What is a Fair Society?

January 28th, 2012 by Whitey No comments »

It has been said that from any set of facts an almost infinite number of stories can be told. In other words, people often see what they want to see–they interpret facts through an ideological filter. For example, you see a man on the street in the cold, holding a cardboard sign that reads, “Need Help.” The man is wearing an old coat, but looks like a fairly capable person. If I am Ebeneezer Scrooge (before he changed to becoming a leftist who gives handouts to the undeserving :lol:) I am going to see this person and think, “Lazy…They do not need help…They should get a job…They probably make more than I do just standing their getting free money…They’ll just spend it on booze,” etc. On the other hand, if I am a liberal, I may see this person and think, “This person likely has a disability of some kind…They do need help…This kind of suffering is immoral and we should do something about it.”

The underlying assumptions of these two perspectives are playing out in our broken political system. The question is, what is the right approach? What kind of ethical system should we accept as a basis for our social policies? Getting together to discuss this problem has inherent challenges because everyone brings their own interests to the table. The ultra-rich have an interest in not having generous social programs that would require them to pay more in taxes. They see their wealth as their property, and taking it is theft. A low-income citizen, who may be struggling to feed their kids, may ask for a society that limits the free market and provides equal opportunity to all, and perhaps ask for economic equality. Which perspective is the fair way to set up a society? Which is more important: freedom or opportunity? And can one exist without the other? The wealthy might say that creating opportunity for all would require limiting their freedoms. The masses might say giving freedom to the wealthy would limit their own freedom and opportunity.

The American philosopher, John Rawls, addressed this dilemma in an innovative way. He proposed a thought experiment, a hypothetical situation that would help guide our ethical principles of fairness. He described a situation where all of us would be in a pre-mortal state, behind a “veil of ignorance,” where none of us would know what circumstances we would be born into. We could just as easily be born into a wealthy family as we could be born into the slums. With these assumptions, what principles would we all agree are fair principles upon which to build a society?

Most of us would not want to risk being born into poverty in a libertarian society that has no safety net. On the other hand, we may not want to risk being born into a completely egalitarian society where we may work hard for our success, only to find our possessions taken and given to others whom we perceive as less deserving. John Rawls solved this problem by eliminating unequal distribution but without handicapping the talented. He simply says, the fastest runners should not be held back, but they should understand that their winnings do not belong to them alone, and should be shared with those who lack similar gifts. He says,

“Those who have been favored by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation for those who have lost out. The naturally advantaged are not to gain merely because they are more gifted. , but only to cover the costs of training an education and for those using their endowments in ways that help the less fortunate as well. No one deserves his greater nature capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society. But it does not follow that one should eliminate these distinctions. There is another way to deal with them. The basic structure of society can be arranged so that these contingencies work fgor the good of the least fortunate.”

This is a just way to approach equality while not creating disincentives to develop talent and work hard. The current system is not a free market; and it is certainly not a just system that pays a school teacher $43,000 per year while paying David Letterman $31 million. We need something different. Rawls details a number of principles that would govern a just society (see his book, A Theory of Justice). These principles provide a general basis for how we might restructure our society—one shaped by neither the left or the right. We should start trying to get beyond liberal/conservative talking points and start discussing an ethical system that grants everyone the chance to exercise their right to pursue happiness.

Watch this video of Michael Sandel lecturing about John Rawls and the idea of a just society. It is great!

John Rawls (Wikipedia)

The Wall Street Occupation

October 18th, 2011 by Whitey 26 comments »

Now in over 1500 cities worldwide, the Occupy Wall Street protest movement is looking more and more like it will have staying power on a massive scale. The movement is still trying to refine its demands and specific grievances. Its main focus is economic injustice, but some groups within the movement have a much broader lists of complaints. One thing that is for certain, this is not simply a group of hippies—as Fox New coverage would have you believe. This is a highly diverse group that is expressing the spirit of democracy. This thrust is felt by people on both sides of the isle. This is not about left or right…it is about being American, in an America that is fair and just.

Here are some of the demands and declarations that have been made.

 

Occupiers on Wall Street

 

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City (source):

This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011, with minor updates made on October 1, 2011. It is the first official, collective statement of the protesters in Zuccotti Park.

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

 

Article image

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

  • They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
  • They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
  • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
  • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
  • They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
  • They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
  • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
  • They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
  • They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
  • They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
  • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
  • They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
  • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
  • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
  • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
  • They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
  • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
  • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
  • They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
  • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
  • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
  • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.*

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

 

Election and Campaign Reform

August 16th, 2011 by Whitey 13 comments »

Voting turnout in the U.S. remains among the lowest of all Western democracies. The U.S. ranks #139 in voter turnout of countries that have held elections since 1945. We have some important elections coming up in 2012. It is important that democracy prevails in these elections. Congress needs to reform our election laws to allow as many voters to participate as possible.

