Monday, August 11, 2014

I'D TAKE A BULLET FOR YOU...

  Imagine being able to board a train in San Francisco and three hours later be in Los Angeles.  Comfy seats...club car...WiFi...no overhead bins...no sitting on the tarmac for hours waiting...no airplane at all.  It's the stuff of great fantasy and Jerry Brown says he wants the state of California to build this bullet train.  I can't think of a worse idea.

     I don't get to see local papers very often.  (who would have thought I would miss the Chronicle?)  Once in a while one will cross my bunk and I get to see what's going on in the Bay Area.  One story seems to jump off the pages.  It is the disaster that is the construction of the new part of the Bay Bridge.  It is an on-going series of revelations revealing a comedy of errors and outrageous incompetency on a grand scale.

     From the snippets I get to read, CALTRANS chose a Chinese company to make the steel for the bridge even though it had never been involved in a bridge project before.  The company balked and failed to follow stringent requirements for the manufacture of the steel and for the quality controls needed and instead of firing them and finding someone new, CALTRANS granted the exemptions and made excuses.  Now inspectors are finding corrosion and bolts which are shearing off and evidence the company did not manufacture the steel up to standards.  The steel is exposed to elements and water and salt and reacting to them when there shouldn't be a reaction.  There are also reports of suspect concrete used in pilings and other places on the bridge as well as well as innumerable other problems and all of this plus a price tag which isn't even close to any original estimates and gives a new definition to the term sticker shock.

     The latest outrage is the accusations that employees of the state who raised red flags about many of these concerns or warned about problems with the steel, concrete, structural plans, incompetence or criminally bad engineering were fired or demoted by CALTRANS.  A report issued in January confirms an environment in which critics or whistleblowers, or just people trying to do their jobs, were intimidated and brow beat into shutting up and looking the other way or else.  In the last few weeks, three more employees have come forward to accuse CALTRANS of firing them because they dared to raise questions about the quality of the work being done.

     This is typical of the government's reaction to criticism.  This happens on Pentagon procurement all the time.  (the colonel who blew the whistle on the Bradley Fighting vehicle that it hadn't been tested and would kill everyone inside if struck by a rocket propelled grenade, was transferred to Greenland until Congress stepped in)  Companies get government contracts and then cut every corner possible to maximize profit including shoddy material, poor construction and bad design.  When someone raises questions about the practices, they are the ones attacked by a government bureaucracy which reflexively circles the wagons to protect itself.  It is exactly what CALTRANS appears to have done in this case.  As far as I can see, and I don't have all the data, no one in the upper echelons of CALTRANS or anyone in the state government, has lost their job because of this debacle.  No one has been brought up on criminal charges, charged with obstruction or for cheating California taxpayers.  As is typical, the whistleblowers lose their jobs while the higher ups stay untouched.  Brown, of course, has done nothing and held no one accountable.  No one has been fired nor has the leadership of the agency been shaken up and in fact he denies there are any serious concerns about the structural integrity of the bridge.  At the very least taxpayers and commuters will both have to pay more through higher tolls and more tax revenue, and will be on the hook for billions in repairs and maintenance costs far into the foreseeable future.

     Now this same governor...this same CALTRANS...this same incompetent group of state employees, contract supervisors, engineers and designers want to spend more than $60 billion to build a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Really?  Given what we know about how badly they blundered on the Bay Bridge and given how the costs were out of control...given their willingness to ignore or cover-up problems with materials, design, construction and other key facets of the project, you are being asked to let them have at another major construction undertaking?  What is the definition of insanity?

     "They" say it will cost about $60 billion.  This means it will cost at least twice that, or more, when it is finally completed.  "They" say it will be constructed with the best materials...the most advanced designs...using advanced high tech engineering.  You know they will hire an incompetent company to save some money (which you will pay for at the back end when it's poorly completed).  The company will try to cut every possible corner to maximize profit and if anyone raises an alarm, they will be fired or demoted as CALTRANS, or whoever is in charge, protects their own jobs at your expense.  "They" say safety will be their highest priority just as it was with the Bay Bridge.  How safe does that make you feel?  "They" say this will create much needed construction and other jobs.  Why not spend far less money repairing the state's infrastructure of roads and bridges which are in terrible condition and actually create more jobs right now in the construction industry and related fields?

