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Wealth Inequality in America

March 5th, 2013 No comments

This video speaks for itself:

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Destroying America with Drones

February 14th, 2013 No comments

As the school-year approaches its end, I have fewer lessons to plan and teach, which means a lot more time at my desk with nothing to do. I no longer have the motivation I once did to write political blog posts, but I have a strong opinion about the drone-policy debate that’s been in the news recently and with such an overabundance of downtime I might as well express it.

My argument against the United States’ use of drone-strikes is two-pronged, the first having to do with efficacy and the second with morality. I’ll start with the claim that President Obama is using drone-strikes in a way that is counter-productive to the goal of weakening the terrorists, followed by the claim that his use of drone-strikes against American citizens violates not just the Constitution but the very principles this nation was founded on.

Drone-strikes harm American interests.

Let me start by clearing up the most common misunderstanding about those of us who are opposed to drone-strikes. Most of us have no problem with the technology itself but with how the technology is being used. When they ask us, “Would you rather put our soldiers at risk by having them fly the planes manually?” the answer is “Of course not.” That’s beside the point. The fact that the drones are unmanned and remotely piloted is only relevant insofar as it encourages more casual use of them. But we’d be just as opposed to what these drones are doing if they did contain living pilots.

Thanks mostly to our pitiful mainstream media, most Americans are unaware of how drone-strikes are actually being employed, believing they are used only to make pinpoint precision strikes against high-ranking members of Al Qaeda. If this were actually the case, only the most radically left-wing lefties would be opposed to it. I would be in favor of them and almost every rational person would, which is why the majority of the American public still expresses support for our drone policy. But this support is based on a misperception which those in Washington and the establishment media are happy to let endure.

How many people know that there are two main categories of drone-strikes? There are “personality strikes” and “signature strikes”. Everyone knows about personality strikes—a drone drops a bomb on an identified Al Qaeda terrorist, something almost no one has any qualms with. But very few people know about signature strikes—a drone drops a bomb on a group of unidentified people who may or may not be terrorists but who appear to be engaging in suspicious activity. “Suspicious activity” could be nothing more than a handful of military-age males standing around together. Our drone bomb might have stopped them from plotting the next 9/11, or it might have just stopped them from chatting about last night’s soccer game.

There’s also a drone-tactic called a “double-tap” which would (or at least should) make most people sick if they knew about it. In a double-tap, after a drone-strike hits and people rush in to help the victims, a drone drops a second bomb to wipe out the responders. The justification behind this brilliant idea is that any people rushing in to help terrorists are probably terrorists themselves. If not, at least it discourages anyone from attempting to help drone-strike victims, thus increasing the likelihood that the victims will die. Maybe you’re just a good Samaritan and didn’t even know that the victims were Al Qaeda, but what could we do? We’re trying to defend our Christian Nation from you Muslim extremists, after all, and I’m sure Jesus would approve of the “double-tap” strategy if it were explained to him.

Those who continue to approve of the drone strategy even with the knowledge of how it’s actually being executed will argue that the United States is at war, and there is always collateral damage in war. You just have to keep killing the bad guys until there are so few of them left that the enemy is forced to surrender. If civilians are killed in the process it’s unfortunate but unavoidable.

This argument might be valid in a conventional war, but it doesn’t hold water when it comes to our operations in places like Pakistan and Yemen. We’re not at war with Pakistan or Yemen. We’re not fighting a nation-state capable of surrender. We’re fighting against an ideology—that America is evil and must be destroyed at all costs—that can either grow and spread or shrink and decline but never be rooted out entirely. It’s a gross oversimplification to imagine a finite number of “bad guys” out there, and believe that if we just keep killing them we keep subtracting from that number until it eventually becomes negligible. If executed intelligently and carefully, drone-strikes could reduce the total number of terrorists in the world, but if done recklessly the strikes will cause that number to multiply.

The question we must be asking is whether the way in which the president is employing the use of drones is reducing the number of terrorists or creating more of them. I believe common sense alone suggests that our current strategy is making more terrorists. All you have to do is imagine yourself in the other man’s shoes. If a foreign military power had drones buzzing about your skies all day and occasionally dropping bombs that occasionally kill innocent people, you’d be in a constant state of fear. Of course you’d be more receptive to anyone preaching that the nation responsible for the drones is evil and must be stopped. Even if you understood intellectually that they were doing it for their own protection, your constant state of fear would trump that understanding. If one of those drone-strikes then happened to kill someone you cared about, perhaps a family member, it wouldn’t matter at all what that foreign power’s justifications were—you’d want revenge.

Also bear in mind that when civilians die in drone-strikes, Al Qaeda gives money to the victims’ families. It’s impossible to imagine that doesn’t have a powerful effect on their thinking.

If common sense isn’t enough to sway you, perhaps you’d be more inclined to trust Robert Grenier, former top counter-terrorism official for the CIA, who witnessed firsthand the counter-productive nature of drone-strikes in Pakistan and is speaking out about it now.

Or you could simply trust the numbers. When Obama launched his first strike in Yemen in 2009, there were estimated to be about 300 members of Al Qaeda in that country. After several years of continued strikes, that number has already swelled to 700. You don’t have to be a military expert to realize that something isn’t working.

Barack Obama once famously said that he’s not against all wars—he’s just against “dumb wars”. I’m not against all drone-strikes, Mr. President, but yours seem pretty dumb.

Drone-strikes destroy American ideals.

The United States of America began as a loose conglomeration of British colonies and remained that way until declaring independence in 1776. In his famous declaration, Thomas Jefferson enumerated our reasons for breaking free of the monarchy.

One of the grievances against the King was this: “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

Another was this: “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”

When drawing up a Constitution for this new nation, the framers considered the right of due process to be sacrosanct, and they made it the sixth amendment to the Bill of Rights: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

It’s no secret that the Obama administration has used drone-strikes to take out American citizens suspected of engaging in terrorism. Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son are the most high-profile examples that we know about, but there are almost certainly many we don’t. Awlaki might have been a “bad guy”, but he was a citizen and was therefore protected by the same constitutional rights as the rest of us. That’s just a fact—whether or not you believe he ought to have had those rights, he did have them and the president knowingly and deliberately violated them. Not only that, but he violated the rights of his 16-year-old son, whom it’s a lot harder to argue didn’t deserve them.

Awlaki was an advocate of jihad against the United States, but there was no evidence that he had ever actually carried out a terrorist attack or even been responsible for the loss of a single American life. We usually reserve Capital Punishment for those guilty of the most heinous murders, but in this case the president handed down the death penalty to a citizen for spouting propaganda the government didn’t like.

Most drone supporters don’t care about the civil liberties issue because they believe it could never happen to them. Any citizen the government decides to execute without a trial must be the worst kind of terrorist scum, an imminent threat to national security. But in a memo released last week we learned that the White House’s definition of “imminent” doesn’t actually mean “imminent”. It means that an “informed” official within the U.S. government has reason to believe that the suspect has recently been involved in activities that might pose a threat to the United States at some point in the future. Basically, if the government doesn’t like you and thinks you’re up to no good, it has all the authority it needs to drop a bomb on your head without consulting a single judge.

Still, most people don’t care as long as the activities the government doesn’t like involve words like “Allah” and “jihad” but once you start stripping people of their constitutional rights there’s nothing to stop the floodgates from tearing apart altogether. Next those “threatening activities” will include selling drugs, buying too many guns, not paying your taxes, and so on. An awful lot of “activities” can be considered “threatening” and if that’s all the executive branch needs to justify murdering you then we might as well just declare the president a King and be done with it.

You might not have a problem with what the president has done specifically in executing American citizens with ties to terrorism, but only the most willfully blind Obama supporters or willfully blind war hawks could possibly fail to have a problem with what the president has done in principle.

Twice now President Obama has placed his hand on the Bible and sworn to protect and defend the Constitution. By depriving U.S. citizens of the right to a trial by jury he has violated that oath and violated the principles this country was founded on—the principles that are a part of the very reason this country exists in the first place. It sounds like hyperbolic rhetoric to call this treason but that’s exactly what it is. If our representatives were men of principle they would be calling for his impeachment.

If President Bush had executed American citizens without a trial, the left would have been in an uproar, but because it’s Obama and Obama is “on their side” they remain silent. If President Obama had executed right-wing extremists without a trial, the right would have been in an uproar, but because it’s been Muslims and those are “the bad guys” they remain silent. It’s a tragically perfect formula for the destruction of the moral core of America.

Concerns over liberty are often in conflict with concerns over security, but the way we’re currently using drone-strikes is diminishing both.

Dear NRA Members,

December 17th, 2012 No comments

87% of you agree that support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

79% of you say that gun-shop employees should undergo criminal background checks.

75% of you believe in denying concealed carry permits to applicants who have committed violent misdemeanors.

74% of you support criminal background checks on all gun purchases.

74% of you think gun permits should only be granted to those who complete gun safety training.

71% of you believe that people on the terrorist watch list should be prevented from purchasing firearms.

68% of you support restricting concealed carry permits to people who’ve never been arrested for domestic violence.

65% of you believe gun owners should be required to report lost and stolen guns to the police.

63% of you support restricting gun ownership to people 21 years or older.

