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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…

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.

The Fictional Obama

February 11th, 2012 No comments

Illustration by Gerald Scarfe

Listening to these Republican candidates talk about Obama, I often wish we actually had the kind of president they’re attacking. The paint him as some kind of progressive lion, zealously going after the super-rich on behalf of the working class, steadfastly holding to an ideology of civil liberties even if it compromises America’s safety, and systematically dismantling our empire abroad, all the while apologizing to the world for our previous transgressions. I don’t know who this person is that they keep railing against, but it’s not the Obama I know.

The fact is that the Republicans are banking on the majority of their base having a completely distorted view of the president thanks to conservative news sources like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. These media outlets have made a calculated decision to create their own narrative about who Obama is and what he wants to do, to emphasize every tiny little thing that supports that narrative and de-emphasize, ignore, or even outright lie about anything that doesn’t.

The Obama you see on Fox News is not a real person but actually a fictional character based on the stereotype of liberals that conservatives have in their minds. He wants to raise taxes, impose strict regulations on business, cut defense, eliminate gun rights, encourage more abortions and gay marriages, read terrorists their rights, and purge all religion from the public sphere. When the Republican presidential candidates talk to their debate audiences and the crowds at their campaign rallies about Obama, they’re talking about this guy, a radically liberal president who—unfortunately for them—doesn’t actually exist.

The real Obama hasn’t raised taxes. He’s far too timid to take the political risk. He’s cut taxes across the board and agreed to extend the Bush tax-cuts for two years. He says he’ll fight to let them expire next time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

As for the idea that he’s imposing crippling regulations on businesses, that is simply absurd. Barack Obama is the Goldman Sachs president. His entire financial team and his last two chiefs of staff have been Wall Street insiders, and according to internal memos it would appear that they dictate his every move in that area. The “historic financial reform” legislation that passed last year is widely acknowledged by bankers to be a complete joke. Not one of the people who caused the financial crisis of 2008 has been prosecuted for committing fraud, and Wall Street continues to thrive thanks to taxpayer bailouts (which Obama supported) while the rest of the country struggles.

I hear over and over again that Obama has drastically cut defense spending. Simply not true. Defense spending has increased every year since Obama took office, it’s just that the rate of increase has gone slightly down thanks to the cutting of a few strategically unnecessary projects like stealth-fighters designed to fight the Cold War. Some might say that it’s merely stretching the truth to refer to a slower rate of increase as a “cut”, but I call it lying.

And as for the whole general idea that Obama is weak on defense, consider his doubling-down in Afghanistan and the recent foray into Libya. He withdrew troops from Iraq but only because he was forced to under a treaty signed by the Bush administration which he tried and failed to renegotiate.

On gun rights, Obama has not lifted a finger to do anything about it, other than quietly write an op-ed on the issue after the Gabby Giffords shooting, in which he did not endorse a single reform that didn’t enjoy at least a 60% approval in polls. And afterwards he did absolutely nothing to attempt to initiate those reforms.

On social issues, one can point to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and pretend that Obama is the “fierce advocate” of gay rights that he claimed to be, but he dragged his feet on that issue for quite some time and he still refuses to publicly come out in support of gay marriage. And on abortion, what has Obama done? Nothing. He won’t even touch that issue with a ten-foot pole, so afraid is he of the potential criticism. But he will make it harder for young women to obtain birth control.

When it comes to the idea that Obama would rather read terrorists their rights than keep America safe, this is where the distance between the real Obama and the fictional Obama is at its widest. Not only has Obama continued the civil liberties abuses that began under the Bush administration, but he’s actually expanded them, to the point where now it’s written into the law that the president has the power to throw American citizens into prison without a trial purely on suspicion of ties to terrorism. He appeared to make a genuine effort to close down Guantanamo as soon as he took office, but when that failed he never brought the issue up again, and the prison remains open and could conceivably remain so for generations. He doesn’t do waterboarding anymore but he hasn’t prosecuted anyone responsible for that war crime, all the while bringing the hammer down on whistleblowers like Bradley Manning who dared to make the abuses of our military public. Finally, if you really want to know whether or not Obama is soft on terror, you can ask Osama bin Laden.