     It is impossible to look at the debacle of the new Bay Bridge and then rationally hand these same people over $60 billion of your tax dollars to do it again.  The State of California, and the governor, (perhaps any governor) is incapable of building this train on-time, on budget, safely and they will stick taxpayers with the tab and it will never live up to even half of the promises being made about how it will perform and how much prosperity it will bring to the state.
 

     My grandmother used to say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  If you use the Bay Bridge as an example, it tastes like ass and smells just as bad.  I would never vote, nor support anything which involves CALTRANS in a big construction project and the bureaucrats who come with it after watching how poorly they performed on something as vital as this bridge.   Would you?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF SECTION "A"...

Reading Section A of the Wall Street Journal for Thursday, August 7th, left me wanting answers...full of thoughts and comments...aghast.agog and wanting to throw it all into one Mulligan's stew of a literary meal.

 ___ Bank of America is going to pay $17 billion for ripping off people with bogus sub-prime mortgages and securities which were issued by Countrywide Financial Bank and Merrill Lynch and Co., companies which B of A purchased at the height of the depression of 2007.  This follows $13 billion which J.P. Morgan paid in fines, $7 billion by CitiBank, and numerous other banks who have admitted to committing fraud and theft and malfeascence on a global scale.  Not one bank official will be charged with a crime and the fines are perceived as just the cost of doing business.  (It almost reminds one of a mob operation where payoffs and bribes to cops and judges is just a cost for doing their business too)  Fearing the beating of an expired equine, how is it possible these "banks" could commit such egregious fraud and do serious damage to the nation's economy, causing millions of Americans to needlessly lose their homes, exacerbate the income gap between the 1% and everyone else, and yet not one person is punished.  How can Eric Holder et. al. go to sleep at night with any sense of being part of a "Justice" department?  The gang at Justice trotted out the cheerleaders and pom poms trumpeting their latest triumph, a triumph which solidifies once and for all the reality if you are rich enough and steal big enough, you can pass Go, collect your $200 and not ever even need a get out of jail free card.  Compare this to the federal prison system where more than 200,000 people are incarcerated, not one of whom can be claimed to have wrecked our economy, stole hundreds of billions of dollars, (hell Maddoff only stole about $20 billion maybe), threw millions of Americans out on the street and saddled our children's generation with debt and the probability of not being able to achieve any where near the economic success of their parents.  How does that equate?

___ If you want to know where you stand vis a vis privacy, the N.S.A. (National Security Agency), government spying and constitutional protections, it appears we are all totally screwed.  A federal judge, who used to sit on the secret F.I.S.A. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, has written letters to a congressional committee opposing reform legislation aimed at curbing the electronic rape which has been going on in this country since 2001.  Federal District Judge John Bates, doesn't like a bill by Sen. Patrick Leahy which, among other things, would advocate creating public interest advocates who would represent you and me, in front of the secret court, when the government is asking to give you or me a cyber colorectal exam.  Currently, the F.I.S.A. court grants about 99% of the government's requests.  (so much for judicial review)  The idea that someone ought to be looking out for us to prevent a government fishing expedition into your most personal information seems to offend Judge Bates.  He seems to find transparency un-American.  He has written at least three letters opposing reforms championed by Leahy, the A.C.L.U., 4th amendment defenders and those concerned about an intelligence community run amok.  My question is why he is allowed to write and lobby on this issue at all?  The judiciary is supposed to be a check on the executive and legislative branches...it's supposed to be blind taking up neither side in a dispute. It’s supposed to be an impartial arbiter.  So, how can it be in anyone's best interest when federal judges want to shape legislation they might later have to review?  What's worse, given what Bates has written, how would like to have your case of government spying allegations come before him?  How do you think he would rule?   Bates went so far as to argue a lawyer representing you and me would create an adversary to fight the government.  He doesn't like that concept.  What?  We want it to be adversarial...we want the government to have to defend its actions...we want someone challenging their assumptions and demanding a show of probable cause...we want it to be hard to get permission to shred the 4th amendment.  Apparently Judge Bates finds the concept abhorrent and thinks judges should be writing, and then reviewing, the laws of the land.  This is 1984 scary.

