware of the corruption problem, but the solid document-based confirmation of their suspicions apparently pushed them over the edge. When 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire, the kettle boiled over and the protests ignited into a full-fledged revolution, culminating with the toppling of the government and the exile of the Ben Ali family to Saudi Arabia.

article-1347112-0CBCB160000005DC-555_634x379 At the end of the leaked cable, the ambassador comments:

Although the petty corruption rankles, it is the excesses of President Ben Ali’s family that inspire outrage among Tunisians. With Tunisians facing rising inflation and high unemployment, the conspicuous displays of wealth and persistent rumors of corruption have added fuel to the fire. The recent protests in the mining region of Gafsa provide a potent reminder of the discontent that remains largely beneath the surface. This government has based its legitimacy on its ability to deliver economic growth, but a growing number of Tunisians believe those as the top are keeping the benefits for themselves.

Sound familiar? The government promises economic growth, but all of the benefits go to those at the very top while the quality of life of average citizens gets worse.

This is the story nearly everywhere in the world, including the United States, and this is why  the ruling class is so terrified of WikiLeaks. Everyone already suspects that their government is corrupt but the documents that constitute proof of this corruption—as well as the details regarding who specifically is involved and to what extent—remain classified. The ruling class knows that the internet is a dangerous thing and information is becoming increasingly harder to keep secret. They look at sites like WikiLeaks and fear the day that their positions are put in jeopardy by the revelation of their secrets.

We tend to imagine—whether consciously or unconsciously—that things have always been about the same as they are during the short time periods in which we’ve been alive, and we also imagine that they will remain more or less the same in the future. But occasionally new technology arises which shatters the very foundations of existing institutions and leaves a vastly different world in place of the old one.

The printing press broke the centuries-old stranglehold that priests held over spirituality by giving people a chance to read the Sacred Texts themselves and draw their own conclusions, and allowing concepts such as the “rights of man” to be widely disseminated eventually led to the toppling of the old monarchies and replacement by democracies. This took place over a period of many centuries and it can be argued that the transformation is not yet complete.

The internet has the power to disseminate information across the entire world at the speed of light, and there can be no doubt that it has already vastly transformed our way of life in the developed world. But we often forget that it’s actually just a baby on the world stage. It’s only been around for a couple of decades, and most people alive today—myself included—remember a time before internet access was a taken-for-granted aspect of life.

Is the revolution in Tunisia just the tip of the iceberg? I had the same thoughts about the Green Revolution in Iran back in 2009, although that revolution did not succeed. In both cases, online communication technology like Twitter greatly aided the ability of the people to organize and carry out their protests, though the Iranian government was better able to put a lid on it than the Tunisians.

r-TUNISIA-PROTESTS-large570

In the next century, the ruling elites around the world are going to be doing everything they can to bring the internet under their control, but the hope is that things like WikiLeaks and Twitter can’t be controlled and that just as the printing press eventually brought about the end of rule by kings and queens, the internet will bring about the end of the shadow rule of corporations and super-wealthy families. Just as the printing press spread the ideals of human rights and self-determination throughout the human consciousness, the hope is that the internet will do the same for ideals such as economic fairness and environmental sustainability.

I would like to do everything I can to help bring about this transformation, so from now on I will conclude all of my posts with an invitation to visit my website, Revolution Earth, where people can come to discuss issues of significance to humanity’s long-term future. One of the things we must do is figure out how to make sure the internet remains free and out of the hands of the corrupt ruling powers, so that revolutions like the one in Tunisia can keep happening.

The site isn’t much right now, but the hope is that it will eventually grow to become a place where people from all over the world can meet to share ideas and gradually cultivate a common vision for a peaceful, just, and sustainable global model of civilization. Starting in February, I will begin to introduce a “topic of the month” for people to discuss, and the first will be the ideal structure of government. Whenever a system is toppled through revolution, something new must be put in its place. If the internet is to bring about a worldwide revolution in the next century, we should start thinking about what that new world should look like.