So why does the NRA leadership consistently oppose such sensible gun regulations that would undoubtedly save lives and which most of its own members support?

Could it be because most of their funding comes from gun manufacturers and not NRA members? Could the fact that gun sales consistently increase after every mass shooting have something to do with it? Is there some chance that this gives them a financial incentive to make it as easy as possible for dangerous individuals to get their hands on deadly weapons?

When you look at a political candidate’s NRA rating, do you just check the letter grade or do you look into the specific pieces of legislation that the candidate voted for or against? A candidate may agree with any of the reasonable regulations listed above that you yourself support, but they will vote against them every time because they believe it will cost them your vote.

I fully support your right to own a gun. Hunters should be allowed to hunt, citizens should be allowed to defend their property from intruders, and all people should be allowed the capability of protecting themselves from violent attacks. I may not choose to hunt or defend myself and my property with a gun, but I believe in the ideal of personal liberty and will defend your right to make your own decisions when it comes to firearms.

But I also teach at a public school, and what happened in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday is the worst kind of horror imaginable. The school I teach at happens to be in Japan, where gun laws are the strictest of anywhere in the world, and I can’t deny that knowing it’s nearly impossible for anyone to get a gun makes me breathe much easier when it comes to the safety of my students.

I recognize that none of the regulations above may have prevented this particular tragedy. But in America an average of 30,000 people are killed by guns each year, while in Japan it’s less than 50. If enacting some of the regulations that NRA members themselves support can save a few hundred lives each year, why not do it? If enacting regulations NRA members support can save just one innocent child each year, why not do it?

The politicians who have the power to do something will only do so if the NRA allows them that political flexibility. But the NRA leadership is not going to do that without massive political pressure, and they’re not going to respond to pressure from the outside.

If we really want something done about the epidemic of gun violence in this country, the pressure is going to have to come from you, the members of the National Rifle Association. You are going to have to be the ones who step up and demand that your organization listen to you for a change instead of the gun manufacturers who profit from more gun violence.

I know that while we may come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, most of you are good, compassionate people whose hearts are just as broken over the tragic deaths of those children in Connecticut as everyone else. If your compassion can move you enough to move your own organization to allow the passage of some kind of gun regulation that will save lives, then at least some good can come out of this senseless tragedy.

Nothing will ever make up for the grief those families are going through, but at least we can try to give them the comfort of knowing that their children’s deaths were not completely in vain—that the changes we made to our gun policies in the wake of their devastating loss prevented at least a few other parents from having to endure the same suffering.

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On the Shooting in Connecticut

December 15th, 2012 No comments

This is going to be my shortest political blog post of all time, as I just have one quick thought I want to express.

I’m in favor of the right to own a gun, but all the recent mass shootings have had me rethinking my position. Today I woke up to the news that some psycho piece of shit walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and shot a bunch of people including twenty children.  It makes me absolutely sick to think about, and I can’t imagine what those families are going through.

Of course I can’t help but imagine how I’d feel if the same thing had happened at my school. But that would never happen at my school, because guns are massively illegal in Japan and so hard to come by that even Yakuza gang members have a difficult time getting their hands on them. A mentally disturbed person certainly isn’t going to be able to just grab a gun from his mother’s kitchen table and walk into a school and start shooting kids.

If you asked me on another day I might say I think Japan’s gun laws are too strict. On almost every issue I usually come down on the side of more freedom. But the fact is that because the Japanese have much less freedom than Americans when it comes to firearms, my students are much safer.

And if I’m so personally grateful for Japan’s strict anti-gun laws, maybe it’s a tad hypocritical of me to oppose gun bans in America.

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Election Wednesday

November 8th, 2012 No comments

The last time I was at home in America on the night of a presidential election was—believe it or not—1996. In 2000 I was in America but in a hospital (though thanks to some hanging chads I was out long before the results were final). In 2004 I was an exchange student in Germany, and four years later in 2008 I was working in Germany as an English trainer. And on the night of the 2012 presidential election, it was daytime in Japan, and I was working at school the whole time.

Polls started closing right when first period began, so I didn’t know any results until the first break between periods. I was playing Jeopardy with a third-grade class while the first states were being called. During second and third period I was just finishing up interview tests for second-graders, so when that was done I could head back to the teacher’s room and follow the results for a little while. Fourth period was luckily my last class of the day, another round of Jeopardy, and by the time lunch was served the outcome was still uncertain.

Other teachers noticed my electoral college map and asked me about who was winning. Romney was ahead for most of the morning, so it looked like he was on his way to victory. I tried to explain how the only states that really mattered were Florida and Ohio—that if Obama won either one of those he was almost guaranteed to win. They asked me who I wanted to win.

Wow, good question. I really wanted neither of them to win. I’d rather have a third-party candidate like Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein—even the libertarian Gary Johnson—than a corporate tool like Obama or Romney. And if I had to choose between just one of the major candidates, I’m not certain who I’d rather see win either. Sure, I despise Mitt Romney and think Barack Obama is a less awful president than he would be, but quite frankly I’m a little sick and tired of all the baggage that comes with it.

Four more years of nonsense right-wing talking slurs accusing the president of everything from being a radical Kenyan-born socialist to a Muslim terrorist sympathizer? Four more years of so-called progressives making excuses for every unnecessary and disastrous deal Obama strikes with Republicans (he’s currently poised to make liberal heads explode by passing the Grand Bargain which guts Medicare and Social Security)? Four more years of all of society’s woes being blamed on leftist policies when in reality nearly all of Obama’s policies are center-right?

I don’t know—maybe I’d rather let Romney take over and let the right-wingers have to defend their guy for the next four years as society continues to deteriorate. Let them have their 20% tax-cut for the super-wealthy and watch the burden on the middle-class increase—then maybe the American people will finally wake up to the reality that trickle-down economics doesn’t work…but probably not.

I’ve been watching Romney’s act for about two years now and I’m already sick of it. The feigned empathy. The fake patriotism. The thin veil of compassion on the outside covering up a sense of smug superiority on the inside. At least Obama wears his smug superiority on the surface. Romney is playing a role, that of a president he thinks the American people want, and he’s not playing it very well. I can’t bear the thought of that guy being my president for four years any more than the Tea Party crowd can bear the idea of Obama being their president for another four.

And to top it off, as an American living abroad there’s no question as to which outcome makes my life easier.

So I give my Japanese colleagues my answer: “Obama”.

I have no classes in the afternoon so I’m able to devote my full attention to the election results as they come in. I keep a window with the Huffington Post’s interactive electoral-college map open and cycle between several live streams of coverage. The CNN stream won’t work, and the MSNBC stream is unbearably choppy. The Fox News stream is easily the highest-quality, but instead of being a stream of the actual Fox News channel it’s being done exclusively for the web so there aren’t any of the pundits we all know and love. Instead it’s a couple of anchors I’ve never seen before, one ridiculously full-of-crap right-winger and one ridiculously full-of-crap Obama supporter. Ironically, this is actually much more “fair and balanced” than the actual Fox News channel, but the commentary is no more intelligent. I end up spending most of my time watching The Young Turks webcast, even though the host Cenk Uygur is on Current TV which isn’t available online.

But it’s the choppy MSNBC live stream I’m watching when Ohio and therefore the presidential race is called for Obama, so it’s Rachel Maddow who gives me the news. I turn to O-sensei sitting next to me and point out what’s happening on my screen. There’s no one else around to tell. O-sensei seems mildly pleased but nothing more. No big celebrations here. Turns out the big party is on Facebook, where just about everyone is making some kind of “hooray for Obama” or at least a “thank god it’s finally over” comment.

The hours continue to roll by. I watch Romney’s cookie-cutter concession speech, happy that he didn’t speak too long and that soon enough I’ll never have to hear him speak again. Obama begins his speech just as homeroom ends and after-school activities begin, but I stay in the teacher’s room to watch the speech. I’ve got a bit of a cold so I’m just planning on going home at the normal time and resting.

Obama keeps speaking, saying nothing. Then he speaks some more, saying even less. Now he’s doing that whole ridiculous rhetorical exercise where he gives shout-outs to average Americans by calling out a random occupation and location. “This victory belong to you…to the schoolteacher in Boise, Idaho…to the plumber in Knoxville, Tennessee…to the waitress in Albuquerque, New Mexico…to the TV repairman in Tuscaloosa, Alabama…” and on and on and shut up already, I get it. When it seems like the speech is just about to end, it goes on for twenty more minutes. Finally Obama brings it to an emotional climax…then keeps talking for two more hours.

He’s still talking when a group of three first-grade girls suddenly appear at my desk and ask me if I’m doing Team C today because they’d like to play some games. I apologize and after asking K-sensei for the Japanese word for election, manage to explain that Obama won today and “Yes we can!” and “hooray!” and all that. The girls had no idea Obama’s job was on the line but they’re happy enough he gets to keep it. They’ll never even hear the name “Mitt Romney”.

The choice between watching Obama continue to spew his empty rhetoric for the next god-knows-how-many-hours and playing a card game with some super-friendly students is faaaaar more of a no-brainer than who I’d rather be president, so I shut down my lap-top and go with them.