___ Currently, the United States is threatening Iran with possible war if it develops, or gets close to developing, a nuclear weapon.  Crushing economic sanctions have been justified as a means to convincing them not to continue to push to be a member of the nuclear club.  Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty which allows it to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. says that is not what they are up to and they will suffer until they knuckle under.  The president says military action is possible if the status quo doesn't change.  (President Bush got the American people to support a war in Iraq by claiming Saddam was trying to build a bomb and that could not be allowed...even if it was a lie)  A new report say Israel stole over 200 lbs. of bomb-grade uranium from a Pennsylvania company in the 60's, from which at least two Hiroshima-sized bombs could be fashioned.  We know they did it.  We kept it a secret.  (from us)  Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and by law the U.S. should be imposing economic sanctions as well as refusing to sell them military equipment and other assistance.  We ignore the law for them.  We allow them to deny they have nuclear weapons.  We turn a blind eye as they modernize them and as they threaten to attack Iran, and drag us into a disastrous war we could not win.  This is the same Israel we condemn for killing women and children in Gaza, and then resupply them with the very ammunition and weapons they used to carry out those attacks.  This is our ally about whom we conveniently ignore their flaunting of our laws and about whom we know they got their bombs by stealing from us.  People then wonder why we are not seen as an honest broker in the Middle East.

___ Women prefer Democrats and their economic plans over Republicans.  Women are more concerned about income inequality and the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us and thus believe Democrats will do more to address this problem than will Republicans.  If women vote in decent enough numbers, they could blunt the Republican effort to take over control of the Senate.  Men love the GOP...love the gap between the 1% and everyone else or at least aren't troubled by it...love the idea of a pro-business, anti-labor Congress.  The midterm elections in November could result in the largest gender gap in any national election.  Here's to hoping it's a women's world in November.


___ From the bat-shit crazy department...President Obama's popularity is at an all time low and Americans give him poor marks in his handling of foreign policy.  They say it's not "muscular" enough.  However, the same polls say these Americans don't think the crisis in Syria, Libya, the South China Sea, Egypt, even the Ukraine are any of our business as a nation and do not support any use of American forces in those arenas.  Can you tell me based on these opinions, what course the President should steer internationally which would garner approval from the American public?

Monday, August 4, 2014

PROPORTIONALITY...

  Subject to new updates, at least 1,400 Palestinians have been killed in the latest battles with Israel.  According to international agencies, from one third to one half of those killed are children and over 80% of the dead are civilians.  Israel has lost 53 soldiers, which are too many, and 3 civilians so far.  (also too many)  Gaza has lost its only power plant which not only produces power for homes and lighting and air conditioning, it also is needed to run pumps which produce drinking water for Gazans.  The Palestinians are thus left in the dark, sweltering and without potable water.  Israeli infrastructure is secure with no damage from thousands of rockets which have been launched.  Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-rocket defense system is said to shoot down over 80% of the rockets which represent the most serious threats to person and property.  Thus, while Israelis face stress, psychological trauma, fear and the rare chance someone might be killed, Palestinians face imminent death, privation, and the destruction of most of their societal infrastructure.  Without debating right or wrong, the above facts point to a serious moral problem.  The threat to Israel and Israelis is not in any way proportionate to their military response.

     The Roman Catholic Church, and to an extent most Christian denominations, has promulgated over hundreds of years what has become known as the "just war" theory.  It is a moral approach to the question of whether any war can be morally justified.  While I find the theory lacking, and while the Church has rarely put any moral force behind it's decisions on just wars, it can be a starting point to examine armed conflict between states and people.  (the Church condemned the Iraq war because it violated the "just war" theory, but refused to sanction or condemn Catholic members of Congress who voted to use force...a reluctance it has never had for members who vote to protect a woman's right to choose.) 

     One of the key criteria in judging the just cause of any war is the concept of proportionality.  Is the alleged grievance caused by one nation, justification for the response of another?  (it was on this criteria the Church, along with most mainline Protestant churches in this country, condemned the Iraq war.  The United State's response was disproportionate to the provocation represented by Saddam Hussein.)

     It is clear to me; Israel's ongoing aggression in Gaza is morally disproportionate to the threat represented by the rocket attacks by Hamas.  Hamas rockets are incapable, due to their own shortcomings and the Iron Dome system, of causing the death and destruction which Israel has brought down upon Gaza.  Even the tunnels, which Israel says Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into Gaza as well as use to sneak attackers into Israel, have not resulted in significant property damage or loss of Israeli lives.

     1,400 dead vs. 3 could not be any clearer.  While Gaza loses its power plant, hospitals, schools and even open-air market places, Israel loses very little.  There is no moral equivalent between the damage and carnage Israeli forces are raining down on Gaza vs. the damage being done by Hamas to Israel and its citizens.