And lastly, there’s the matter of religion. Newt Gingrich told a crowd of supporters that as soon as he takes office, he’ll repeal every single anti-religious act passed by the Obama administration. That shouldn’t take long, as no such acts have been passed by the real Obama. The fictional Obama is the one carrying out this “war on religion” we keep hearing about. After all, that guy is secretly Muslim and born in Kenya, and obviously on a crusade to undermine America’s Christian moral foundation.

Running against a fictional character may work for the Republican candidates in the primary, but it’s going to blow up in their faces if they try that in the general election, which is exactly what Obama is counting on. If Mitt Romney accuses Obama in a debate of raising taxes, Obama will be poised and ready with the facts to prove that he has not. The same goes for the accusation that he’s cut defense, gone after gun rights, and so on. The major political advantage Obama has garnered for himself by going against his liberal base time and again on nearly every single issue is that the Republicans can’t make a fact-based attack on him for doing any of the things that liberal presidents are normally criticized for doing. The best they can do is say that he talked about doing such things in the 2008 campaign.

If they’re forced to run against the real Obama, there are plenty of things to criticize him for, but they are guilty of those same things themselves. Romney could expose every last way in which Obama has been a puppet of Wall Street, but he knows quite well that he’s running to be the next puppet of the very same interests.

But the truly funny thing is that aside from his ties to the financial industry, most conservatives would like the real Obama if they knew who he was. If you just changed the D in front of his name to an R and read off a list of the actions he’s taken since his term began, they’d understand him to be a moderate who is slightly left-of-center on some issues but right-of-center on most.

The real Obama governs like a moderate Republican of former days, before the party drifted off to its right-wing fringe. The real Obama would win a national election against any of these clowns the Republicans have put forward in this primary, and they know it. That’s why they have no choice but to run against a fictional character instead, and it’s why they’re going to lose the general election when the curtain is pulled back and independent voters get a good look at who Obama actually is.

The 2012 Election is Over

January 5th, 2012 No comments

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The Iowa caucuses were last night, and after months and months of exciting horse-race politics in which nearly every single Republican candidate surged to front-runner status and then fell back again, the winner was the guy everybody originally thought would win.

Mitt Romney came in first place ahead of Rick Santorum by just 8 votes. The narrow margin made the night as dramatic as the rest of the race has been so far, but like the entire presidential electoral process in general, it was mostly inconsequential. Santorum only did so well because his popularity happened to peak at just the right time, but like every other alternative-to-Romney candidate in the field, his numbers will plummet once people start paying more attention to him.

And so as early as January 5, with only one primary contest finished and ten months to go before the general election, I can boldly pronounce who the winner of the 2012 election will be: Wall Street, and the rest of Corporate America.

It’s all over, folks. The corporate plutocracy that owns the media and our politicians now has this one in the bag. They already own Barack Obama, and they’ve owned Mitt Romney for quite some time. Both of these guys have demonstrated that they will do whatever the big corporations want them to do, with a few minor exceptions Obama has to make for political reasons (e.g. the consumer financial protection bureau).

The choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is a choice between two different brands of the same product. It’s like being offered Pepsi or Coke when what you really want is orange juice. (Or more accurately, it’s like a choice between Coca-Cola and Royal Crown Cola, both of which are owned by the same company.)

The powerful financial interests which make up the establishment would call the shots no matter who gets elected, be it Obama, Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or almost any of the others. There are only three candidates in the entire race who would not be beholden to them: 1- Rocky Anderson, who is a third-party candidate and therefore has no chance, 2- Buddy Roemer (a.k.a. “who is that?”) and 3- Ron Paul.

Yes, the last best chance for real change in 2012 was a Ron Paul victory in Iowa. He was the only real threat to the establishment, but they were able to snuff it out in Iowa. Unfortunately, he was too easy of a target.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot to dislike about Ron Paul. Those racist newsletters are a disastrous reflection on his character and his obvious lies to pretend he knew nothing about them made it clear that he’s not quite as honest as he seems. His die-hard libertarianism, if fully implemented, would be a disaster of epic proportions.

But he’s not running for dictator. He’s running for president, and the president does not have nearly the kind of power it would require for him to implement his entire agenda. He would try to eliminate the department of commerce, of education, of energy, the EPA, and so on, but Congress wouldn’t let him. There would be bipartisan opposition to all extremist legislation he proposes, and while a few Republicans would take his side in some fights, the vast majority are owned by the establishment and the establishment would make defeating him their top priority.