When I get home, I watch last Wednesday’s episode of The Young Turks (I got way behind during my stay in America) and found it more enjoyable now that I know how things turn out, and that I’ve just got one week to go before I’m done with election coverage altogether. Then it’s just four more years of Obama continuing to piss me off at every turn—but at least he’s less unbearable to me than Romney.

My experience would of course have been much different if I’d still been in Germany. Most Germans are interested in politics, and most of them know more about American politics than most Americans, so I could have had plenty of conversations with them. Japanese people do not talk about politics ever, and they’re even less interested in international politics as Americas.

But even though I enjoy the whole circus-show of electoral politics and even though I was [mostly] spared the bombardment of campaign ads from my safe-haven overseas, I’m just as glad it’s over as the next guy. Now we can finally stop focusing on trivial campaign minutiae and get back to the business of not trying to change anything.

So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 3)

November 3rd, 2012 No comments

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This is the third and final part of my series on why there’s no good reason whatsoever to vote for Mitt Romney, even as a protest of Obama. The first part dealt with Romney’s laughable economic plans, and the second part touched on his shifting stances regarding foreign policy and social issues. This final post will cover the aspect of the candidate that I believe most swing voters ultimately base their final decision on, and that’s the question of character.

If you’ve been pleased with my lack of mud-slinging thus far, prepare to be disappointed because I’m about to take you on a one-way train to ad hominem city. Believe me, I’d rather make my case on facts alone, but most voters’ minds just don’t work that way. You can explain in painstaking detail exactly why a candidate’s economic plan won’t work, but they’ll vote for him anyway if they believe he’s a better person than the other guy. And when it comes to this election, four years of non-stop, vicious attacks on Obama’s character have left a significant chunk of the population with the impression that just about anybody would be a better president.

I will say that the list of Barack Obama’s character flaws is a long one, and it includes selling out most of his convictions for the sake of campaign funding, political expediency, or simply because he doesn’t have a back-bone strong enough to stand up to the opposition. That said, I do still have the impression that buried somewhere deep inside of him, he actually does have convictions—that he actually believes in the ideals he campaigned on in 2008—even if he’s had a lousy record at acting on them.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have any core convictions beyond sheer self-interest. Like his running-mate Paul Ryan, he seems to share the same kind of ethical philosophy championed by Ayn Rand: there is no such thing as an action that is right or wrong by nature—what is right in any given situation is whatever is to your own personal benefit, even when it comes at the expense of others. If people have to lose their jobs so you can put more money in your pocket, that’s the right thing to do. Life is a game, and the winners are those who look out for themselves. If your objective is to become the President of the United States, you must be willing to say and do anything that will get you to that goal, even engaging in the most flagrant and shameless forms of dishonesty.

The first half of this post will make the case that this is exactly what Romney is doing—lying his way to the White House because to him, the truth doesn’t matter. In the second half, I’ll argue that to Mitt Romney, nothing matters but his own personal success. I hope to convince you beyond any doubt that Romney has no empathy at all for citizens who may be struggling, and I’ll do it without even mentioning the infamous forty-seven percent comments you’re undoubtedly already familiar with.

Romney’s Lies

During the Bill Clinton-impeachment fiasco of the late 1990s, the prevailing conservative opinion (which I agreed with at the time) was that Clinton lying to the American people about cheating on his wife was worse than the actual cheating. It spoke to his character, and anyone who could be so shamelessly dishonest to the American people didn’t deserve to be president. My, how our standards have changed.

To document every single one of Mitt Romney’s lies and deceptions throughout his two-year campaign could fill an entire encyclopedia, so I’ll just look at five of the most significant ones.

1. “We will lose”. Romney’s first attack ad against Barack Obama ended with a sound-byte from Obama saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we will lose.” The implication of course being that Obama’s record on the economy is so weak that he wants to do everything he can to change the subject. The problem? When Obama said that, he was quoting a spokesperson for the John McCain campaign. This is such an obvious and blatant distortion that even the neutral-at-all-costs Politifact gave this their most severe “pants on fire” rating. The reason why is obvious. If Mitt Romney tells an audience, “Barack Obama says if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” then Barack Obama turns around and says, “Can you believe Mitt Romney just said ‘if you’ve got a business you didn’t build that’?” he’d clearly be lying. Yes, those words came out of Romney’s mouth but he wasn’t making that assertion himself. Which brings us to:

2. “We built it”. It turns out that Barack Obama wasn’t making that assertion either. In another blatant example of shamelessly taking things out of context, the Romney campaign completely ignored the line right before the infamous “built that” quote in which Obama talked about roads and bridges. The conservative media likes to pretend that it’s fair game because the context is supposedly worse than the quote itself, but only if you deliberately misinterpret the entire argument. With the exception of the most radical libertarians, the overall point Obama was actually making is something everyone agrees with (even the guy they used in the ad attacking Obama for the quote). Of course business owners didn’t personally build the roads and bridges that made it possible for their businesses to thrive. Of course their success is partially dependent on the advantages provided by a functioning government, like the police departments that protect their property, the schools which educate the workforce, and the internet which almost all modern businesses now depend on. Nobody—not a single human being in the history of civilization—has ever succeeded completely on his or her own with absolutely no help from anyone. But Romney not only attacked Obama for making such a painfully obvious point, but in one of the most asinine political moves I’ve ever seen, his campaign based the entire Republican convention on the tag-line “We built it” as though Obama had personally taken credit for everything every entrepreneur has ever done.

3. “I’m not for a $5 trillion tax cut.” Now we turn from the lies of the Romney campaign to lies that came directly out of the candidate’s mouth. In the first debate, Romney’s decisive victory had nothing to do with the strength of his ideas and everything to do with the fact that Obama was asleep at the wheel, repeatedly failing to call Romney out on his lies. In my mind, the worst lie that Romney was allowed to get away with is that he’s not in favor of a $5 trillion tax-cut. This is not the worst lie because the math does add up to $5 trillion over the course of ten years and Romney can’t change that just by sheer force of will, but because it was the centerpiece of the overall lie Romney was telling the national audience about who he is and what he believes in. He was painting himself as a moderate when his economic plans are anything but. He insisted that he has no intention of letting the rich pay less than their fair share while the burden on the middle class is increased, but in reality that’s precisely what his economic plan would do. Just look at the list of Mitt Romney’s top donors and ask yourself if they’d really be contributing that much money to the Romney campaign if they didn’t expect a return on their investment. If Mitt Romney is elected it’s the safest bet in the world that he’ll implement whatever economic policies the people who bought and paid for him want him to.

4. “Binders full of women.” This was easily the most amusingly awkward line from the second debate, but it’s also the most shameless lie. It’s not as important as the lie about tax policy, but it speaks volumes about Mitt Romney’s character. Romney, in a desperate attempt to close the much bally-hooed “gender-gap” told a story about how when he was hiring people for top jobs in his administration as governor of Massachusetts, he was absolutely indignant when not one female candidate was presented, and insisted that he be presented with lists of qualified women to choose from. In truth, it was a coalition of women’s advocacy groups that pressed him to do this, and he acquiesced to their political pressure. If he were really the stalwart champion of women in the workforce he’d like women to believe he is, you’d think there would have been quite a few female partners at Bain Capital when he was the CEO, but throughout the 80s and most of the 90s there was not a single one.

5. “They’re shipping your jobs to China.” The latest of Romney’s lies is also one of the most shameless. Standing before a crowd of auto workers in Ohio, he told them he’d just read somewhere that Chrysler was planning to move all Jeep production to China. As if that weren’t bad enough, he then issued an attack ad repeating the same “pants of fire” lie. Chrysler had to come out and explicitly state that the claim was untrue just to calm their own workforce thanks to Romney’s attempt to scare them into voting for him.

There are so many more lies I could write about, like the assertion that Obamacare “robs” $700 billion from Medicare (it’s a cost-saving measure that reduces payments to private insurers), or that Obama wants to get rid of the work requirement for welfare (which has no basis in fact whatsoever) but if I don’t stop now I’ll be typing forever. I believe I’ve made my point: the truth does not matter at all to Mitt Romney. All that matters to Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney, which brings us to my final points.

No Empathy

Imagine yourself taking the family on the road for a nice vacation. Without giving it too much thought, you put the dog in a cage and strap it to the roof of the car. When you stop for gas, you notice the dog is frightened out of its mind and that he’s puked all over himself. Do you A) feel terrible about your mistake and let the dog ride in the car for the rest of the trip or B) hose him down and strap him back on the roof? If you answered A, congratulations. You are capable of basic human empathy, of feeling bad about the plight of another, be it your fellow man or man’s best friend.

Most conservatives will brush the now infamous Seamus story under the rug, as after all it happened so long ago and it was only a dog, after all. But I believe it’s completely emblematic of Mitt Romney’s character. This is a person who seems incapable of experiencing any empathy for anyone or anything.

The hands-down strongest case to be made for this (admittedly extreme) claim is just to look at his time at Bain Capital. If you haven’t, I strongly urge everyone to read Matt Taibbi’s piece on exactly what Bain is and what it did under Romney’s leadership. Then, if you suspect that a liberal like Taibbi is probably not giving Romney fair treatment, go ahead and read this piece criticizing the article. If that piece somehow convinces you that Taibbi had it all wrong, read Taibbi’s response to the criticism, and draw your own conclusions about where you stand.