     Despite all the rhetoric from the Palestinian side, Israel has a right to defend itself, but it does not have a moral right to use self-defense as an excuse to try to force the Palestinians to abandon their political support for Hamas.  The truly immoral and disproportionate aspect of Israel's actions is they continue to attack civilians and children who could not and cannot stop the launching of the rockets even if they agreed with Israel's position.  Justifying innocent deaths by accusing Hamas of using human shields doesn't get Israel off the moral hook.  Knowing that, and attacking anyway, puts the onus on the Israelis even with the immoral actions of Hamas.  As their homes and towns are laid to rubble, the people in Gaza are not in a position to do anything affecting Hamas' strategy or military decisions.

     Even though Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies it, the only explanation for the destruction in Gaza is an attempt by Israel to cause regime change.  Israel appears to believe that by punishing the population of Gaza...killing them...destroying parts of cities and towns...shelling beaches filled with children...the people will remove Hamas from governing Gaza and replace it with something more acceptable to the Israelis.  This is the same mentality which President Bush was guilty of in Afghanistan and Iraq and you see how well that has worked out.

     Netanyahu is on the record as opposing a two state solution.  His cabinet is full of advisors who refuse to ever accept such a possibility.  Even as 16,000 more reservists are called up to pursue a ground war, Netanyahu's government reveals plans to expand illegal settlements on the West Bank and Jerusalem. (settlements which the United Nations, United States and Europe all agree are illegal and steal land from the Palestinians)  To think Palestinians will reject Hamas in the face of a continual Israeli occupation is to ignore reality.

     Israel does have the right to defend itself.  It has the right to close or destroy tunnels which allow for Hamas to attack within the country.  Israel has a right to exist and to live without fear of attack.  Israel has the right to respond to provocation, but the response must be proportional to the provocation.

    The United States has been an enabler for Israel since its inception.  We arm them and ignore their development of nuclear weapons while threatening war with other nations who attempt to get a nuke of their own.  We have refused to sanction Israel for disproportionate responses in the past.  We turn a blind eye as more and more Palestinian land is stolen by Israelis and settlements built.  Israel knows it can get away with virtually anything, particularly in an election year.  The current humanitarian crisis in Gaza is not matched by an equal humanitarian crisis in Israel and the U.S. is silent on the disparity.  Israel sees no downside to their current offensive.


     I don't have an ounce of Solomonic wisdom in me and don't know how to split this baby to bring about peace.  I do know it has to involve a two state solution...it has to involve an end to settlements and giving back the land...it has to recognize Israel's right to exist in peace with secure borders...it has to represent hope for both sides.  I do know the only thing Israel is doing now is sewing the seeds of future wars and deep-seated hatred along with more destruction and the current offensive is immoral.

Friday, July 25, 2014

HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE...

There is a knock on your door and you open it to discover a 7 year old child alone, cold, hungry and in shock.  What do you do?  Do you slam the door?...tell her to go away?...sic your dog on her?...call the National Guard?  Or do you invite her in and wrap her in a blanket, give her some food and drink?  Do you make her feel safe while trying to figure out where she came from?  You do call the police and social services in the hope they can find her family and knowing she will be kept warm and protected.  Questions about how she got to your door and why she is alone and where she came from would all be secondary to meeting her immediate needs.  Right?

     It’s baffling to me how a humanitarian crisis has morphed into an existential threat to our nation's security, and yet it is what is happening since thousands of unaccompanied minor children began washing up on the shores of this great country seeking asylum.  The rhetoric and hyperbole from regressives borders on the maniacal.  One Texas congressman likens the children to an invading army while invoking images of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day and calls on the state's governor to use all force, including warships, to stem this human tide.  Another southern member of Congress claims the children are carrying the Ebola virus and could cause an American pandemic.  Regressive talk radio talks in dystopian terms of the end of all our borders and the collapse of American culture if these children are not stopped and force used to deter any future attempts to enter this nation.  Our infrastructure and institutions are on the verge of imploding due to this children's crusade.