The Right’s Self-Contradictory Response to Arizona

January 16th, 2011 No comments

So much has been said and written about the absurdness of the reaction of the right-wing media to the shootings in Arizona that it’s almost useless to add my voice to the choir. But because this is so important I’d feel remiss if I didn’t just briefly register my own strong agreement.

Whether it’s Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly or anyone else on a long list of right-wing pundits talking about the shooting, they’re all basically making the same two claims which they fail to notice are blatantly inconsistent with one another:

1- We can’t blame those who engage in violent political rhetoric for the shootings because the sole responsibility lies with the shooter and not his potential influences.

2- Anyone who claims that political rhetoric played a part in the shootings is grossly irresponsible because their finger-pointing might lead to violence.

Which is it, Sarah? Do words have consequences or don’t they? Bill—when is political speech just a free exercise of the First Amendment and when is it “flat-out reprehensible”?

Apparently you have zero responsibility when you call someone a “baby killer” dozens of times on national television and someone actually goes out and kills the person, but anyone who calls you out on that is terribly irresponsible because they’re fomenting violence? Apparently when anyone on the right talks about “second amendment remedies”, being “armed and dangerous”, or says that conservatives should, “not retreat, instead reload” those words couldn’t possibly have any real-world consequences, but if anyone suggests that they might, those words could have terrible consequences indeed.

I’m not saying Loughner was actually influenced by the rhetoric alluded to above (the best possible explanation so far is that he took his inspiration from the Sovereign Citizens movement), but to flat-out exclude the mere possibility that he was and immediately pounce on anyone making that suggestion is the epitome of intellectual dishonesty.

Of course these people had a game plan all along. They knew that it was only a matter of time before some right-wing nut actually took all these violent metaphors seriously and started shooting people. They had to think of their response ahead of time.

The proper, human response would be to say, “We don’t believe that our words played a part in this tragedy, but we have to acknowledge the possibility—however small—that they did. It makes us sick to think that our choice of rhetoric was in any way related to this, and while we don’t think it was we recognize that we just can’t be sure. And for that reason, we would like to offer our sincere and profound apologies to the victims and their families. We will do our best to avoid using language that might be misconstrued as a call to violence in the future, and call upon all of our colleagues to do the same.”

Instead, their response is twofold. First, claim complete and total innocence of any responsibility and fiercely express righteous indignation at anyone who suggests otherwise. Second, do everything you can to disavow the shooter and make your audience believe that he was actually a left-wing nut-job (which in this case they’re doing by grasping at whatever straws they can: he smoked pot, he read a book by Marx, etc.) and so if anyone influenced him to commit these violent acts it was radical leftists.

The right-wing media blames the left. The mainstream media blames both sides in a desperate effort to come across as neutral. Cenk Uygur does a great job of laying out the case that both the violent rhetoric and the violence itself comes almost exclusively from the right:

 

Your conservative, Fox News-watching friends and family members have already been imbued with the idea that political rhetoric is completely harmless unless it comes from the left. It should be incredibly easy to point out the blatant contradiction in this claim. Granted they can usually summon enough powers of cognitive dissonance to prevent your point from registering, but this one might be too obvious even for them. Either political rhetoric has consequences or it doesn’t. You can defend one of those positions, but not both.

New Gun Law Proposals

January 14th, 2011 No comments

One thing almost all of the pundits and politicians agree on in the wake of the Arizona shooting tragedy is that there’s no way we’ll be able to pass any stricter gun control legislation in response to it. The NRA is so obscenely powerful that most lawmakers now surrender before even thinking about putting up any kind of fight on this issue. There are a few proposals on the table but they’re all tiny small-ball approaches that barely even scratch the surface of the massive gun-violence problem in America. Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post does an excellent job dissecting each one, and while I agree with him on each one I’ll just briefly add my two cents on a few of them.