On the other hand, there are certain things the president has the power to do all on his own without approval from Congress. He could and would stand against the military industrial complex and get our troops out of Afghanistan immediately, saving billions of dollars of the national budget currently being wasted. He could end the war on drugs, freeing up law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes and deal a death-blow to the cartels. Finally, he could aggressively go after and prosecute every single one of those Wall Street bankers who committed the fraud that crashed the economy and then walked away with millions in taxpayer-funded bonuses.

But this is all a fantasy. Ron Paul would never win the Republican nomination, though I think he’d probably stand the best chance of beating Barack Obama because unlike any other Republican he actually appeals to liberals for the reasons stated above. No progressive is going to vote for Romney, but plenty would be tempted to vote for Ron Paul.

At the very least, a Ron Paul nomination would turn the establishment media on its head. The mainstream media, owned by the same corporations that own the government, would throw everything they have at Paul including, possibly, rational arguments over policy! There would be a real debate over things like the proper extent of the role of government in people’s lives, and conservatives would look at his extreme views and be forced to acknowledge that it should at least play some role. There would be a real discussion over the efficacy of the war on drugs, and if enough people look at the statistics it might finally tip the scales against prohibition, an obviously failed and counter-productive policy. Finally, we’d have a real debate over the wars, and with the Democratic candidate in favor of them and the Republican candidate against, people would have to consider their own opinion instead of just accepting the default position of their team.

But the best thing about the imaginary Paul vs. Obama scenario is that Fox News and the rest of the conservative corporate media would take Obama’s side. After all, he’s a part of the establishment and Paul is not. It serves their purposes to be against Obama now because they are still hoping for a more corporate-friendly president, but if Paul were to be the Republican nominee all that nonsense about Obama being a socialist left-wing radical would go straight out the window and the likes of O’Reilly and Hannity would be talking night after night about how Obama has actually been governing pretty much like a moderate Republican.

Sadly, none of that will happen now, so the establishment can rest easy. There will be no real change this year. The middle-class continues to be squeezed and squeezed but the tipping point has not yet been reached and that slowly roasting kettle will not boil over. In 2011 many people finally took to the streets in a genuine rebellion against the establishment, but that political energy will be absorbed by the election as people eventually accept a candidate and line up behind them. Instead of fighting for real change, most of these people will be fighting to re-elect Obama for the sole reason that they believe Romney will be far worse. But in reality, it will make almost no difference.

The American presidential electoral process used to have the potential to bring about change, but ever since the government has been completely absorbed by the corporations and all of the candidates bought by the same interests, it’s become little more than a sideshow—a useful distraction for the politically-active to direct their energy away from actually fighting for real issues. It’s only January, but the election is already over. The 1% win. The rest of us lose.

More Cross-Cultural Contact

October 28th, 2011 No comments

Some weeks are stranger than others. I’m nearing the end of a three-day stretch of events that fall outside of what’s become the normal routine for me. As each thing deserves its own post, this will be the first of two separate entries I’ll be posting today.

On Wednesday I finally got another chance to socialize with people my age from the local community. Ben invited me, Fred, and a few of his Japanese friends out to dinner at an Okinomiyaki restaurant near his apartment. (Okinomiyaki is the same thing I ate on my first night in Japan). After getting off of work and going for a jog, I gave him a call to find out what time he’d be heading there. I finally have a working phone again, but I lost my contacts and was only able to call him because there was a missed call and it turned out to be his number. He said I could come right over and have a beer before we went out, so I took him up on that.

For the only the third time since I’ve been to Japan, I threw on a long-sleeve shirt before going out. It turned out that I should have worn a jacket. The weather is finally starting to shift (though the leaves are still stubbornly refusing to change color.) and this night was the coldest we’ve had so far. Luckily it was only about a ten minute walk to Ben’s place.

I got there and we chatted for a little while about how things were going at school, then Fred showed up and joined us. Mayumi came a few minutes later, and soon enough it was time to head to the restaurant. It was a five-minute walk to get there, and although we were a few minutes late for our 7:00 reservation, none of the others had arrived yet.

This place was bigger than the one in Narita, and they had some rooms where you sit on the floor and others with chairs. Thankfully, we had a room with chairs.

