A Brief Moment of Hope

Before the left and right tell you what to think about President Obama’s State of the Union address, think for yourself.

Before Malloy and Big Eddy start crying “sellout”, before Hannity and Beck and the drug-addled hypocrite remind you that a marxist wrapped in an American flag is still a marxist, take time to let the President’s own words sink in.

The birth of hope.

Hope. Picture it any way you want.

Why dwell on what divides us? Why not focus on an America where we help each other out instead of tearing each other down?

I like to envision a future where we lead the world in green technology, a time when I can visit my family 300 miles away after just an hour train ride. I look forward to an innovative new education system that rekindles wonder and imagination in our youth. I look forward to a windmill in every back yard instead of an SUV in every garage. I look forward to an Iraq and Afghanistan that use books instead of bullets to define their destiny. All these things are within our grasp. The Declaration of Independence was not penned with pessimism, it was signed with hope for the future, theirs and ours.

So keep in mind, when the merchants of partisanship start to rant, they are free to tell you what they think, they have no right to tell you what you think.

Perhaps no one said it better than George Bernard Shaw. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Be the change you’re waiting for. Dream.

First He Thought He Was Roosevelt – Now He Thinks He’s Truman

OBAMA USES TAX COMPROMISE TO PREPARE FOR “DO NOTHING” CONGRESS

When Barack Obama took office, many historians, including the President himself, drew a parallel between his position and that of Franklin Roosevelt. But having brought the country back from the brink of disaster apparently wasn’t enough to prevent a self-proclaimed “shellacking”. His crime: not lowering unemployment enough and not spurring a quick enough recovery. How soon people forgot the six figure monthly job losses under Bush. How often do we even speak about Iraq or Afghanistan anymore? No, today’s battle is about maintaining tax reductions for the top two percent of the country while cutting unemployment benefits for the jobless right before Christmas.

Yes we can.

With our country on the brink of economic collapse and fighting wars on two fronts, Obama looked to the past to guide our future. He read books on FDR and quoted him. There were even rumors of a fireside chat resurrection.

Faced with this new dynamic, it appears Obama has changed his choice of posthumous advisor. Now he is channeling Truman. Anyone who actually listened to what the President was saying during the mid-terms (instead of getting distracted by witches and tea party nominees that think autistic children are “faking it”) knows that this compromise is basically the agenda he put forth on the campaign trail. Having signed health care and small business legislation into law, he said we must focus on extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the middle class. He also wanted acceleration of the tax shelter for depreciation and other small business incentives. All of that is in this compromise. The only thing he didn’t want was the extension of tax cuts for the super-rich, and since his own party failed to engage in that fight last summer when he wanted them to, it was something he had little problem letting go of.

Why the comparison to Truman? Truman won re-election against Dewey in 1948 running against what he called the “do nothing” congress. He railed (literally) against the opposition’s tactic of hamstringing his every proposal, not even supporting the more moderate portions of their own presidential candidate’s platform. With Mitch McConnell’s proclamation of ousting Obama as job one, it appears one historical slot has already been filled. It’s only natural that Obama take the part of Truman and Palin or Gingrich step in as Dewey.

While radicals on the left are ready to storm the Bastille and radicals on the right are happy to pour boiling oil on them while they do it, the other seventy percent of us want a democracy that works. Obama has moved in that direction with this compromise and helped millions of Americans in the process. He has also positioned himself as the one trying to get something done in Washington. (Despite what Fox  and the Republican leadership want to tell you, this was the actual message sent in November, stop fighting and move forward). The economy is still growing, slowly, but in the right direction, people are starting to see the benefit of the medical reform law, the pump has been primed for small business and taxes have not been raised. That’s not at all a bad record to run on, especially if the unemployment numbers show any movement down in the next two years. If the Republicans want to do nothing, Obama is now in position to play right along. But since they are the one’s with the “change” ball in their court, they had better show some results. Otherwise, their recent triumph will soon be remembered like a really bad episode of Sesame Street, brought to you by the word “no” and the letter “tea.”

 One last parallel. Under Truman, the U.S. armed forces ended segregation. Though unpopular at the time, it was the right thing to do and eventually offered a place where merit and promotion could be color blind, no small contribution to the legacy that was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, 2009. Perhaps within the next sixty years we will see an openly homosexual woman or man elected to the highest office on merit of leadership, and not rejected by prejudice, due in some part to the ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell” under Obama. I think that is a comparison he would be happy to live with.

Tax This – The Citizens’ Survey

Like most adult Americans, I’ve begun to think about maybe starting to perhaps kinda almost commence doing my taxes. Conceivably, it could happen sometime between the Winter Olympics and March Madness. Or not.

That's right, it's tax time.