But before I do, I will say that gun control is one of the few issues in which I actually take a more conservative position than most of my liberal brethren. I think that people should have a right to own a gun and that this right should not be impinged upon—though unlike most conservatives I would make plenty of exceptions for things like assault rifles and automatic weapons that serve no other purpose than to kill lots of people. I also think there’s a huge difference between a farmer in the countryside owning some rifles to protect his livestock, and people living in a crowded city carrying around a concealed weapon. If local governments want to ban guns in a city, I’m much more open to that idea than any kind of nationwide federal ban on gun ownership (which will never happen in a million years anyway).

My main reason for supporting gun ownership rights for average citizens is similar to the reason I support drug legalization. Whether or not something is illegal, people who really want it are going to find a way to get it. If there’s no legitimate market for guns, there will only be a black market, and we’ll wind up in a country where the only armed individuals are police officers and violent criminals. If a regular person wants to buy a gun to protect his family, he should be able to. Keeping that gun away from his children is his responsibility and if anyone’s child does get ahold of it and something terrible happens, the parent should be severely punished for criminal negligence.

Now, on to the proposals:

Peter King has proposed that there be a 1,000-foot gun-free radius around all lawmakers at all times. This is a stupid idea because it’s mostly un-enforceable—are you going to have government agents in a 3,142-foot circle around all politicians at all times? How about just outlawing concealed weapons within 1,000 feet around any organized event involving a lawmaker? That doesn’t seem like too much of an impingement on anyone’s rights, and it would probably serve to prevent at least a few assassination attempts.

Louis Gohmert, Republican from Texas, wants to take the completely opposite approach and declare that all lawmakers can carry guns at all times, including inside the Capitol! Leaving aside that Louis Gohmert is quite possibly the dumbest person ever to serve in Congress (he’s the one who warned us all about “terror babies”), this is also one of the most useless ideas ever proposed. If a lawmaker is worried about getting shot at, he can hire something called a “bodyguard”. And if he’s afraid of someone going on a shooting rampage inside the Capitol building, they can set up something called “metal detectors” at the entrance…oh wait, they already have them! (On the flip-side, if all of our senators were armed it might actually speed thing up in the Senate: “I’ve got your filibuster right here!!!” And who doesn’t love the idea of Anthony Weiner up there waving his pistol around? “The gentleman will sit! I’m serious! Don’t make me bust a cap in the gentleman’s ass!”)

And finally, the only one of these proposed laws to make complete and utter sense is the proposed ban on extended magazines like the one Loughner used in the Arizona shooting. Loughner was only taken down when he paused to reload, and because of his extended magazine he was able to get off twice as many shots as he would have with a standard magazine. It’s likely that at least one of the dead would still be alive today if his handgun had been limited to the standard 15 shots.

Hunters do not need extended magazines, and it’s unlikely that anyone who owns a gun to protect his family will need more than 15 bullets to scare off any intruders. A ban on extended magazines is, I believe, a totally sensible response to this shooting. These have only been available for legal purchase since the ban on assault weapons was allowed to expire during the Bush administration, so we’d only be going back (and not even all the way) to the way things were in the slightly less insane Clinton years.

Honestly I think the roots of the problem behind the shooting in Arizona and the dozens of other violent shootings that take place in America every single day goes much deeper than gun ownership laws, but I hate the fact that the NRA has our government so firmly sealed in its pocket that we can’t even hope to pass the most common-sense regulations. For the sake of all of the victims of the Arizona shooting, I’d like to see at least something change as a result. Even if the ban on extended magazines only saves a handful of lives over the next decade, that would most definitely be worth it.

In conclusion, this remains the best gun-control policy ever proposed by anyone:

Categories: Political Tags: , ,

The Big News!!

January 12th, 2011 No comments

As of this morning, the twelfth day of January in the year twenty hundred and eleven, I know how I will be spending the next few years of my life.