But since you’re almost certainly not going to subject yourself to all that homework, I’ll just sum up briefly. Basically, a venture capital firm like Bain targets companies that are struggling financially, then borrows enough money from big banks like Goldman Sachs to buy up a controlling share of their target company. This can be done without the consent of the company, but at least Bain would usually take the less hostile approach of buying off the company’s management with lucrative bonuses. Either way, it’s the target company and not Bain Capital that are on the hook for all the debt from the money borrowed from the bank. The company can then either start firing workers to lower its costs, or go bankrupt. Either way, Bain Capital is able to extract millions of dollars in management fees while workers lose their jobs.

To be fair, Bain’s involvement didn’t always destroy companies, and there are many companies it actually managed to help. But if involvement with Bain is to a company’s benefit, it’s merely an unintended consequence of Bain’s primary goal—to make as much money as possible for Bain’s executives. And if Bain can make more money by letting the company fail, then it’s tough luck for that company and everyone in it. Ever wonder what happened to KB Toys? Bain happened, and it happened under Mitt Romney.

Your first reaction might be to say “that’s just the nature of capitalism”, but take a step back for a moment and think about it. Yes, Bain is a corporation and it’s the obligation of a corporation to make as much profit as possible, but no one is personally obliged to work for Bain. Could you personally go home with a big fat seven-figure bonus in your pocket knowing that it came at the expense of the livelihoods of thousands of people? Could you personally sleep nice and sound in your mansion at night knowing other people had to lose their homes to pay for yours? If you are that kind of person, I hope you and the Republican Party are very happy together. (I just worry for the well-being of your dog.)

There are some of us—I think the majority—who choose not to become Titans of Finance not because we’re too dumb or too lazy, but because we find the entire nature of the industry morally repugnant. Perhaps you can’t judge Bain Capital for doing whatever it takes to maximize profits and workers be damned, but you’re perfectly entitled to judge the people who choose to work for Bain Capital knowing full well what it does. The people who work in Big Finance are the kind of people for whom self-interest is the beginning and the end of all decision-making, and Mitt Romney is very much of the same ilk.

I’m going to close this argument with one more story that speaks to who Mitt Romney is as a person, and while it didn’t get too much attention when it broke I think it actually says more about his character than any other story that’s come out.

When Mitt Romney was a student in prep school, he had a reputation for being something of a bully, particularly when it came to students he thought were gay. People who knew Romney back then have spoken of an incident in which a student showed up to school with a hairstyle Romney considered too effeminate. Under Romney’s orchestration, a group of his friends pinned the student down as Romney took out a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut the student’s hair while he cried out for help. It’s hard to imagine more humiliating treatment. And even if you’re against homosexuality, try to imagine how you’d feel if someone you love who happens to be gay were subjected to that kind of abuse.

Now, the first thing everyone will say in defense of Mitt Romney is that this happened an incredibly long time ago, and we’ve all done stupid things when we were kids that we later regret. OK, fair enough. I never bullied anyone like that and to my knowledge no one I’m friends with ever did either, but it’s certainly possible for people to grow out of their adolescent immaturity and have a different personality as an adult.

What I take issue with is Romney’s response as an adult to that story being brought up now. When asked to comment about the story, the first thing Mitt Romney does is laugh. You really have to listen to the audio to get a good sense of this, so if you haven’t heard it I implore you to just take a minute and listen to your potential future-president. He laughs it off as though it’s no big deal, then proceeds to offer what is easily one of the most half-hearted “apologies” in political history. If he actually does feel any remorse for what he did, he certainly does the world’s worst job of conveying it.

But what really gets me is this: he says he doesn’t recall that particular incident. That means there are two possibilities. Either Romney is lying—which is quite likely given what we already know about Romney’s relationship with the truth—or he really doesn’t remember. And if we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he really doesn’t recall the incident, it’s actually far worse than if he’s lying.

What kind of human being does that to another person and not only doesn’t regret it, but actually forgets that he ever did such a thing in the first place? If I’d done something like that as a kid, not a day would go by that I didn’t look back and regret it. Every time I heard a story about bullying I’d think about what I’d done and feel sick about it. But for Mitt Romney—assuming he’s actually telling the truth about forgetting—that kind of abuse he heaped onto a fellow student was just such a normal, routine thing that it didn’t even leave enough of an impression on his mind to be able to recall it as an adult.

I’m sorry, but that kind of person doesn’t deserve to be the president of the United States, and he certainly doesn’t deserve your vote. If Mitt Romney had any shred of honor whatsoever, he would have responded to the story by taking it seriously, by taking responsibility for his brutish behavior as a child and then—most importantly—imploring the youth of America not to follow his example by making that kind of mistake. Especially given all the stories about teenagers committing suicide as a result of bullying these days, the future leader of our country should want to make it absolutely clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and is certainly nothing to laugh about.

Conclusion

There’s so much more I could bring up, but I believe I’ll rest my case. If you’ve read through all these posts and still feel that Barack Obama is so horrible and you’re so unwilling to “throw your vote away” by voting third party that you’ll actually give your vote to a loathsome creature like Mitt Romney, that’s your prerogative. I will say that find it a a little ridiculous that so many people feel that just because we haven’t completely recovered from the second-largest economic collapse in American history in under four years, we need to hand the White House over to the same party that had control when the crisis occurred, but I suppose that’s the society we live in.

Part of me almost hopes that Mitt Romney does win. That way everyone who votes for him now will eventually come to realize what a ridiculous mistake they made. Those Wall Street bankers who are Romney’s top contributors are still engaging in the same activities that caused the last financial crisis, and after suffering no consequences the last time I’d say it’s 99% certain that another one is just around the bend. If it happens under Obama’s watch, it will be his fault but not because of progressive policies. People assume that because he’s a Democrat, Obama’s economic policies have been progressive, but in reality his policies—particularly with regard to the financial sector—have been anything but. At least if the crash occurs under Romney, the blame will be more properly assigned.

So regardless of who you’re planning to vote for on Tuesday, I implore you to vote. If the other guy wins, at least you won’t have to blame yourself for the disasters of the next four years. But if you don’t vote at all, you won’t really have any excuse.

So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 2)

November 2nd, 2012 No comments

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This is the second in a three-part series of blog entries directed at swing-voters and rational conservatives who intend to vote for Mitt Romney as a protest vote against Barack Obama. I’m arguing that as bad as you might think Obama is, Romney is far worse in every way. My first piece tore apart the idea that Romney has any good ideas whatsoever about handling the economy. This piece will deal with his stances on foreign policy and social issues, and in tomorrow’s post I will focus exclusively on his character (or complete lack thereof).

When it comes to politicians, I’m not sure there are any in the history of the United States for whom the term “flip-flopper” is more appropriate. When it comes to foreign policy and social issues, you can find a Mitt Romney quote supporting just about every position one can take. His self-contradictions come so frequently that it’s hard to keep up with what he believes on any given issue at any given time.

There’s even a web page exclusively dedicated to Romney’s flip-flops, and while I don’t like how they don’t include links allowing people to check the context from which the quotes are taken, it does give you a good sense of just how spineless and shifty Mitt Romney is. He’ll say whatever he believes the people in the room want to hear (unless he’s specifically decided not to as a political stunt, as he did with the NAACP).

Let’s take a look at the two major areas where Romney’s actual positions are nearly impossible to pin down: foreign policy and social issues.

Foreign Policy

For the past four years, it’s never been easier to figure out what the leaders of the Republican Party believe about any given foreign policy issue. Whatever Obama is for, they’re against—even if they used to be for it. First, Obama wasn’t quick enough to support the Egyptian protesters. A few months later, he was too quick to throw Mubarak under the bus. They were calling on him to intervene in Libya right up until he intervened, at which point the whole idea was a mistake. Now they’re saying he should do more to help the rebels in Syria. You can safely assume that as soon as he helps the rebels in Syria they’ll say he should never have gotten involved. The only things they never criticize the president for are his continuation of Bush policies like drone strikes and indefinite detention.

Mitt Romney has somehow managed to take flip-flopping to a whole new dimension, as he’s not only taken the whatever-Obama-is-for-I’m-against approach throughout his campaign, but in the final presidential debate on foreign policy, right-wingers were baffled to find him agreeing with just about every foreign policy move the current administration has made. Whether he’s an aggressive war-hawk or a peace-loving pacifist depends entirely on the audience he’s speaking to.

Four years ago, Mitt Romney was a fervent supporter of the Iraq war even though there were no weapons of mass destruction. Now, he says he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq if we’d known there were no weapons of mass destruction. On Afghanistan, he used to be against a timeline for withdrawal. In the last debate, he agreed with the president’s timetable. On the Egyptian revolution, Romney once refused to call Mubarak a dictator, but now he says we couldn’t possibly have supported him against the uprising. And when it comes to Israel and Palestine, Romney says in public that he wants to do everything possible to bring about peace, but he tells his supporters behind closed doors that there won’t be peace and he won’t even bother trying to work towards it.