The first person to arrive was a guy named Atsushi whom I believe works at a bar near the shore and is also a judo instructor for kids. I would describe him as “incredibly friendly” but that description seems to apply to nearly every Japanese person I’ve met. I guess he also seemed more laid-back and easygoing than the norm. He didn’t speak fantastic English but he wasn’t afraid to put what he did know to use, and seemed to understand most of the things I said to him.

The other three guests were all girls in their early twenties. A girl Ben knew (I forget how) named Ai, who is a hip-hop dancer (and also incredibly friendly), and two of her friends, whose names I believe were Kai and Miku, or something like that. They were all nice-looking, but Miku was particularly beautiful. Unfortunately, neither she nor Kai spoke English at all save for a few random words. Ai’s English was just slightly better than my Japanese.

Fred has been living here the longest and his Japanese is by far the best, so he pretty much stole the show when it came to group conversation, leaving Ben and myself to do our best to figure out what was being said unless Fred translated something. I could answer a few easy questions like where I’m from, how old I am, and what my birthday is, but I’m still nowhere near the level required to carry on any kind of interesting conversation. At least I noticed myself having an easier time getting the basic idea of what was being talked about.

Dinner was delicious, and afterwards Ben invited everyone back to his place for a drink (nobody opted into the over-priced alcohol of the restaurant). Mayumi was the only one who declined the invitation, heading home about ten minutes before the rest of us left, while everyone else decided to go.

Atsushi and the girls had driven there, so we were able to get rides from them back to Ben’s apartment (which due to the road-situation actually took just as long as it did to walk), and once everyone arrived Ben, Ai, and I went on a beer-run to the FamilyMart nearby.

When we got back there was about another hour of Japanese/English conversation, with Ben and I straining ourselves to use Japanese words whenever we knew them and the girls doing the same for English. Whenever there was something we just couldn’t understand, Fred or Atsushi would translate, but this didn’t happen very often and communication flowed rather smoothly the whole time.

Near the end, we somehow got into demonstrations of weird body/hand tricks, like placing coins on your elbow and trying to catch them in your hand with one sweep of the arm, or spinning a battery on the floor with a single flick of the finger, not to mention the pulling-off-your-thumb trick, which is apparently just as well-known in Japan.

Atsushi left shortly before the rest of us, and at about 11:00 Fred, the girls, and I stepped outside to head home ourselves. As it happened, Trey, who lives right across from Ben, was just getting home from kick-boxing practice and he came up to say hello to us (the girls in particular) before they got in their car and went home (much to Trey’s disappointment).

Before I began the cold walk home, Trey said he wanted to talk to me for a second, apparently eager to get some of his political thoughts off his chest with a fellow political-junkie. He proceeded to go into a short rant about how Obama was easily going to win the 2012 election because the Republicans have no clue that times have changed and that thanks to the internet nobody is buying into the bullshit that their own economic interests are aligned with those of the super-rich anymore. I agreed that more people are catching on, but I’m not so optimistic, particularly when so many people get their information exclusively from corporate mouthpieces like Fox News or talk-radio. He insisted that all of the Republican candidates are too weak to win, and I said that if Romney gets the nomination and the entire corporate media-machine coalesces behind him in support, he’ll look a lot stronger than he does now and will have a chance to beat Obama. He doesn’t think so.

He apologized for keeping me, but I didn’t really mind because it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to talk politics with anyone. The same is apparently the case with him, as he also brought up a bunch of other issues including what Herman Cain’s candidacy is all about (the Koch Brothers have been paying him for years to pull the political spectrum farther to the right, and he has no intention of becoming president but merely to pressure the other Republican candidates to do things like propose their own flat-tax plans).

At any rate, he was kind enough to finish our conversation by giving me a ride home in his heated car, and when he dropped me off he said that we should get together some time and he’d show me “the other side of Togane”. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I hope he follows up on that. He’s a very cool guy, and although I’m not nearly as big of an Obama fan as he is, it’s nice to be able to talk politics and he’s the only one I’ve met in this entire country so far who’s interested.

I got to bed shortly after midnight, and discovered upon waking up at 7:00 as usual that this was actually plenty of sleep. I’ve been going to bed around 10:00 on weeknights but I often wake up in the middle of the night and toss and turn for hours, and when I get up at 7:00 I still feel exhausted. Seven solid hours is probably better than nine interrupted ones, so from now on that’s what I’ll be trying.