An e-mail from the Interac recruitment office was waiting for me when I went to check my e-mail this morning, and it confirmed that I have met all of the requirements and I am being offered a position as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, to begin in late August of this year!

japanese-flag-640

So now it’s finally official. I’d had a good feeling about it since the interview, but in the middle of last week I started to get nervous when I saw that Interac was following me on Twitter. It’s possible that someone was checking me out by researching me online, and I’m always nervous about how people are going to react to my website. They might not like my personality, my politics, or my philosophical beliefs, and decide not to hire me based on any number of potential reasons. But if they did check out my writing, at least it didn’t disqualify me. It was a huge relief to get that e-mail this morning.

And now I’m officially in a new paradigm of my life. Yes, as early as October 2009 I was writing about a paradigm shift in my life, but now it’s for real. Back then was just after Krissi went back to America after spending two months here with me and travelling, and that felt like the perfect culmination to my time in Germany and I would thereafter focus on changing paths and going to Japan. I had no idea that it would take me over a year to finally reach that goal and that I’d wind up staying in Hannover all the way until the summer of 2011, but that’s how life works. Everything is still happening as I’d envisioned as far back as 2008 when I decided to start a career as an overseas English teacher, but it’s just happening at a much different pace than I’d imagined. Back then I thought I’d spend merely six months to a year in each country starting with Germany and Japan, but that would have been far too little time.

When all is said and done I’ll have spent three years in Germany, which I think is a perfectly appropriate chunk of time. I don’t know exactly how long I’ll spend in Japan. My contract is only for seven months but it’s renewable, so unless I completely hate it for some reason (doubtful) I plan to spend a minimum of two years there. But for all I know I’ll love it more than I could have ever imagined and I’ll wind up spending the rest of my life there. Who knows? The future is wide open!

And now my overall mindset will undergo a major shift as I enter what is now confirmed to be my final stretch of time here in Hannover. I’ve really gotten to love this city and I’m glad I’ll have another half a year to appreciate it, but I’ve always known that I’d have to move on eventually and I’m glad that now I definitely will. There are still a few more great experiences to look forward to, from one last visit to Ichenheim for one last Rheinfest (for a few years anyway), to a couple of Roger Waters concerts in June. And if my financial situation allows, I’ll be going back to America again for a couple of weeks in between leaving Germany and heading off to Japan, so that should be another great experience as well. Then it’s off to Japan, where life will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Wow, 2011. It looks like this is going to be one hell of a year…

Memo to Bill Daley: Most Americans are Liberal

January 8th, 2011 No comments

America, meet Barack Obama’s new chief of staff Bill Daley:

Obama White House Shakeup

Who is Bill Daley? Well, let’s just say if you liked Rahm Emanuel, you’ll love Bill Daley. Not only does he have a background in Chicago politics (he’s the current mayor’s brother), but he’s also got ties to Wall Street as well, having served as the Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase. And just like Rahm, he’s bought into the widespread misperception that the country is actually significantly further to the right than it actually is.

We all know how Rahm Emanuel pushed the president to pass any kind of Wall Street reform he could get, regardless of how strong it was. And we know he had the same attitude regarding health care reform: make deals with pharmaceutical companies and private health insurers that will increase the bill’s chance of passing, no matter how much these concessions weaken it. If you were thinking that a new chief of staff would bring a different kind of advice to the president’s ear, think again.

Regarding health care reform, Bill Daley told the New York Times:

They miscalculated on health care. The election of ’08 sent a message that after 30 years of center-right governing, we had moved to center left — not left.

Apparently he thinks the watered-down health care reform legislation went too far. He believes that when the American people voted for Change, what they really wanted was for things to stay more or less the same.