     Huh?  These flights of fancy and fact-less frenzy would be the stuff of great satire were it not for the serious crisis occurring and the fact some Americans are buying into this nightmare scenario.  The conspiracy theories are flying fast and furious.  These children are coming here at President Obama's behest to become a new voting block for the Democratic Party.  (considering the average age is about 9-11, those elections they will tilt Obama's way would appear to be quite a few years hence)  This human tidal wave is a result of a 2012 law signed by Obama slowing the deportation of some children by this nation.  (in reality it is a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush which mandates that undocumented children be protected and placed with any family which can be found in this country)  This crisis is a result of borders which are not secure and they are not secure because Obama wants more and more new immigrants to bolster his political power.  (under this president, the budget for the Border Patrol has increased dramatically to its highest level ever and there are more border patrol agents now than at any time in history and the numbers continues to climb)  There is even talk by the likes of Sarah Palin and others that this is an impeachable offense because Obama is deliberately undermining the strength and security of the nation by encouraging or ignoring all these children at our border.

     When the real facts are examined, the reason for this mass movement of children is readily apparent.  The highest percentage of children are coming from nations like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  These also happen to be the most violent and unstable nations in Central America.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Honduras has the highest murder rate in the entire world.  Crime and mayhem from drug gangs and criminal wars, along with crushing poverty, has trapped these children and their families in the middle of it all.  (as proof look at a nation like Nicaragua which has a low homicide rate and rate of violence...very few of the children appearing at our borders are from there or from other more stable and less violent nations in the area)

     Texas governor Rick Perry wants to put the National Guard (with fixed bayonet's?) on the Texas border.  Under questioning on Fox News of all places, Perry had to admit the Guard could not arrest anyone or hold these children and it was unlikely they were going to shoot them (right?) so what good would they do?  Perry said they could scare the kids and send a message back to their homes so no more will venture forth.  I'm sorry?  These unaccompanied minors, some as young as three years old, have trekked over thousands of miles of mountains and deserts, against all odds, to escape abuse and violence, but the sight of some soldiers is going to frighten them enough to get them to turn back or not to leave in the first place?

     The U.S. has facilities to handle about 8,000 children and families at any given time.  There are not enough camps and bases and old prisons to hold them all right now.  There are not enough medical personnel to evaluate them for illness and disease and not enough food and beds.  Obama is asking for billions to remedy this, but regressives say it's too much money and are refusing to pass his request.  (Perry, along with El Rushbo have shouted about a looming health crisis because these children haven't been vaccinated against things like measles and chicken pox.  Ironically, because of free health care, the children from Guatemala are more likely to be vaccinated than children in Texas)

     Perhaps the most disturbing image among all the news footage, more disturbing than shoeless, hungry, emaciated children begging for help while some of their companions lie dead on the desert floor, is the picture of crowds of angry white Americans attacking buses carrying the children, screaming at them and refusing to allow them to be sheltered in their communities.  (this is happening all over the nation from California to Michigan)  What is it they are so angry about?  What threat do these children represent?  Who have they offended by risking their lives to escape violence, abuse and poverty?

     All of these children need to be kept safe, warm, fed and clothed.  They then need to be evaluated to see if they have family in this country and why they fled and what dangers they would face if repatriated back to their homes.  It is not going to be quick or clean but it is the right moral choice to make in a "Christian" nation.


     The "invasion" of these children shows the real moral fault lines in this nation and again they fall along racial and economic concerns.  These are the same racial and economic concerns which created the No Nothing Party, the Klan, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, Japanese internment camps and the signs saying" no Irish need apply".  Lady Liberty carries a torch to light the way for those children.  Who among you wants to snuff that out?

THE VOODOO THAT YOU DO SO WELL...

When George Bush ran for the presidency in 1999, he promised to cut taxes resulting in "...a tax cut to sustain our nation's prosperity and reflect our nation's decency."  He went on to promise, "...a higher standard of living for all Americans."  Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston says that those tax cuts actually stole $48,000 from every American taxpayer, a total of $6.6 Trillion (yes with a "T") over 12 years.

     Where is the prosperity we are all supposed to be enjoying?  Unemployment and under employment are continuing drags on the economy which still cant shake off the last depression.  (except for the 1% who are richer today than before the depression of 2008 along with the hedge funds and Wall Street)  Students graduate now with debt levels the equivalent of a first mortgage resulting in their inability, as they go into the job market and marry and start families (maybe), to be able to purchase a first home. This undercuts one of the basic foundations of a healthy economy.  (much of this debt is the result of lost revenue on the federal and state level due to tax cuts and much of this debt is taken on by the children of the middle class for whom tax cuts were supposed to be a godsend)  The job market is dismal for most middle class Americans who watch their productivity increase but their wages do not.