Wednesday had been a relatively crazy day. Thursday would be even crazier.

The Occupiers Can Win

October 6th, 2011 No comments

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” –Gandhi

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It feels like a lifetime since I’ve posted a political blog entry, but I just can’t resist adding my voice to the chants going out from Wall Street and all across America these days. About two months ago I moved to Japan and since then my focus on politics has taken a back-seat to the major life-changes I’ve been going through. It wasn’t long after I look my leave-of-absence from the political world that thousands of my fellow citizens found themselves diving in head-first and igniting a movement that has the potential to completely change the American political landscape for a generation. This post intends to serve the dual purposes of A) spreading some of my optimism about the potential of the Occupy Wall Street movement to bring about significant political change and B) keeping with the primary purpose of my political writing which has always been to provide like-minded people with arguments to potentially sway conservative-leaning yet open-minded citizens to our point of view.

First and foremost, you should tell your conservative friends that if they like the Tea Party, they should love the Occupiers. After all, this is a grassroots movement of citizens disillusioned with the broken system standing up and demanding change. I seem to recall the pundits on Fox News and other cable channels lauding the Tea Party for that very reason—regardless of their specific views, they were participating in the political process in the full spirit of the American tradition of Free Speech and the right to organize. You’d think that even if they disagree with the message of the Occupiers, they should at least acknowledge that their zeal for peaceful demonstration is as American as it gets, and intrinsically no more or less valuable than that of the Tea Party.

Of course, we know that there is in fact a world of difference between what lies at the core of the Tea Party and what drives the Occupiers. While it’s true that most of the average citizens who go to Tea Party rallies are well-intentioned people who honestly believe in the message they’re sending, their movement is “grassroots” in name only—it is in fact a collection of various political organizations funded by right-wing think-tanks like Americans for Prosperity which are themselves funded by the wealthiest Americans and corporations, the very people who are responsible for the economic conditions the Tea Partiers’ anger is a product of. Their anger is justified and their willingness to protest is admirable, but they’ve been misled and misdirected into serving the enemies of the very kinds of change they really need.

Conversely, the Occupiers are a true grassroots movement, not funded by any billionaires but started “from the ground up” in the most literal sense of the term. Just a few hundred citizens decided to direct their anger at the very people responsible for their financial hardship and they took to the streets and kept at it—not just organizing a single protest for a day and then going home having been completely ignored by the media, but sticking to it until people finally started paying attention and more powerful allies began to join their fight.

The right-wing propaganda machine wants us to dismiss them as a bunch of left-wing hippies who don’t understand how the world really works, and this has worked so far and will continue to work on the Fox News audience for a long time to come, but they should be reminded as often as possible that just as the Tea Party was not quite the neo-Klan rally gathering of racists and bigots that the “liberal” media sometimes portrayed them as, neither can the Occupiers be characterized with such a broad brush. Fox News has constantly reminded us that there are Independents and Democrats among the Tea Party crowd, and we should all be reminded that there are indeed some Tea Partiers among the Occupier crowd as well.

The movement to restore fairness to the American economic system should not be considered either right-wing or left-wing and we should resist as much as we can the efforts of the corporate media to drive a wedge between the Occupiers and conservative-leaning citizens who would share their sentiments if only they were given an objective look.

I won’t waste time going into the justifications of the Occupy Wall Street movement itself, as anyone interested in understanding their message could read any of a thousand other blog posts, check out this website, or simply watch the movie Inside Job. The central fact—and it is a fact—behind this movement is that Wall Street traders, aided by their bought-and-paid-for tools in Washington (on both sides of the aisle) who’ve been deregulating their industry since the 1990s in exchange for campaign donations, inflated a financial bubble that dealt a crippling blow to the middle class when it burst. Moreover, those responsible for this fiasco have continued to thrive thanks to a giant taxpayer bailout, even awarding themselves record bonuses as if to spit in the faces of all the people they’d screwed over once they were through screwing us.

I’ll say it again: if you like the Tea Party you should love the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tea Party movement was so popular (among those who failed to follow the money) due to the perception that it was a struggle of the Little Guy against the Big Guy, a reaction to the financial crisis and the ensuing bailout that enraged everybody regardless of political affiliation. Yet somewhere along the way the anger was diverted from Wall Street and directed at the handful of people in Washington who were actually trying to fix the system. The Occupiers have brought the anger back to where it started and where it belongs, and if the success of the Tea Party is any indication it will soon be a force to be reckoned with.