There are plenty of people who still believe that this is a “center-right” country and that liberals and progressives are just a small minority. After all, the media repeatedly and relentlessly trumpets this Gallup poll showing that when asked to describe their political ideology, 40% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 35% as moderate, and only 20% as liberal. Never mind that this poll only asks people how they self-identify and doesn’t ask for their actual opinions on a single actual issue—because more people are comfortable calling themselves “conservative” than calling themselves “liberal” (I wonder if decades of right-wing talk-radio might have anything to do with that?) they consider it an irrefutable fact that most Americans are not liberal, and therefore that most Americans are opposed to things like government-run health insurance, strict Wall Street reform, and raising taxes on the rich. Most Americans, because they call themselves “conservative” must therefore believe that fixing the deficit is the most pressing issue of our time, and that this must be done through spending cuts and under no circumstances with increased taxes for the rich.

As a public service, let me help to bust this myth for you once and for all. When you’re arguing with conservatives who say that you should accept center-right policies from your Democratic president because most Americans don’t agree with you (or when you’re arguing with progressives who say that you should accept center-right policies from your Democratic president because most Americans don’t agree with us), you can tell them that they are simply mistaken.

When you go issue-by-issue, the majority of Americans support the more liberal position on almost every single question ranging from foreign policy to gay rights, as this superb study by Media Matters proves.

When it comes to Wall Street reform, an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in April 2010 indicated that 65% of Americans wanted reform to be tougher, not weaker.

When it comes to health care, poll after poll consistently showed widespread support for the public option (i.e. “government-run” health insurance), including this New York Times/CBS poll taken in June of 2009 in which a whopping 72 percent of respondents said they were in favor. If Bill Daley thinks most Americans believe the health care bill went too far, he is just plain wrong.

And another great poll just came out this week, and it’s one I hope did not go un-noticed by Bill Daley and the rest of the folks at the White House: A 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll asked people what the first step they would take to balance the budget would be. 4% said cut Medicare. 20% said cut defense spending. But an overwhelming 61% said they would raise taxes on the wealthy!

Center-right country indeed.

Incidentally, only 3% of respondents said they would balance the budget by cutting Social Security, but that appears to be the course of action our “representatives” in Washington are going to take. But even though nearly two-thirds of Americans would rather raise taxes on the rich, that won’t even be considered.

Since he took office, the president has been surrounded by political advisors telling him to move to the right, to compromise on the liberal agenda because liberals don’t really matter. They’ve been telling him that most of the country is to the right of the political center.

But this is simply not true. Washington is significantly to the right of the rest of America, which is significantly to the left of the political center. President Obama doesn’t seem to understand that. And sadly, his new chief of staff Bill Daley is not going to be the one to tell him.

The War on Social Security

January 6th, 2011 No comments

Have you received your “Social Security Statement” from your friendly neighborhood federal Social Security Administration yet? Did it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see that your government cares enough about your financial future you send you these figures to help you plan for your retirement?

Or did you look past the genial rhetoric and notice these two paragraphs?

Since 1935, America has kept the promise of security for its workers and their families. Now, however, the Social Security system is facing serious financial problems, and action is needed soon to make sure the system will be sound when today’s younger workers are ready for retirement.

In 2012 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted and there will be enough money to pay only about 76 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits. We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protection for future generations.

How good of them to issue this warning. If they hadn’t explained to us so nicely that Social Security is danger, we might have been inclined to protest any cuts to the program that they’re getting ready to propose.

Don’t fall for this, America. This country’s biggest power-brokers have had their greedy eyes on the Social Security Trust Fund for a long time, and now they can smell the opportunity to finally start chipping away at it. Sure, 77 percent of Americans still oppose any cuts to the program, but now they’ve got a Democratic president who is willing to play ball, and enough Congressional Democrats to go along with him. You’ve got Democratic Senators going on TV and talking about how we really need to consider things like raising the retirement age, and refusing to pledge to vote against any piece of legislation that cuts Social Security. You had the bipartisan deficit commission issued by the president make cuts to Social Security one of their top recommendations, and now you’ve got the Social Security Administration itself sending you a letter telling you that changes need to be made or else

They know this is tricky business. Anyone who takes an independent look at the facts about Social Security can discover that the program is perfectly solvent until 2041, and that without any change it could cover at least three-quarters of benefits until 2083 (when I will be 99 years old). There is no crisis. They just want you to think that there is so you won’t raise your voices too loudly when they start meddling with it.