To be fair to Romney, foreign policy just isn’t his thing. His only real international experience is from his time as a Mormon missionary in France during the Vietnam War. Barack Obama never served in the military either, and just because he spent more time living in foreign countries doesn’t necessarily mean he had more foreign policy credentials when he took office. But at least candidate Obama had strong and informed opinions which he famously expressed before his presidential run, starting with his speech against the Iraq war back when many Democrats were still supporting it. Mitt Romney, by contrast, just doesn’t seem interested at all. His own foreign policy team openly wonders whether he’s even reading their briefings. And if you’re going to talk about Iran being the biggest threat to America in the third debate, you might want to check a map first and see where Iran is—especially when you’ve already gotten it wrong five times!

If Mitt Romney actually knew anything about the world outside the United States, he might have some solid opinions about our role on the international stage. But because he doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care to know, it’s a safe bet he’ll rely exclusively on his foreign policy advisors to set the course for America. So it’s worth looking at who his advisors are.

It turns out, most of them are veterans of the Bush administration. And if you think Dick Cheney’s approach to the rest of the world was great for America, then you’re in a bubble so thick absolutely nothing will penetrate it. Mitt Romney has done fund-raisers with Dick Cheney, praising him as “a person of wisdom and judgment”. Seriously? The kind of wisdom that got us into the Iraq war? The kind of judgment that destroyed America’s international reputation by authorizing torture? Not to mention the wisdom and judgment that urged President Bush to start a war with Iran before leaving office—advice which Bush to his great credit ignored. Even W eventually came to see Cheney’s judgment for what it was—abysmally stupid and reckless—but I guess he never bothered to tell Mitt.

Mitt Romney can say he’s only interested in peace all he wants, but the people who would have his ear as president when it comes to foreign policy are the same war hawks who so enthusiastically pushed us into two wars under Bush, and who would like to see the war on terror continue indefinitely, perhaps by turning Iran into its latest front-line.

Of course this is all speculation, but one thing we do know is that Mitt Romney would increase the defense budget by as much as $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years, money which the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for. And he’s the guy who’s supposed to care about deficits.

I have plenty of issues with Obama’s foreign policy, but one thing I know for certain as a person who’s lived abroad for the entirety of his presidency is that he has unquestionably helped to restore America’s damaged international reputation. If Romney takes power and brings back the same people who demolished it under Bush, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to win back the admiration and respect we enjoyed for most of the 20th century. Those days are probably permanently behind us already, but every vote for a Romney/Cheney foreign policy is another nail in that coffin.

Social Issues

The president has very little effect on social policies, but it’s worth taking a glance at the myriad of positions Mitt Romney has taken on a few key issues.

Health care is a major economic issue, but I’m including it here because I see it as a moral issue. I personally believe that there are certain institutions in society that should be run exclusively by the government, as introducing a profit-motive leads to terrible results. Health care is the biggest one (others include education, police, and prisons) as what could be more fundamental to the health of a society than how a society deals with the health of its members?

Everybody knows that the Affordable Care Act which President Obama pushed through Congress is almost identical to Mitt Romney’s health care plan for Massachusetts, right down to the individual mandate. Most people don’t seem to realize that the mandate—which is what they invariably hate most about the law—is actually a Republican idea, cooked up by the Heritage Foundation in 1989 and pushed by Republican senators including Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley. (And you can be sure that’s true because the source I’m citing is Fox News.com)

Way back when the mandate was a Republican idea (which it was until about three seconds after Barack Obama adopted it), Mitt Romney enthusiastically supported it. Naturally, as soon as the poll numbers on the mandate came in and the party completely disavowed the policy and everything to do with it, Romney had to twist himself into a pretzel by explaining that it’s a perfectly wonderful idea at the state level, but utterly unconstitutional and horrible at the national level. That is, until the Supreme Court declared it a tax, at which point he eventually decided it’s a tax and therefore constitutional (but not before agreeing with Obama that it’s not a tax).

At least Mitt Romney has remained consistent that when he’s president, he’ll repeal Obamacare except for the popular parts about covering pre-existing conditions and letting children stay on their parents’ plans until age 26…except when he’s saying the health care law must be “repealed entirely”.

Never mind how tricky it would be to repeal the health care law while maintaining its most popular aspects. (Chalk this one up as another one of Romney’s secret plans.) But if he somehow gets elected and gets massive Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, you can finally kiss Obamacare goodbye.

But let’s turn now to something that might actually happen if Romney gets elected, which is the elimination of a woman’s right to have an abortion. Of course, Mitt Romney was all for a woman’s right to choose when running against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, but when trying to please the Tea Party crowd that dog just doesn’t hunt. Now he’s staunchly pro-life and in favor of outlawing abortion except in cases of rape or the life of the mother—unless you believe him when he says he’d absolutely support a personhood amendment which would leave no room for these exceptions.

Of course the Holy Grail of the pro-life movement is the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, and there’s no doubt that a Romney-appointed justice would be far more likely to join the right-wingers on the bench in overturning this law than an Obama-appointed justice. So if you’re one of those who only votes based on social issues and abortion is what you care about most, by all means vote for Romney. Just don’t expect him to fight too hard for your cause, because he’s not a true believer.

When it comes to LGBT issues, here we finally arrive at a place where Romney has shown some degree of consistency—by remaining as far right as you can go. He’s opposed to same-sex marriage of course, but he’s also opposed to civil unions. As for his justification for not letting gay couples enjoy the same rights as straight couples even when it’s not considered “marriage”—well, on that he’s not so clear. But rest assured, he says, it has nothing to do with his Mormon faith. It’s about 3,000 years of history. Obviously it would be wrong to change any institution that’s existed for thousands of years…just ask 19th-century plantation owners.

But even if you agree with Mitt Romney on things like abortion and gay rights, it makes very little sense to vote for him based on that. As I said, the president has very little to do with social policy. What you really want is a man with firm convictions, and all you have to do is listen to Mitt Romney speak for five minutes to realize that he has none.

That Mitt Romney has no character is the argument I’ll be concluding my series with, and I expect it to be the most forceful.

To be continued…

So you’re voting for Romney? (Part 1)

November 1st, 2012 No comments

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If you thought I’d given up on political blogging, you’re mostly right. I no longer think it’s worth the effort—everything I want to say is already being said by a million other voices and I just don’t have the patience to do the kind of online networking required to generate enough of an audience to make an actual impact.

Further reducing my motivation has been the fact that for the majority of this election season, the outcome has been a foregone conclusion, with Barack Obama leading by a comfortable margin both nationally and in most swing states. Why bother weighing in when it couldn’t possibly make less of a difference?

But now that the race has tightened, my compulsion to get my opinion off my chest has reached an unbearable level. To the low-information voters who flocked to Mitt Romney in droves after his self-rebranding at the first debate, and to the conservatives I know who don’t care for Romney but may end up voting for him anyway, there are things I just have to say, and it’s too much to squeeze into just one post.

The case I’ll be making over the course of three blog posts is not that you should vote for Obama. There are hundreds of perfectly good reasons not to vote for Obama (along with thousands of bad ones, which are the ones you mostly hear about), but my argument will be that there’s not one single good reason to vote for Mitt Romney, even as a protest vote against Obama.

In my entire lifetime, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a candidate less deserving of your vote than Mitt Romney (yes, even George W. Bush), so if you just can’t bring yourself to vote for Obama I sincerely hope you’ll lodge your protest in the form of a third-party candidate instead. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better if you do, especially if Romney does win. That way no one can blame you for what happens under his presidency.

Yes, every politician flip-flops, panders to the crowd, lies and distorts, and sells promises to the highest bidder, but the degree to which Mitt Romney does these things rises to an absurd, almost cartoonish level. The man has absolutely no core convictions, no realistic plans for fixing the economy or improving America’s standing in the world, and not even one discernible positive aspect to his character. If the American electorate actually rewards this spineless, slithering weasel of a politician with the highest office in the land I’ll be so disgusted that I would pack up and move to Japan if not for the fact that I already did.

The rest of this post will deal with the main reason most low-information voters are planning to vote for Romney: they believe he’ll do a better job at handling the economy. I’ll explain why this is utter nonsense, and expose how hollow his economic argument actually is. In tomorrow’s post I’ll touch on Romney’s indistinguishable-from-Bush foreign policy, followed by a look at his ever-shifting stances on social issues. My final post will be the least substantive but most important, as I’ll focus exclusively on Mitt Romney’s character, which is what I believe it really comes down to for most swing voters. If you think Mitt Romney has more character than Barack Obama, you either don’t know enough about Mitt Romney or haven’t thought hard enough about what you do know. Obama is by no means a shining beacon of integrity, but I honestly don’t believe that Mitt Romney possesses even the slightest shred of honor.

As usual, I’ve tried to back up my claims with links to sources as neutral as possible, and where biased sources are cited I’ve tried to include the opposing side as well. To those who agree with me, I hope this will aid you in trying to convince last-minute swing-voters not to make the mistake of voting for Romney. And to those swing voters who currently plan to vote for Romney just because you hate Obama, I address this directly to you:

You’re actually going to vote for Mitt Romney? Really? Why on earth would you do such a thing? Let’s take a look at what your reasons may be and delve into them one by one.