Just look at what the billionaires and the corporate establishment have managed to accomplish by harnessing the momentum that the Tea Party provided them with. They were nearly able to derail health care reform entirely, and while a bill was ultimately passed it was so watered-down and establishment-friendly that its main element is actually a mandate to buy insurance from the same profit-driven companies that were the reason the American health-care system was in such need of reform in the first place. They’ve prevented anything whatsoever from getting done on climate change, deflated any pressure there might have been to restore the civil liberties demolished by the Bush administration, allowed state and local governments to slash funding for education and public services while handing out corporate tax-cuts, secured at least a two-year extension of the Bush tax-rates, and in the biggest irony of all made last years’ Wall Street Reform Act so ineffective as to ensure that if nothing else is done by the time the next bubble bursts, the entire financial-collapse and subsequent taxpayer-bailout is guaranteed to happen all over again.

Much has been made by the mainstream media about the lack of “concrete demands” from the Occupier movement. The lack of specific demands never stopped the Tea Party from having such a major influence in Washington. And if the Tea Party can be said to have made any demands at all, it was always to prevent something from getting done (e.g. “Kill the Bill!”). The spirit of the Occupier movement is to get those in power to actually do something to fix the broken system. The specifics of what that is can be debated by policymakers, but without that pressure from the ground there will never even be a debate.

One of the best suggestions is this one put forward by Alex Pareene at Salon to demand that Wall Street forgive the debts of the 99% who bailed them out. It’s got both moral and practical justifications: they’d be bankrupt if not for our help so why shouldn’t they save us from bankruptcy? Not only that, but imagine the stimulative effect on the economy if all of a sudden the middle class had all that capital freed up to spend on consumer goods rather than debt payments to banks. If the Occupiers take up this idea as a rallying cry, it might just become a real issue in the 2012 election.

The timing of this movement could hardly be more perfect, as right now the Obama White House is suffering from a complete lack of momentum and yet it still has time to change course. When he came to office Obama had a movement of energized citizens behind him but his failure to harness that energy and lead the country in a different direction caused it to fizzle out in a matter of months. If he wanted to ensure his re-election there’s a new movement full of energy just waiting to be harnessed, if he just had the political courage to stand up, take the mantle, and run with it.

Among the Occupiers’ demands, I believe the immediate firing of Tim Geithner, (referred to by insiders as “Wall Street’s man in Washington”) should be near the top of the list, along with the rest of Obama’s disastrous economic team to be replaced by people actually willing to fight the bankers and hand out indictments where appropriate. Obama has done so much to appease the Wall Street crowd and yet they still aren’t satisfied, so his best chance at redeeming his administration is to give up on their support entirely, take a cue from Franklin Roosevelt, and welcome their hatred. As the Occupy movement grows it should become increasingly clear to him that making an enemy of the most hated institution in the country is not, as the establishment-insiders in their beltway-bubble would have him believe, political suicide. He won’t need their campaign cash with such strong wind at his back.

At the very least, the Occupy movement can play the same role as the Tea Party movement in providing strong and vocal support for policies to bring about more economic fairness for the middle class, throwing its support behind any politician willing to fight for their popular and just cause and fighting tooth-and-nail against all those Wall Street puppets who stand against them.

Finally, as the number one argument that will get thrown back in your face by conservatives when you insist that the rich should pay their fair share is that “the top 1% pay 40% of all federal taxes and the bottom 51% pay no taxes at all”, I just want to offer you a couple of links that will allow you to quickly shoot down that talking-point. Here it explains that between 1987 and 2008, the top 1%’s share of the national income increased at five times the rate of their share of taxes. Here you’ll find that while the top 1% do pay 40% of all federal income taxes, when you factor in other kinds of taxes including payroll tax and sales tax their actual share is actually between 22 and 28%, right in line with the 25% of the national income they control. And here you’ll find that when you don’t just cherry pick the federal income tax, the bottom 51% do indeed pay a decent chunk of their income in taxes. You can cite these facts, or you could simply remind them that when a family making less than $30,000 a year pays 13% in taxes, they have to use everything left over to pay for food, heating, car insurance, and all the other bills, while when someone making millions of dollars a year pays 34% in taxes, they’ve still got millions left over.