The public’s general lack of enthusiasm for filing a return could be mitigated if the IRS added some incentives. Perhaps a comment form, or better yet, a survey, mailed out with every tax manual, allowing us to critique the stewards of our tax dollars. When you buy a toaster they include a consumer survey, why not when you write out a big fat check to the government? The results could be read on the floor of the House and Senate every April 15th, during mandatory sessions of Congress.

A sample survey might look something like this:

1) Do you think stimulus tax dollars should be spent on the companies that created the financial crisis, or the people who are suffering from it?

2)Do you think your tax dollars should go towards everyone’s health insurance plan or just the health insurance plan for members of Congress?

3)Do you think your tax dollars should be spent to finance elections or should corporations be left to take care of that? (See questions one and two above.)

Maybe it would be more enlightening to just let people choose where a discretionary portion of their tax dollars, say 5%, should go. I’m sure there would be a significant discrepancy between Congress’ agenda and the priorities of the American public. Talk about voting with your dollars.

As simple as this plan is, I’m sure it will never happen. Sounds too much like … Democracy.

Representation Without Taxation

The Supreme Court will address corporate influence on federal elections today when they hand down a decision on the “Hillary, the movie” campaign finance case before them. At least five of the terms in that last sentence will make most people’s eyes glaze over, but listen up. The idea that corporations should hold the same rights as people is lethal to true democracy. Not instantly, like a bullet, but incessantly, like carbon monoxide. Corporate influence hides in the shadows and hallways of Washington D.C. You can’t see it, you can’t taste it and exposure to it will lull you to sleep, but given too much, your democracy stops breathing. 

Do you smell something?

 

The idea that corporations have the same right to free speech as an individual is an invention of the court. It’s not in the constitution, it’s not in legislation, but it will continue to be found in arguments before the bench until it is shot down, an action this current, very corporate, version of the court will likely never undertake.  

I find it ironic that these corporations, entities that will move cash and facilities offshore in an instant to improve profits, argue for their rights as if they were citizens of this country. They want representation without taxation. Corporations, by nature, are beholden to no one but their shareholders. They are citizens of no country, and prove it time and time again.  

In case you missed the headlines: Exxon, AIG, Dupont, GM, United Health Care, Firestone, Ford, Enron, RJ Reynolds. All of these companies, and more, have damaged this country’s health, environment and/or financial stability without remorse. Until corporations can be incarcerated, until corporations can bleed, they will not deserve to be considered citizens of this country.  

If you doubt the influence of corporations on lawmakers, doubt no longer. There is no greater example of Congress bowing to lobbyists than the current health insurance debate. Over two-thirds of the people in this country support some form of public option, yet it won’t even appear in the final bill. Apparently our elected officials fear corporate dollars more than the voices of the people.  

That’s my argument, one this current court would never give the time of day. But why should they listen to me? I just obey laws, pay taxes and vote.

The Audacity of Keeping Promises

Updated: 04-20-11, originally published 12-01-09

When President Obama announces his plans tonight (5:00 pm pst) to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, the loudest uproar will come from citizens who voted for him. Apparently they chose to cover their ears when he repeatedly stated such intentions during his campaign. Hopefully, they will actually listen this time.

The future of Afghanistan is too important and too complex to be summarized in a poll question or sound bite. Unfortunately, that’s what will happen. Most Americans won’t listen to the President. Instead, they’ll rely on headlines or pundits to tell them in a single sentence what the entire speech boiled down to. Obama has taken weeks to come to this decision. The least we can do is take the time to listen to his reasoning.

I hope he talks about a new strategy in Afghanistan. I hope he ensures us that additional troops are only needed to stabilize the situation, temporarily, while this new strategy is implemented. I hope he focuses more on rebuilding the country and less on protecting Karzai and his illegitimate government. I hope he offers Afghanistan an alternative to war.

I understand the need for security, and the need to defeat the Taliban, but that victory must ultimately be attained through education and economic support. We need to build more schools and less compounds. We need to help the Afghans grow barley instead of opium. We need to build hospitals, not blow them up. We need to combat fear with hope.

The British invaded Afghanistan looking for trade routes, the Soviets invaded seeking a puppet, we invaded seeking the world’s most wanted terrorist. None of us succeeded. Let us be the first to leave this small, poor, breathtaking country and it’s people in better shape than we found it.

That’s what I hope I hear tonight. If not, I’ll cover my ears … and go back to the keyboard once again.

(If you think rebuilding Afghanistan is a worthy cause, you owe it to yourself to read “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin or visit the CAI website at www.ikat.org ) Update 04-20-11: In the context of certain recent revelations about Greg Mortenson and the CAI, I would take the tea with a grain of salt. But I still believe the answer in Central Asia is education. If we don’t build their schools, radical Saudi’s will, with their own fundamentalist curriculum.