It’s true that the program will start running deficits in 2017, but with a few minor tweaks this problem can be fixed. Simply raise the payroll tax a little bit and everything will be just fine. There’s no need to raise the retirement age or pay out less benefits for anyone who retires after a certain year.

Or if you don’t like the idea of raising the payroll tax, how about looking at other ways to reduce the deficit, like not fighting two (arguably six) wars simultaneously, or not extending tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans that will explode the deficit by $900 billion?

Social Security is one of the strongest social safety-nets the middle class in America still has. We pay into it our whole lives with the expectation that we’ll be able to get something out of it when we retire, so that no matter what happens we won’t be starving on the street when we’re 65. But the people who own the Republican Party and most Democrats and who write the script that both parties play by have decided that now is the time to try out the storyline in which the deficit takes a hit so they can keep more money for themselves, which they then fix by giving us less of our money back. With the government as the middle-man, it’s like they’re literally taking the money directly out of our pockets and putting it into their own.

Don’t buy the hype. If the deficit needs to be fixed, insist that they fix it another way—one that leaves the middle class alone. Call your senators and representatives and ask them if they would be willing to pledge to vote against any legislation that makes cuts to Social Security. You’ll probably find that they won’t make that commitment right now because any proposed cuts will be a part of a much larger piece of legislation that they can’t promise to vote against. Make it clear to them that you won’t tolerate any yes vote on any piece of legislation that touches Social Security no matter what else it does.

They’ve been planning this war on Social Security for a long time, and they believe that conditions are finally ripe to fire the opening shots. Make sure they know that we’re prepared to fire back.

Know Your REAL Enemy

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

Elephant Donkey Boxing

Every year at my high school, there was a “career day” for seniors. We had the opportunity to choose to hear from a variety of speakers who had been invited to discuss their various careers as a way of helping us determine the course of our own lives. Of the many possibilities I’d been considering at the time, a career in law was one of them, so I signed up to hear the lawyer speak about what his life was like.

Despite my relatively conservative up-bringing, my parents and grandparents had instilled in me the values of human compassion and sharing what we have with the less fortunate, and most of my teachers reinforced these ideals throughout my life. Hearing this lawyer speak was like diving into a freezing cold ocean when you’ve only ever swum in heated pools—you may have had a basic understanding that water could be different than the way you’ve always known it but you’ve never actually confronted that reality until now.

The lawyer spoke to us perhaps more frankly than we’d ever been spoken to before, not only sharing the fact that a career in law meant excruciatingly tedious work and horrendously long hours, but sharing his philosophy that it was all worth it because, when all is said and done, money is the most important thing. “Life is a game,” he imparted to us, and “he who dies with the most toys wins.”

Even at the time I knew that I’d learned a valuable lesson by actually hearing someone express this view in complete sincerity, but I only gradually came to recognize the full significance of that experience as I looked back on it over the years. It was the first time I realized that the world is actually full of people like that—people who see life as a game in which the “winners” owe nothing to the “losers”—and that I just hadn’t known any of them. That all of the various groups and sorts of people I’d been thinking of as enemies weren’t actually on the opposite side of the most important “us vs. them” divide in the human race, but that it was this way of thinking that represented the true enemy.

In the world of online discourse (particularly among Americans), I’ve noticed that almost everyone seems to have drawn their own lines around who they see as part of their “team” and who they consider “the enemy.” I’d like to take a moment to look at some of these various ideas regarding who our real enemies are, and point out why I believe that people are misdirecting their anger when most of it ought to be reserved for that special kind of scoundrel I’ve alluded to above.