The Occupy Wall Street movement deserves as much support as we can give it. It’s about time we’re seeing the pent-up rage of the middle class spilling out onto the streets, and if the history of class-struggles in the United States is any guide, there’s reason to believe that they might actually succeed.

Plutocrats Win. Flawless Victory.

August 1st, 2011 No comments

When I was a kid I used to play a video game called Mortal Kombat which involved two players engaged in a violent fighting match. Every time you hit your opponent it would drain them of hit-points, and the first player to run out of hit-points would lose the match. If you could defeat your opponent without them landing a single hit, it was called a “Flawless victory”. That’s what the plutocrats will have scored if the debt-ceiling deal currently on the table goes through.

Yes, the plutocrats. Not the Republicans. The media has been framing this as a death-match between Democrats and Republicans from the beginning, but that’s an inaccurate picture of what’s really going on, as it assumes that not only are the parties united internally but that they fundamentally disagree politically. Not so. Nearly all Republicans are bought-and-paid for by their wealthy donors from Wall Street and other Big Business interests (whom I refer to under the umbrella of “plutocrats”) and a majority of Democrats are owned by the same interests as well. The fight in Washington has not been Republicans vs. Democrats but rather Corporate Republicans and Corporate Democrats vs. the Economic Interests of the American people.

Unless he’s the most incompetent negotiator in the history of politics, it should now be completely apparent to everyone paying attention that Barack Obama has been playing for Team Plutocrats all along. You can go all the way back to his appointment of Tim Geithner and other Wall Street insiders to his economic team if you want evidence of that, but you really need look no further than his behavior over the course of this debate to make that determination.

Instead of doing what a liberal, a progressive, or any rational independent-thinking person would do in the midst of an economic recession and insist on holding off on spending cuts until unemployment goes down, then pushing hard for programs aimed to do just that, President Obama went into this process already agreeing with Republicans that spending cuts should be the top priority. So instead of the debate being Job Creation vs. Spending Cuts—a debate that any president could easily win—he turned the debate into Spending Cuts with Minor Revenue Increases vs. Spending Cuts Alone. And guess what? Spending Cuts Alone wins. Flawless Victory.

Why is that a victory for the plutocrats? Because the more money that gets cut out of the public sector, the more goes to the private sector. Cut government programs that help the poor and middle class and those citizens will be forced to go to the private sector to get those services, and they’ll find themselves charged a hell of a lot more by these profit-driven industries. A balanced budget is a good thing, but a deal that balances the budget on the backs of middle class workers and senior citizens while asking absolutely nothing in return from the wealthiest Americans and corporations is an abomination.

This is the deal on the table, according to the Huffington Post:

The deal calls for a first round of cuts that would total $917 billion over 10 years and allows the president to hike the debt cap — now at $14.3 trillion — by $900 billion, according to a presentation that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made to his members. Democrats reported those first cuts at a figure closer to $1 trillion. It was unclear Sunday night why those two estimates varied.

The next round of $1.5 trillion in cuts would be decided by a committee of 12 lawmakers evenly divided between the two parties and two chambers. This so-called super Congress would have to present its cuts by Thanksgiving, and the rest of Congress could not amend or filibuster the recommendations.

But if the super Congress somehow failed to enact savings, the measure requires automatic cuts worth at least $1.2 trillion. Those cuts would be split equally between military and domestic programs. Social Security, Medicaid and programs for the poor would be spared, but Medicare providers — not beneficiaries — would take a hit.

At first glance you might think this sounds somewhat reasonable. At least the cuts would spare Social Security and Medicare recipients…right? Doubtful. Cuts to providers will almost certainly affect recipients anyway, and even if they don’t this whole “super Congress” idea is designed to correct that apparent oversight. Twelve lawmakers evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans? How many of those Democrats will be corporate-owned? It’s practically guaranteed that at least one of them will, thus handing the majority to the plutocrats who can make sure cuts to Medicare and Social Security do affect beneficiaries and not just providers. If it’s a choice between that and the threat of these automatic ticking time-bomb cuts going off, of course they’ll accept whatever so-called “compromise” is put in front of them.

The most telling thing about this whole deal is the president’s reaction. Naturally, he doesn’t like the deal, but here’s the reason why:

President Obama seemed especially dissatisfied with the idea of the super committee, saying the leaders should have been able to accomplish all the cuts now.