     Johnston analyzed long term personal incomes as reported by American taxpayers from 2000-2012.  "...in 10 of those 12 years, when the Bush tax cuts were in effect, the average income was lower than in 2000.  The total net loss for the taxpayers over those 12 years was $48,000.” says Johnston.  He goes on to ask, "...after 12 years of tax cut mania real hourly wages are now 6% lower than they were in 1972-1973.  Hourly workers today make less than their counterparts 40 years ago.  Where did it all go?"

     According to Johnston, hold on to your seats, over 33% of that money went to just 16,000 households and about 95 cents of every dollar went to the top 1% while the 99% lost ground.

     When Al Gore debated George Bush, he accused him of "funny math" and even used the line Bush's father used against Ronald Reagan, accusing Bush of using "voodoo economics".  Bush laughed him off.  He repeated the mantra of trickle down theory that when the rich get to keep more of their money, all boats are raised.  (isn't it funny as we debate raising the minimum wage, the same argument doesn't work for regular folk.  Why isn't it good for America for the middle class and poor to keep more money in their pockets?)   Twelve years later it is clear by Johnston's analysis that tax cuts have become an albatross around the neck of most Americans and the only boats being raised are luxury yachts belonging to the 1%.

     Tax cut mania trickled down from the feds to the states as well.  The result is a loss in revenue necessitating cuts in most infrastructure projects resulting in a continuing degrading of roads, bridges and utility grids across the land.  The prime example of this is the state of Kansas, where Republican governor Sam Brownback dramatically cut personal taxes promising on explosion in economic activity and new job growth.  Brownback is now fighting for his political life as Kansas has had to take a butcher knife to the state school's budget and is running up debt as it borrows to cover the revenue shortfalls.  The state is unable to fund road projects or repair bridges and faces an increasing deficit.

     Americas electrical grid is being compared these days to that of a third world country.  The loss of a few key pieces could shut down most, if not all, of the nation's ability to deliver electricity.  (in Gaza electricity is only on four hours a day...Egypt maybe 8 hours...Iraq about 12 hours maybe)  Civil engineers say thousands of bridges are in need of repair and the nation's interstate highway system is falling apart.  (Congress can't even come up with the revenue for that)  When asked about all of this, Washington, and regressives in particular, throw up their hands and bemoan the lack of money and site the rising deficit as the reason their hands are tied.  (a deficit of their making to a great extent)

     (In the master plan for education in California, the University of California system is supposed to be free to residents of the state.  Today, as tuition increases year over year, that goal is lost due to cuts in state funds due to lack of revenue)

     $6.6 Trillion is missing from the incomes of average, gum-chewing Americans while the rich continue to get richer.  (in just the last few days, the Wall Street Journal is reporting how one hedge fund, in collusion with banks, avoided paying over $6 billion in taxes...one fund)  In his new book, Thomas Picketty states the wealth of the 1% is approaching levels similar to the wealth enjoyed by French nobility just prior to the revolution.  The gap between the rich and everyone else is the worst in this country since the Gilded Age at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.


     Regressives are outraged and offended any time class is discussed or the gap between the rich and everyone else.  To bring this up is to be a Marxist, Communist, Pinko symp and it's a direct assault on capitalism.  Pope Francis, as well as his predecessor Pope John Paul II, both proclaimed free market capitalism to be immoral.  The Pope says it puts too much power into the hands of the wealthy and puts everyone else at their mercy.  Warren Buffet says there is a class war going on and his class is winning.  Johnston's research, along with PInketty, shows Buffet is right.  When you cut taxes for the 1%...when you tax investment income and carried interest differently than you do income generated by labor...when you create a code where a hedge fund can avoid $6 billion in taxes...when corporations are avoiding billions more in taxes by buying companies in other countries...when Mitt Romney can make over $50 million in one year but pay a tax rate of around 18% while middle class Americans are paying in the mid twenties range...when Wall Street creates more and more millionaires while Main Street is falling apart and behind, something is very wrong.  The fact is this is not a mystery.  We don't have to go looking for Professor Plum in the library with a candlestick.  It's clear what has happened and the only question is when will the 99% force some balancing of the scales.

Friday, July 4, 2014

COME AND SING A SIMPLE SONG OF FREEDOM...