The Economy

Barack Obama has had four years to get the economy back on track, you say, and things don’t feel any different. The unemployment rate may be dropping but you or plenty of people you know are still out of work, and you definitely can’t afford the same standard of living you enjoyed before the recession. If the guy in the White House can’t get the job done, you feel, it’s time to fire him and put someone else in. And even though you’ve never been a big fan of this Romney guy, at least he has business experience, so he probably knows more about how to fix the economy than the guy who’s never run a business in his life.

The conservatives in the media tell you that what’s hampering the economy is this massive budget deficit Obama has created, and the trillions he’s added to the national debt with all that reckless stimulus spending. Romney insists that he’ll balance the budget and get government spending under control.

But is that really true? Let’s not even look at this chart that clearly shows the bulk of the deficit is a result of Bush-era policies—the media has declared any mention of the previous administration off-limits in terms of argument–making—and just focus on Romney’s plan. (Seriously, ignore the chart.)

deficit chart

Essentially, Romney wants to cut federal income taxes by 20% across-the-board. This now-infamous article which appeared in Forbes magazine back in February makes the conjecture that such a move could cost the government $5 trillion over the next ten years. I’d ask you to take a look at the chart above and see for yourself what Bush’s 15% tax cut did to the deficit, but we’ve already agreed to ignore it.

Now you might be thinking, “I’ve heard this $5 trillion number from every Democratic pundit on TV and even from the president himself during the debates.” Since you’re already inclined to distrust the Democratic Party (not without good reason, to be fair), I’d urge you to consider that just because a Democrat says something doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t true. After all, even if you’re a liar-by-nature, if something that happens to be true is to your political benefit, you’re still going to repeat it over and over again.

If you don’t trust the Democratic Party or the Forbes article, check out Politifact’s analysis of Obama’s claim that Romney’s plan would add trillions to the deficit. Politifact relies on its perceived neutrality to stay in business, so they’ve very carefully rated this claim “half-true”. If you look at their explanation, you’ll see that the only reason they can’t rate it completely true is that Mitt Romney has offered no details about what he would cut to offset the lost revenue. Technically, he could slash and burn every single government expenditure from Medicare to the military to keep things deficit neutral, so they can’t know definitively either way. Basically, Romney’s plan will probably increase the deficit but since he won’t tell us exactly what his plan is, we can’t be sure.

But if you still think that business-whiz Mitt Romney might secretly know how to pay for this massive tax-cut without massively increasing the national debt, I offer you this trump card from the totally nonpartisan US Budget Watch, which taking everything into consideration concludes that by 2021, Romney’s plan will increase the debt to 85% of GDP in a best-case scenario, and 96% in a worst-case scenario.

The obvious mathematical problem of the Romney plan has led to much speculation, largely based on a study by the Tax Policy Center, that the money will be coming straight from the pockets of the middle class, specifically anyone earning less than $200,000 a year. Their federal income tax may go down 20% but because things like the mortgage interest deduction, the break for employer-provided health insurance, and child tax-credit will probably have to be eliminated, the effective after-tax income for middle-class families could fall by 1.2%.

This is upward wealth-redistribution at its finest, as a 20% tax-cut doesn’t sound like it’s going to cost you any money and you have to delve deep into the details to see how it could. Plus, you’ve got Fox News articles like this one to cast doubt on the whole accusation. (Essentially, the article says you can’t take the Tax Policy Center study for granted because it’s based on assumptions about what Romney would or wouldn’t cut, and just because those assumptions are based on things Romney has actually said he would or wouldn’t cut doesn’t mean they’re accurate. After all, Romney could be lying about what he would or wouldn’t cut, in which case his plan theoretically could be deficit-neutral!)

In a sense I actually agree with the Fox News piece. All this speculation about increasing the middle-class tax burden is based on the proposition that Romney actually will pay for his tax-cut by eliminating deductions, and I don’t think he has any intention of doing so in the first place. The last Republican president to balance the budget was Dwight D. Eisenhower—they crow loudly about deficits whenever Democrats are in power but whenever a Republican is in office they have no qualms about spending with reckless abandon. Just look at the chart above…no…wait…I told you not to.

Deficits don’t matter.” <– Ignore this quote from Dick Cheney too.

Of course all this blither blather about debt and deficits goes right over the heads of the average voter. What really matters is jobs, jobs, jobs, and Mitt Romney has promised over and over again (about nine hundred and sixty-four times in the debates alone according to my rough count) that he “knows how to create jobs” because he ran a business.

Never mind that this is the shallowest, most weak argument anyone could possibly make. Never mind that this is like saying I know how to fix the nation’s education system because I was a schoolteacher, or that I can solve global warming because I’m a weatherman. Forget what a ridiculous, shallow, this-is-the-only-thing-I-have-going-for-me-so-I-just-need-to-keep-repeating-it-until-it-sinks-into-the-thick-skulls-of-the-nation’s-least-intelligent-voters argument this is when you break it down. Erase from your mind the fact that Massachusetts’ 47th-in-the-nation rate of job-creation under Romney has already undermined his case. Let’s just look at Romney’s “plan” to create 12 million jobs over the next four years and see what it’s based on.

First of all, as has been pointed out in many respectable publications, Moody’s Analytics has predicted a growth in the job rate that will result in 12 million new jobs by 2016 no matter who is president. So if Romney’s plan is to simply sit on his hands and do nothing for four years, he assumes it’s a safe bet 12 million jobs will be created that he can then take credit for.

But when pressed on which of his actual policies will be the cause of all this job-creation, the emperor’s complete lack-of-clothes is revealed. According to this bombshell piece in the Washington Post, Romney’s team claims the numbers are based on several different studies with several different timelines.

Romney says his tax-cut will create 7 million new jobs, and he bases this on a study by John W. Diamond of Rice University who believes that tax-cuts can spur economic growth. Whether or not you share this economic philosophy, it’s important to note that his ‘7 million new jobs’ projection is over a ten year timeline—not four. (Even more telling is the fact that Diamond himself believes that for the plan to be deficit-neutral, the middle-class would have to pay a higher share in taxes.)

Romney says that his energy policies will create 3 million jobs, which he bases on a Citigroup Global Markets study that doesn’t even evaluate Romney’s energy plans, but bases its predictions on current market trends.

Finally, Romney’s claim that he’ll create an additional 2 million jobs by cracking down on China is based on a 2011 International Trade Commission report that predicts (based on 2011 economic numbers) that there could be a gain of about 2 million jobs if China stops infringing on U.S. intellectual property rights. How Mitt Romney plans to stop China from doing this is presumably another one of those secret strategies that he’s waiting until after the election to unveil.

So 7 million + 3 million + 2 million = 12 million new jobs, and holy guacamole this just happens to align perfectly with the amount of new jobs Moody’s expects will be created by 2016 anyway! I’m sure it’s just a wild coincidence.

Mitt Romney is not some kind of economic wizard with some special knowledge of how to create jobs, and he certainly has no intention of balancing the budget and paying down the national debt when he takes office. He’s hoping that the economic recovery we’re already experiencing—the natural economic recovery that follows every recession—will continue into his presidency and he’ll be able to claim credit for it.

Yes, there were things Obama could have done to speed up the recovery but he didn’t do them—the same things Romney could do to speed up the recovery but he won’t do them.

That said, the candidates’ economic policies are by no means identical. There is one very significant difference between Obama and Romney on the economy, and that is the fact that Romney will push for a 20% tax-cut on top of the 15% tax-cut put in place by Bush, the deficit-exploding effects of which are so painfully clear in the chart-that-you-totally-didn’t-look-at. To be fair, Romney’s tax-cuts might not explode the deficit like Bush’s did, but only if the tax-burden on the middle-class is increased.

The choice seems pretty obvious. So remind me again why you’re voting for Romney?

Maybe it’s because you like his foreign policy, his stances on social issues, or his character. Well, let’s just take a closer look at those things, shall we?

To be continued…

PAC of Wolves

September 9th, 2012 No comments

I left Mike’s apartment at about 6:30 last evening, Mike himself having gone down to Atlantic City to meet a bunch of friends of his a few hours earlier. But he was kind enough to give me a set of keys and let me use the place as a base for the night, which saved me the hassle of driving in and out of Manhattan (in exchange for the hassle of driving in and out of Brooklyn, which is probably not that much easier.)

But his place is conveniently located just a few blocks away from Atlantic Avenue station, one of the main public transportation hubs of Brooklyn. To get to Columbia University where the Wolf-PAC meeting was being held, I just had to hop on the B train and ride it straight to 116th street. I hadn’t realized Columbia was located in Harlem, but that’s where I found myself.

That was an interesting enough place for me to be. I was along Frederick Douglas Blvd, a busy enough street with a ton going on. I never got the feeling I was walking through anyone’s “territory” where I had no business being. I stopped at a food vendor to get myself a slice of pizza for dinner, then walked through Morningside Park to the university.

I found the Faculty House where the meeting was being held and got inside at about quarter to eight, over an hour before it was scheduled to begin. I was about the fifth person to arrive when I walked in, and I said hello to the guy organizing the event and made my donation before taking a seat in the front row.