1- The foreign terrorists are the enemy. This is quite a common view in the “post-9/11” world, and at first glance it seems quite reasonable:

“I may have my differences with my fellow countrymen but I recognize that they are my fellow citizens after all. The real threat to our security comes from the outside, and we should all be willing to join together to fight the radical militants who would kill us indiscriminately to further their religious and political goals.”

While radical extremists certainly are an enemy, I don’t believe they can be considered the enemy. The people who commit acts of terrorism such as suicide bombings are usually the victims of some kind of oppression, whether real or perceived, and they honestly believe they are fighting for a good cause. The only effective way to defeat radical extremism is to gradually and painstakingly root out oppression worldwide and win people over with ideas. Simply declaring them Enemy #1 and attempting to kill them all is the most counter-productive approach possible, as the past decade has demonstrated. In doing so you only create more terrorists, thus providing our real enemies with more manufactured enemies with which to enrich themselves by fighting.

2- The political left is the enemy. Thanks largely to real enemies such as Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch, many conservative Americans do not see liberals and progressives as people with whom they have mere political disagreements, but as the greatest threat to their way of life.

“The terrorists may be out to get us, but the liberals are helping them. By insisting on giving these people their Civil Rights, they’re inviting them to attack us and get away with it, and by apologizing for our nation’s mistakes they’re weakening us in the global community. Not only that, but these progressives want to take all my hard-earned money and give it to lazy poor people who do nothing but mooch off the system. If they had their way, the Church would be abolished and we’d all be worshipping a communist dictator.”

Aside from the blatant misperception of what liberals really want, conservatives should recognize that they share more common ground with present-day liberals than they probably realize, and that political differences can often be reconciled with rational argument and compromise, provided everyone is interested in the common good.

3- The political right is the enemy. Too many people on my side of the political spectrum seem to think that conservatives like the people we see gathered at Tea Party protests are the real enemy, and most of our energy should be spent fighting them.

“These Tea Party people are as bad as the Taliban. If they had their way, women would have no rights at all and minorities would be perpetual second-class citizens. They’d impose their fundamentalist Christianity on all of us and institute laws and punishments based on Biblical Scripture. Given the chance, they’d remove every shred of the social safety net and leave everyone to fend for themselves.”

Naturally I agree that a lot of the sentiments I see expressed by conservatives do lead in these dangerous directions, but I believe that most are far more moderate and reasonable than that. Most conservatives that I know believe in equality of the sexes (even if they’d deprive women of certain reproductive rights) and aren’t overtly racist (even if they believe that minorities are given too much special treatment). They almost all agree that some social safety net is necessary, and with the right combination of rational discussion and compromise there is no reason to consider them any more of an enemy than those who practice different versions of the same religion.

4- The ideologues are the enemy. You have tension all along the spectrum from moderate to extreme on both sides of the political divide, but this is always more of a problem for the party in power. Today there are moderate conservatives who see Tea Party extremists as an enemy, but even more prevalent (at least in the online circles I frequent) are the progressives who view those who criticize President Obama as the biggest obstacle to progress.

“We have the most progressive president in generations, but there’s only so much we can expect him to accomplish. The criticism he gets from the right is clearly ridiculous, but those on the far left who constantly complain about his compromises are doing even more harm. Their impatience will result in losing what little power we have left, as if the president is to have any political leverage at all he needs our unwavering support.”

I will readily admit to being impatient with the president, but I object to being treated as Enemy #1 by my fellow progressives. As I’ve written many times before, the president needs a strong left flank not just to push him to move towards what I believe are the right policies, but to allow him to move there by shifting the political spectrum (see: Overton window) to the left. Without a strong voice of opposition to policies such as tax-cuts for the wealthy and indefinite detention, the president will take the path of least resistance by implementing or extending them. Conversely, without strong and constant advocacy (some call it “whining”) about things like repealing anti-gay policies or fighting climate change, the president will take the path of least resistance by ignoring these issues. The president may be a progressive deep in his heart of hearts, but the realities of governing have turned him into negotiator-in-chief, not fighting for one particular side but merely trying to balance the nation’s competing interests: those of the average people on the right and the left against those of their real enemies, who have most of the leverage.