On this Fourth of July, I sit behind fences covered in razor wire, watched over by guards whose job is to seriously curtail my freedom.  Tonight we may be able to glimpse fireworks from the local town, but what are we to think upon when they light up the night sky?  No one here is "free" in any sense of the word, but we brought this on ourselves.  We made choices which put us here.  What is your excuse?

     I once heard a speech in which a prominent Silicon Valley icon expressed his view that all freedom is economic.  It is only when a nation's economy is healthy and the widest swath of its population benefit from this, are the people really free.  If you are afraid to leave a job you hate...if you can't leave a city of state because you can't sell your house or don't have a job or have lost your house or can't afford to buy or rent one anywhere else...if your health is held captive by plans you only receive through your employer or because you are dirt poor...if jobs are so scarce or offer such low wages you can't afford to live where you are nor seek to relocate...if workers allow themselves to be pitted against one another in an economic race to the bottom by abandoning the one power they have-to bargain collectively-then how free is anyone in this land on this day?

     This nation was founded on a principle of representative government...a republic.  Does anyone feel today's government, whether in Washington, Sacramento or locally, represents us or our wishes?  Americans in poll after poll say they want more jobs...they want a more robust economy...they want educational opportunities and a chance their children will be able to achieve more than their parents...they want a foreign policy which is honest and which sees solutions outside of the brute use of military force...ironically President Obama is being constantly dinged in popularity because he seems to be listening on foreign policy)...yet, the grease which coats the wheels of government is not popular opinion or popular elections, but rather the billions of dollars ponied up by those for whom the word populist is an anathema.

     Would a truly free people allow one half of one percent of the population to keep to themselves 80% of the wealth produced in this country?  Wouldn't a truly free people storm the halls of Congress demanding change...demanding the end of special tax breaks...demanding that investment income be taxed at the same rate as income generated by labor...demanding, as they did at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the capitalists share more of their profits with those who produce them?

     Would you like something to smile about...a note of optimism...a lesson from history on this Independence Day?  Would you like some hope?  At the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called Gilded Age, the gap between the rich and poor was as dramatic as it is today, perhaps worse.  Congress was bought and paid for by the Morgan's, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Stanford's, Hopkins, Crocker's and Huntington's who also owned most of the media.  Yet, people rose up...they elected Progressive politicians...they passed laws making it easier to form unions, outlaw child labor, create a 40 hour work week even the beginning of an environmental movement and the creation of national parks and nature sanctuaries.  Monopolies were broken and worker's pay began to rise.  The people demanded and got government to mandate cleaner food and drugs and safer places to work.  Safety nets were created to keep people from falling so far into poverty it could kill them.  All of this was done by Americans, populists who demanded change and received it from the Roosevelt's, Taft's, Lafollette's and others.  It can be done.
     I am not free today.  However, I'm not sure how free I was before I became a guest of the federal government.  How free are you?  How much do you feel in control of your life or the lives of your children and neighbors?  Are you free to express any opinion you wish?  Are you free to change jobs, or move to a better city?  How free are you to affect the direction of this nation?  Are you free from fear and anxiety?  Is this a nation where everyone has a shot or has it become a collection of oligarchs where only the privileged few get to participate freely in all the benefits this nation has to offer?  Am I significantly less free than you on this 4th of July behind my fences and razor wire?

  It would be nice if on this day if we engaged in a few moments of reflection, in between the beer, burgers, dogs and fireworks, on the promise this experiment represented on July 4, 1776.  We appear to be at a similar crossroads as were the founding fathers.  Will we continue to be oppressed by a far off government which doesn't represent us, or will we again declare our independence and throw off the economic and political chains shackling us at the direction of those who want to preserve an oligarchy very similar to the one in place in London 238 years ago?


     I hope you have a glorious holiday and hope even more, after the last sparkler and piccolo Pete is fired, you will step up and demand this nation change for the better from sea to shining sea.

Monday, June 30, 2014

THEY DIED FOR WHAT?

In a small town in Pennsylvania, parents and friends of Americans killed in Iraq are joining the ranks of Cindy Sheehan and asking what possible reason could there be for the sacrifice of soldiers from their town in the war in Iraq?

     They are reacting to the swift collapse of Northern Iraq in the face of aggression from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces...attacks which resulted in Iraqi army personnel refusing to fight, running away, stripping off their uniforms and banging on doors begging for civilian clothes to disguise the fact they were in their own nation's army.  These are the same Iraqis that American taxpayers spent billions training and equipping only to see them fold like a house of cards at the first sign of danger.