I introduced myself to the other guys there and immediately started chatting about politics, about TYT, and about Wolf-PAC. I knew going in that this would be the largest concentration of Young Turks fans I’d ever see in one place, the previous number being just two—me and Krissi. They may have the largest online news show in the world and get 1 million views a day on YouTube, but fans are still few and far between, and especially since I live overseas I never encounter any. It was nice to actually be able to talk about the show with other random people were actually as familiar with it as I am.

A black guy who works for an IT company took a seat next to me and started talking to the woman behind me about the convention speeches. She thought Obama’s speech was great but he said it did nothing for him. When he told her he wasn’t going to vote for Obama but for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, she was taken aback and they launched into the standard throwing-your-vote-away vs. voting-your-conscience argument. He told us that his girlfriend cried when he told her he wasn’t voting for Obama, which I thought was sad and funny.

People were slowly but surely filing in, and at about 8:30 someone made a comment and we noticed that Cenk Uygur had arrived. It was a very surreal moment to see him in person for the first time. He’s been a face on my computer screen nearly every day for the past two and a half years, so seeing him in the flesh was a pretty crazy sensation. I’ve had celebrity encounters before, and while Cenk is probably the least-known celebrity I’ve seen in person, he’s the most familiar to me personally.

He walked up to the podium and shook a few hands along the way, mine being the last. I just shook the hand of someone who’s shaken hands with all kinds of famous journalists and politicians from Wolf Blitzer to Al Gore.

He and his helpers got the power-point slideshow set up for his presentation and then he went to chat with some people in the back as more and more filed in. There were 200 seats altogether and by the time the presentation started at least three quarters were full.

The presentation.The presentation itself was also surreal to watch. It was all about the influence of corporate money in politics and the strategy Wolf-PAC is taking to fight it, things he talks about on The Young Turks all the time. Since I watch the show every day I was already familiar with everything he was saying, from the examples of how corporate lobbyists make millions buying politicians and screwing over the American people (see Billy Tauzin) and how Barack Obama isn’t doing anything to work against it (see Billy Tauzin). He was just talking off the cuff with prompting from the power-point slides, using the same tone and expressions he uses on the show all the time. It was like watching the first hour of TYT live.

As for the Wolf-PAC strategy, he laid it out as clearly as I’ve ever heard him make it. One of his most important statistics was that 86% of the American people think the politicians are bought and the system is corrupted by corporate and special interest money. That’s clearly an overwhelming majority, encompassing not just liberals but conservatives, libertarians, and just about everyone across the entire political spectrum, but the media never talks about it because they’re the ones cashing in on all that money spent on campaign ads. But if we start making progress on this issue and gain more attention, we’ll have the American people on our side as long as we remain focused on this one thing and don’t get side-tracked with a bunch of other liberal causes that a majority of Americans wouldn’t get behind.

But all it will really take is a number of dedicated people to bring pressure to local politicians. The idea is to fight fire with fire, corporate Super-PAC money vs. grassroots Wolf-PAC money, but not on a national level. Everyone understands that even if you manage to get someone truly dedicated to campaign finance reform into national office, they’ll just be attacked relentlessly with corporate cash in the next election and booted out. It has to be done at the local level.

The central idea is to call for an amendment to the constitution banning corporate money in politics. Something that bypasses Supreme Court decisions saying corporations are people and therefore have a 1st Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, and that all elections must be publicly financed. It’s important to note that we’re only trying to eliminate corporate money. David Koch, George Soros, Sheldon Adelson etc. will still be able to spend as much money on independent issue ads as they want. It’s just that corporations won’t be able to reach into their bottomless coffers to infuse money directly into the election of our politicians. A constitutional amendment sounds radical, but it’s actually a pretty modest step.

And the way you get to a constitutional amendment without going through Congress where such a thing would be hopeless is to do it on a state level. If 34 state legislatures vote to call for a constitutional convention, all state legislatures would have to convene and vote on the proposed amendment. Getting there will be a long hard struggle but once you get your first few victories, the ball should start to roll pretty quickly. If Rhode Island votes to call a convention, Connecticut will be more likely to do the same. Get a third state on board and suddenly you’ve got a real movement going. And if you manage to get a red state to go along, everyone will start paying attention.

Just as the special interests threaten politicians who vote against them, Wolf-PAC can threaten politicians who vote against it. The average state legislature election only costs about $40,000, so it’s not completely out of reach. Politicians will think “I can either vote for campaign finance reform and get $40,000 or vote against it and have $40,000 spent on defeating me, so…hey it turns out I’m a fierce advocate for campaign finance reform and always have been!”

It sounds like a pipe-dream and Cenk admitted as much, but he used his own personal story to make it more hopeful. When he and his friends started The Young Turks in his living room ten years ago, everyone told him it would fail. Nobody was going to want to get their news from no-name unheard of people. Eight years later he had the largest online news show in the world, and now a show on television on Current TV. He said the hardest thing about competing online is getting to 3 million YouTube views. Several hours of YouTube content are posted every second, so you’re not just competing with a few dozen or hundred other TV networks, but against millions and millions of other things out there. But he said that once you hit that magic number of 3 million views, the next thing you know you’re at 6 million, then 10 million, then 20 million, and so on. Everything starts out small with just a small group of dedicated people, but if you remain dedicated and keep persisting, you can succeed.

After the speech he took a few questions, in which he addressed much of the skepticism about the idea including the fact that if this movement ever actually gains traction, what’s to stop the corporations from using their money to crush it like they crushed ACORN. Cenk pointed out that ACORN was vulnerable because they relied on government funding, something Wolf-PAC doesn’t need to worry about. Congress can’t vote to defund it. And while the mainstream media is certain to talk about it derogatively as they stand a lot to lose a lot of money if the movement succeeds, the best thing that could happen to the movement is more publicity. He welcomed Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to blast and deride the movement as much as they want—it’ll just get more people to pay attention and with 86% of Americans already agreeing with our core conviction, the harder they fight us the stronger we’re likely to get.

When the speech was over he wasted no time in putting us to action, breaking us into groups based on our home state for us to meet each other and get coordinated. The New York group outnumbered the rest of us by about 5 to 1, so they remained in the main area while New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania stood in groups off to the side. As his home state is New Jersey, he came to our group first.

The necessity for him to hold these kinds of meetings became clear right away, as he asked if anyone would like to be the coordinator for New Jersey. Apparently there isn’t one yet. One of the guys there, a 46-year-old lawyer, volunteered for the job and Cenk spoke with him a bit about what that job would entail. When he was done I spoke up and said I feel bad because I live in Japan so what could I do from overseas to help out? Someone said, “You should feel bad. You know what the Japanese are doing to the whales?”

I said, “Yeah, they really shouldn’t be doing that to those whales” and Cenk laughed and said, “Yes, I agree, they really should stop doing that to the whales.” He told me he wasn’t sure what I could do but there must be plenty of things that wouldn’t require my physical presence and I could work that out with our coordinator. As he was leaving I couldn’t resist telling him, “Go easy on the herbivore men. They’re all right.” That got a laugh from some of the other people around, and he laughed too but I’m not sure he got the reference to his own segment because he said, “It’s okay, some of my best friends are vegan.”

New York delegation.He went off to talk to the Pennsylvania people, and I listened to what the New York coordinators were telling the New Yorkers about a petition they already had going, until something one of the Pennsylvanians was saying caught my ear. It was about the political spectrum and how it’s not really a straight line from right to left but more of a circle, and people will agree wholeheartedly on certain issues even if they disagree with all others. I spoke up in agreement, explaining that most of my family is conservative but we all agree that there’s too much influence of money over politics, which Cenk said was great to hear.

When Cenk left that group I talked to the guy with the “circular political spectrum” theory for awhile, then chatted with another guy there who’d overheard I lived in Japan and wanted to ask me a bit about that. After awhile he took out his camera and said he was going to try and get a picture with Cenk before he left, and I said I didn’t want to bother him for that but it certainly was tempting.

But when we saw other people already posing with Cenk we moseyed on back there and joined in. I took a few shots of Cenk with other people but just as I was about to go myself, one of his handlers came up and said they should probably get going. So I decided to forget about it, but just then a group of people asked for a group shot and everyone there was welcome to join in so I did. The guy I’d asked to take my picture with Cenk took a shot of it, but everyone was posing for the other camera. So the only picture I have with both Cenk and myself is a somewhat funny shot of him and everyone posing for a different picture.

Me and Cenk! (and other random people)

But I did get to speak to him one last time, just to tell him it was an honor to meet him, I’ve been a member for over two years, and I was supposed to be back in Japan now but there was a problem with my visa so I had the opportunity to come to this, and I hoped there was some way I could help. He was as polite and gracious as it gets, and he thanked me before heading over to talk with another group, as now all the New York people had broken from their large meeting and were gathering around for their chance to meet him. I left after exchanging some Facebook info with one of the people I met there who was interested in Japan, and I assume Cenk didn’t acutally manage to make it out of there for quite some time afterwards. He’d clearly come there to work, to seriously push the Wolf-PAC agenda forward in this region, but he understood that the people who’d come there were fans and he was the big celebrity, and he felt an obligation to meet everyone who wanted to meet him.