5- The moderates are the enemy. The inverse of the above sentiment is one I’m more sympathetic to, but which I still think is a mistake. On the right, you have Tea Party conservatives in a rage over those who don’t conform to their rigid ideological purity tests, but on the left these days it has everything to do with the president:

“The people who follow the president like blind sheep are the real enemy. They enable him to move further and further to the right and to protect the interests of the giant financial institutions and the military industrial complex by telling the rest of us to shut up and keep quiet whenever he does something we find unacceptable. Instead of fighting for the principles we all believe in, they are willing to sacrifice those principles for the sake of political expediency, and we often find that half a loaf is as good as no loaf at all.”

Very few people follow the president like “blind sheep”. Most have good, substantive reasons to support him, and he needs those people to keep the impatient among us in check. While I have suggested that perhaps a weak Democratic president might allow more harmful policies to be implemented than a Republican (because the left would be unified against the latter), I am still receptive to the case that the current president has accomplished more than we give him credit for and shouldn’t be tossed under the proverbial bus just yet. That said, I find that Obama’s defenders all too often respond to legitimate, substantive criticism of the president with personal attacks against his critics, likening us to whining children. While we keep our cross-hairs on those in power, they point their guns at us.

6- The government is the enemy. We’re getting to some overlap now, as many who see liberals as the enemy often conflate them with the government. But their sentiment is basically this:

“The government is made up of a bunch of corrupt, greedy, power-hungry individuals who want nothing more than to control every aspect of our lives. With enough size, the government will take over everything and determine who gets what. Success as we know it will become impossible because everything will be owned by the State and distributed as it sees fit, regardless of who has actually earned it.”

To be [extremely] fair, this would be a legitimate worry if circumstances really were as these people are led to believe by Limbaugh & Co. In the past, governments have taken too much power and imposed a brutally unfair system on the people in the name of equality. But that is not the direction things are heading in now, and it’s a mistake to try and push back against a tide that’s already receding rapidly. Ideally, the government is “of the people, by the people, for the people” and if the right kinds of changes are made to the current system, there’s no reason it can’t work for us as it was intended to.

7- Corporations are the enemy. Now we arrive at what I consider the appropriate frame. While I would hesitate to say that corporations themselves (or even most of the people who run them) are Enemy #1, I would place that designation squarely on the corporate structure and make my case thusly:

“The corporation is a soulless, amoral institution designed and required by law to earn as much money for its shareholders as possible without regard to any other considerations. As such it not only destroys the environment but finds ways to funnel wealth from every other sphere of society into its clutches. Left unchecked, corporations will continue to grow and accumulate more of the world’s wealth through mergers and acquisitions until only a small handful of companies hold every last shred of political power in the world, which they will use for no other purpose than to maintain that power even if it means global poverty and irreversible harm to the planet.”

Those who see government as the enemy are only scratching the surface: government is the enemy only insofar as it is currently a tool of the corporation, which is really the dominant ruling institution of our time and the one that constitutes the greatest threat to our collective future.

The corporation is not a person but if it were, it would be like the lawyer I met at career day all those years ago. The corporation doesn’t care how many hours it works or if it ever sees its family—it is unconcerned with human relationships of any kind. The corporation does what it does because by its very design, money is the most important thing. The corporation makes only the decisions that will maximize its own gains and minimize its own losses, determining each move according to a strict formula derived through Game theory. To the corporation, it is all a game, and “he who dies with the most toys wins.”

Until the rest of us acknowledge this reality and stop devoting so much of our energy to secondary fights like the battles between or within political parties and the overblown threat of foreign terrorists, the real enemy will continue to wage war on us without our noticing, until one day the damage is irreversible and all of us—from conservatives to liberals to politicians to religious extremists—will realize that we’ve all lost.