     It would appear Americans died to set up a sham-democracy so corrupt and venal that Sunni citizens would rather be conquered by al Qaeda-like forces than be governed by the central authorities in Baghdad led by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

     Ironically, all of this was predicted by President George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush 41) when he rejected pleas by national security advisors like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearl, Douglas Feith and politicians ranging from John McCain to Lindsay Graham to Mitch McConnell who all wanted him to keep American tanks rolling into Baghdad in the first gore in the Gulf.  Bush famously proclaimed Saddam Hussein wasn't worth one more American life and added taking Baghdad would leave a power vacuum which America would have to fill to prevent civil war.  Unfortunately for almost 5,000 American soldiers, those same voices were able to con Bush's son (Bush 43) into thinking he was wiser than his daddy and America could impose democracy in an area where Sunnis and Shiites had not shared power since 950 CE.

     Now these same American parents and friends, who lost sons and daughters in a war to prevent Iran from controlling the entire region, face the prospect of America coordinating and cooperating with Iran to try and save Iraq.  They have to watch as Iran increases its influence over Iraq, and at the same time props up the Assad government in Syria and attempts to control Lebanon, while pursuing a nuclear weapons program and yet might end up as an ally with America in an attempt to stabilize a nation on the brink.  What?  We are imposing crippling economic sanctions on Iran to force it to give up its nuclear ambitions yet now want, or have to beg? for their help?  This is through the looking glass sort of stuff.

     While Iraq is in crisis, in this country the same voices who got us into this situation...who cost America over $ 1 Trillion, 5,000 dead, hundreds of thousands wounded...who created a deeply divided nation which is now decisively isolationist...are at it again.  John McCain wants airstrikes and boots on the ground now.  Cheney attacks a weakened President Obama as Lindsey Graham accused the president of being soft on terrorism, all laying the current disaster, one of their creation, at Obama's feet.

     Columnists in the Wall Street Journal are harkening back to the scare tactics of Vietnam creating a new "domino" theory which goes if Iraq falls there goes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and eventually ISIS will be on the border with Texas.

   A new poll says the majority of Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of foreign policy.  So, are these Americans saying he shouldn't have ended our involvement in Iraq?  Do they want a continued military presence in Afghanistan?  Do these recently polled Americans want U.S. military forces introduced into the Syrian civil war and are they also in favor of a military strike and war with Iran?  Aren't these the same Americans who tell pollsters America should fix problems at home and stop trying to be the world's cop and stay out of foreign adventures?  House Speaker John Boehner accuses the President of napping while Mosul burns, but when asked what he would do differently, he runs for cover saying he doesn't have enough information to offer a solution.  What?  This is the mantra of all the regressives and the regressive corporate media...Obama is a weak-kneed sissy-boy, a modern Chamberlin presiding over a new Munich, but when confronted with questions about what the foreign policy of the GOP would be, the silence is deafening from most and positively frightening from McCain, Cheney and Graham among others who want to use a broken military and young Americans as cannon fodder to prop up a government in Iraq so hated and corrupt people would rather be conquered than continue to live under Maliki's oppression.

     Maliki has been told unless he reforms his government...unless he includes Sunni officials in key positions...unless he stops persecuting minorities...unless he puts Sunnis and Kurds in top positions in the military, America will not act.  So far he has refused to do any of it.  Now, Obama is saying Maliki needs to go even though he was just re-elected.  This is nuts.  Iran is sending troops into Iraq to fight and diverting more from Syria while refusing to yield on its nuclear program.  Should American military assistance be used to help Iran solidify its control over this Islamic crescent?

     Critics of Obama want airstrikes in Iraq and the use of American Special Forces.  (boots on the ground)  They want America to arm "moderate" rebels in Syria even though no one can define what is a moderate and the so-called moderates in Syria can't fight any better than the Iraqi army.


     To his credit, Obama refuses to be stampeded like Bush 41, and perhaps can avoid another disaster.  He is actively listening to his constituents who tell him they oppose the use of military force in foreign adventures while at the same time knocking him for listening to them.  America is schizophrenic right now on this subject and Obama knows it.  Whatever he does it has to be measured and limited and not capable of drawing us back into the quicksand which is Baghdad.