On my way back to Brooklyn I started getting feelings of paranoia about the kind of impression I’d made and whether I’d made a mistake by blabbing to him about my visa bullshit which he couldn’t possibly care about. It had only taken five seconds but I just couldn’t help but feel weird about it. I guess it’s natural to feel that way about celebrity encounters, wondering if beneath their gracious exterior they’re really thinking “why are you talking to me? I don’t care” but there was nothing to justify getting that impression from him. I might not have impressed him by any means, but it’s highly unlikely that he went home thinking, “Man, why did that Japan guy even show up? What a waste of space.” I’m sure he barely gave a second thought to me.

But I did manage to accomplish my goal of actually meeting him and getting to say a few words face to face, as much as I would rather have chosen more intelligent, less irrelevant words. He’s probably the number one person I’ve most wanted to meet for the last two years, and now I can finally say I have.

All that remained to do was get back to Brooklyn from Harlem. That turned out to be somewhat tricky, as the subway stairs I’d come out of only led down to the platform for the trains going uptown, and I walked around the entire block and couldn’t find the stairs for the opposite platform. Under normal circumstances I would just ask people for help, but I must somewhat ashamedly confess that I was a little intimidated to do that in Harlem. It’s not that I’m afraid of black people, it’s just that I have a pretty good idea what I look like to them and I’d rather not ask them to do anything for me. But when I circled back around there was a lady begging me for change, and since she wanted something from me I told her I’d gladly help her out if she could tell me how to get to the subway going downtown. She kindly pointed me to the stairs across the street which I’d stupidly not seen before, and I gave her a dollar. I hope she was able to buy some good crack with it.

I’d texted Krissi when I left Columbia because she’s the only person I know who’d give a damn that I met Cenk Uygur (the only person among the dozens I’ve recommended the show to who actually became a die-hard fan), and she texted me back saying she was just sitting at home bored so I could call her if I wanted. After the lengthy subway journey back I gave her a call and told her a bit about the event as well as my current visa-limbo situation, so while Mike’s apartment was empty I at least had some company on the phone for a couple of hours until the battery started to die. It was a nice conversation to end what had been overall a pretty damn good day.

And it was a day that would never have happened if this whole visa problem had never occurred. I would still trade the Cenk-meeting to be back in Japan, but for all I know something will come of this Wolf-PAC thing and I’ll be able to work with the NJ coordinator guy and do something to help out. And if that’s the case, and we eventually succeed and I can feel I was a part of it, I might eventually look back and be glad the whole thing happened.

On the Brink of War with Iran

March 6th, 2012 No comments

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While the day-to-day sideshow of the presidential primary and other sensational stories keep us distracted, the most important thing happening in the world today is scarcely getting any attention at all. The U.S. headlines remain dominated by stories of clownish candidates and their gaffes, birth-control controversies, pedophile football-coaches, celebrity deaths, and so on. In a sane country, every newspaper would be screaming the same question on Page One: “Will there be war with Iran?”

It might not feel like it, but we are practically on the brink of a conflict that could conceivably escalate into World War III. Something akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis is taking place behind the scenes of the great global power struggle and the agents involved are taking care to keep it as quiet as possible. Those interested in starting this war know that their situation becomes more complicated if the masses start paying attention, so the least we can do is make our awareness known.

Everybody ought to be gravely worried about this, but unfortunately people take most of their cues from news anchors and commentators, and none of them are projecting what I feel is an appropriate amount of concern. I will explain why I’m worried in the hopes that it will encourage others to express these concerns as well. This is not fear-mongering, as this is rational fear. Rational fear is what prevented nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and it’s the only thing that can stop us from a potentially disastrous war in the Middle East.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you can not deny that there are powerful organized interests who benefit financially from war. Military contractors such as those listed here have seen their budgets inflate wildly thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that those wars are dying down, could anyone honestly believe that these companies are prepared to see all of that extra revenue suddenly dissolve into thin air? The people who run these companies have all the incentive in the world to seek a justification for another war. It’s not that they’re evil—they’ve probably convinced themselves that Iran does pose a genuine threat and a war now is preferable to a war later. With billions of dollars on the line, you can will yourself into believing just about anything.

If we acknowledge that there are powerful interests who are actively trying to bring about war, the question then becomes what could stand in their way. The most obvious answer is public pressure, and after a decade of Afghanistan and Iraq the public is sick of war. The most recent CNN/ORC poll shows that regarding Iran 60% of Americans favor a diplomatic approach and only 17% would favor military force.

Compare that to the numbers in the lead-up to the Iraq war. In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans were far more supportive of military action, and virtually no effort was made to protest or lobby the government against it. Effort was expended to sell the American public on the idea of preemptive war in Iraq, and after a long period of widespread journalistic malfeasance (of which the most egregious offenses are recounted here) the war was launched with barely a word of public outcry.

Because that debacle is still fresh in the collective memory, the military contractors are barely even bothering with public opinion this time. That’s not to say they aren’t trying: just watch the major news-channels and notice that among the few stories in which Iran is mentioned, it’s almost always referred to as an imminent threat. Glen Greenwald wrote a piece last week drawing attention to how retired generals such as Barry McCaffrey have been posing as objective military analysts while at the same time participating in a Pentagon propaganda program. Greenwald reports that McCaffrey has been briefing NBC executives on the situation with Iran, basically telling them that war will almost certainly break out within 90 days and it will be Iran’s doing. The message they want planted in American minds is not that a war with Iran is desirable—they know they’ll never be able to accomplish that—but that it may be necessary.

Even if the majority of Americans are against the war, they can still safely launch one as long as the people believe they had no choice.

That means we must be prepared to be dragged into a war we don’t want, and there are two very easy ways this can be accomplished. First is to goad the Iranians into attacking one of our ships in the Persian Gulf in the hopes of provoking another Gulf of Tonkin incident (thankfully, Iran doesn’t seem anxious to take the bait). The second is to have Israel launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and wait for Iran’s retaliation. I’m particularly worried about this second possibility, as Benjamin Netanyahu is about as hawkish as they come and he has a history of acting without U.S. approval.

Luckily for us, the last thing the Obama administration wants in the run-up to the re-election is to start an unpopular war with Iran, and this week he’s no doubt pressuring Netanyahu not to strike. I have a long history of criticizing the president, but one solid reason to vote for him in 2012 is that he—whether out of genuine moral conviction or pure political calculation—will resist starting another war, whereas Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich would do everything they could to facilitate one.

Yet if Netanyahu acts unilaterally by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and inviting a counter-attack by Iran, President Obama will have no choice but to honor the alliance with Israel and commit the U.S. military to the fight. Just consider what would happen if he refused and withheld military support from Israel. The right-wing, which has already been lambasting the president for being weak on Israel and soft on the Muslim world for three years, would come down full-force and Obama would be accused of nothing less than allowing a Second Holocaust. He’d be damned among conservatives for avoiding the war and he’d be damned among progressives for joining it (not to mention damned among everyone for the effect on gas prices), so his best hope is that it does not become an issue. But Netanyahu is no friend of Obama and neither are the military contractors. Handing him a political nightmare in an election year is just another incentive to start the war now.

And this is the point I want to conclude on: why now? Even if you believe that Iran is not a rational actor and would launch a suicidal nuclear attack on Israel if they had the capability, there is absolutely no credible person on the planet who says they have that capability now. Even the war-mongering General McCaffrey puts forward a figure of 36 months as the period of time it will take for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, though he inexplicably insists they intend to escalate towards war within 90 days. Even if you were a religious nut, why on earth would you start a war with your mortal enemy several years before you are capable of seriously harming them? An attack now would invite a counter-attack from the United States military that would destroy the Iranian government before they could even bruise Israel. The leaders of Iran might be crazy (and I don’t believe they are) but they’re definitely not that stupid. They rigged an election in 2009, and that requires at least two brain cells to accomplish.

The reasons why this war might start in 2012 are numerous. The withdrawal of our last combat troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 is one. The benefits of starting this conflict during an election year are another. But perhaps the most sinister is the fact that the year happens to be 2012. It’s no secret that many people with their hands on the levers of power in the world are fundamentalist Christians. Many see a nuclear conflict in the Middle East involving Israel as the spark that will bring about Armageddon, and what better year to get that started than the year the Mayan calendar ends and people are already anticipating an apocalypse? Prophecies have a tendency of fulfilling themselves, especially when very powerful people who believe the prophecies find themselves in a position to bring them to fruition.

A war with Iran will not be like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is far more powerful and capable of putting up a fight. Dozens of catastrophic scenarios are possible if we strike. Other Muslim nations, their perceptions of a Holy War being waged against them reinforced by an unprovoked U.S.-Israeli assault on a fellow Muslim country might very well get involved. Pakistan, with whom our relations these past years have been tenuous at best, might cut all diplomatic ties with us and join the fight on Iran’s side and offer their nuclear support. Iran might already have other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical or biological in their arsenal as an insurance policy for war just waiting to be unleashed. Whatever happens, millions of innocent people will die or have their lives tragically altered forever. All so a few mega-wealthy corporations can maintain their profits.

I’m not sure we can stop this. Writing to our representatives and marching in the streets will probably not be enough to block this juggernaut, but we have to be aware of what’s going on. If we can’t prevent it, at least we can be prepared for it.