"Is this the deal I would have preferred? No," Obama said. "I believe that we could have made the tough choices required — on entitlement reform and tax reform — right now, rather than through a special congressional committee process."

He’s upset because it doesn’t cut enough. He wanted to cut your entitlements now, presumably so he could claim credit and brag about what a reasonable, middle-of-the-road, fiscally-responsible centrist moderate he is. “Look at me! You said I was a socialist but I just made cuts to entitlement programs that not even George W. Bush could accomplish! Does the Washington press give me credit for ‘leadership’ now?”

If I hear any pundits try and spin this as a victory for President Obama—“He was able to bring Republicans to the table in the end and he came off looking like the adult in the room”—I’m going to have to fight very hard to stifle the impulse to throw something at my television.

Obama is now handing the plutocrats and their Republican Party stooges one of the biggest political victories they’ve scored in a generation. The cuts they’ll end up getting will actually be more than they originally asked for, and there will be absolutely no revenue increases whatsoever—not so much as the closing of a corporate-jet loophole. The plutocrats get everything they want—or at least a clear path towards achieving everything they want—and the progressives who are the only ones actually fighting for the economic interests of the American people—get absolutely none of what they want.

And keep in mind that this whole thing was all for the sake of getting Republicans to vote for something that they’ve voted to do every single year prior to this one, purely as a matter of procedure. In order to get the Republicans to agree to pay the bills that Congress has already accumulated, Obama has handed them a deal sweeter than their corporate masters could ever have imagined.

As I wrote in my last piece, Obama could have put a stop to this at any time, either by invoking the 14th Amendment or referring to a clause in the Public Debt Deal of 1941 that gives him the power to direct the Treasury Secretary to pay the outstanding bills without any approval from Congress at all. There was never any “debt crisis” in the first place, but by acting like there was and playing along with the Republicans throughout the whole process, he’s not only given away the farm this time around but set the stage for the plutocrats to get even more of what they want by doing the same thing again in the future. For Obama, who has been working against his own team from the beginning, this is truly a Flawless Defeat.

If you’re as angry about this as I am, call your representatives and tell them to vote against this deal. Don’t worry—the United States will not default on its debt. The plutocrats would never have allowed that to happen in the first place, which is the biggest reason this whole thing has been nothing more than a charade. They’ve only allowed their puppets in congress to dangle this bluff in front of the American people (with the help of the Tea Party who’ve played their role throughout this process perfectly…if unwittingly) to make it seem as though some kind of “debt ceiling deal” was necessary. No deal was necessary. No deal is necessary now. They can raise the debt ceiling without any deal, and if push comes to shove they will.

If Democrats block the deal, it will force the president’s hand. He can not let the United States default on its debt—it would be political suicide and the plutocrats wouldn’t allow it anyway—so he will have no choice but to act unilaterally to get the Treasury Secretary to pay America’s bills and put an end to this nonsense once and for all. Not only that, but setting the precedent that the president can bypass Congress on this issue will prevent these shenanigans from ever happening again in the future, taking one more card out of the plutocrats’ hands.

It would probably hurt the president politically in the short term (he’d be instantly slammed as a “dictator” by the right-wing), but I think a bold move like that would actually help him in the long-term, and I think if he takes this deal his hopes for re-election are over anyway. No one is going to care how reasonable he looks—if the economy is still struggling come Election Day 2012 (and if these cuts pass there’s no doubt that it will be), he’s going to lose handily.

But I’m beyond the point of caring. No Republican president would have been able to accomplish such a massive surge of upward-wealth-redistribution because the Democratic Party would have had to stand united against such a thing. These Democrats will go along with the president simply because they’re in his party and they don’t want to stand up to him.

But why should we, the American people, care if we’re hurting the president politically when all he’s doing is hurting us economically? If he really and truly had no choice but to accept this abomination of a bill, you could make an argument that we should have his back. But he didn’t have to accept this at all, and he still doesn’t. We just have to force him not to.

Unfortunately, I don’t think our phone calls will be enough to stop this bullet-train now. The plutocrats are already making their phone calls telling everyone to get in line and let them take their Flawless Victory. And as long as most Americans are still too lazy, stupid, or uninformed to care enough to finally rise up and push back against them, their victories will continue to be flawless.