Michael Moore published a book called “Michael Moore’s Election Guide 2008.” He discusses some great ideas for improving our election process:

  • Hold all elections on the weekend
  • Make every citizen an automatic registered voter
  • Use paper ballots and a number two pencil (to avoid having votes not counted)
  • Have regional primaries so no one state has too much influence over the process
  • Limit the election season to 4 months for the primaries and 2 months for the general election;
  • Public financing, free air time, and spending limits for all politicians

Others have suggested compulsory voting as a way of increasing voter participation (source).

Another critical component to election reform is the issue of campaign funding. In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned long-standing election laws that placed limits on corporate funding of election campaigns. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision opened the flood gates for corporations to fund political campaigns. (See how this decision has impacted elections here.) The problem with this decision was articulated well in a dissenting oppinion given by Justice Stevens:

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

President Obama also threw in on this decision:

President Barack Obama stated that the decision “gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates”. Obama later elaborated in his weekly radio address saying, “this ruling strikes at our democracy itself” and “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest”. On January 27, 2010, Obama further condemned the decision during the 2010 State of the Union Address, stating that, “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.” (source)

 Other Reactions:

The New York Times stated in an editorial, “The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.”[64] Jonathan Alter called it the “most serious threat to American democracy in a generation”.[65] The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the Court had declared “outright that corporate expenditures cannot corrupt elected officials, that influence over lawmakers is not corruption, and that appearance of influence will not undermine public faith in our democracy.”[66](source)

An ABC-Washington Post poll conducted February 4 to 8, 2010, showed that 80% of those surveyed opposed (and 65% strongly opposed) the Citizens United ruling which the poll described as saying “corporations and unions can spend as much money as they want to help political candidates win elections”. Additionally, 72% supported “an effort by Congress to reinstate limits on corporate and union spending on election campaigns”. (source)

In terms of solutions, at the very least we need to return to policies that existed prior to the Citizens United decision of 2010, which limited private campaign donations (hard and soft money). But going beyond this legislation, some have suggested a campaign finance amendment to the constitution. Some legislators have pushed an updated election repform bill called the “Fair Elections Now Act.” Another idea is the “Voting with Dollars” concept: “Yale Law School professors Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres in their 2004 book Voting with Dollars: A new paradigm for campaign finance.[7] All voters would be given a $50 publicly funded voucher (Patriot dollars) to donate to federal political campaigns. All donations including both the $50 voucher and additional private contributions, must be made anonymously through the FEC.” (source)

Regardless of how the campaign finance is reformed, most would agree that we don’t want corporations and the wealthy determining elections, and we want greater participation, and therfore, we urgently need serious reform. Contact your representative in congress today.

 

See also:

 

Do Tax Breaks Create Jobs?

July 11th, 2011 by Whitey 4 comments »

There are two fundamental Republican articles of faith with regard to the economy. First, “tax cuts increase tax revenue.” Second, “tax cuts create jobs.” We have already debunked the first of these ideas (see: Do Tax Cuts Increase Revenue?), so let’s look at this second Republican belief.

There is really one fact that significantly challenges this faith-based belief: Profits are at record highs, and the level and lengths of unemployment it at a high. The idea that tax cuts create jobs is based on the idea that letting people keep more of their money will lead them to growth their businesses by hiring more people, and thus decrease unemployment. If profits are up and unemployment is down, this logic does not work.

When politicians talk about tax cuts, they are typically referring to personal income taxes. If I am a highly compensated executive, and I get a tax cut, that means I take home more money. What will I do with this extra money? Will I go out an hire someone? Probably not. Why? Because companies hire people, individuals don’t hire people with their net salary.

“But,” I can hear my Republican friends say, “if that highly-compensated executive decides to invest that extra income in a business, this will create jobs.” Again, probably not. If I own a business, my primary concern is not to create jobs, it is to maximize profits. If there is extra money, and I don’t absolutely have to hire more people to grow the business, I am not going to hire. I am going to pay myself and my shareholders first. And because taxes are paid on profits, not revenue, I am actually inclined to keep my costs (labor) down so I can maximize profit.

There is a reason that the rich don’t suffer in a recession; that middle-class wages have been stagnant for 30 year; that the majority of the nation’s wealth is in the hand of the top 1%. Conservative tax policy has dominated for 30 years. And in this Great Recession, with profits way up, there is not need to hire more people. And in this context, with a skyrocketing national debt, with millions out of work, the Republicans can still talk endlessly of how tax cuts are the answer to creating jobs. No. Tax cuts are the answer to enriching the already-wealthy.

A Forbes blogger asks the question, “do tax cuts create ‘real’ jobs?” The answer in this pro-business publication is rather surprising: “Do tax cuts create jobs? No, just deficits.” This article goes on to say,

U.S. public companies pay well-below the official 35% tax rate while 13.5 million American workers search unsuccessfully for jobs  And start ups tell me that tax cuts don’t affect whether they’ll create new jobs. In short, the tax cut rhetoric, while effective politics, is lousy economics.

George H. W. Bush wisely pointed out in his 1980 debate with Ronald Reagan that expecting to balance the budget with tax cuts and defense spending increases was “voodoo economics.”  But along with Reagan’s ascendancy came the rise of huge budget deficits — that Bush wisely helped end when he agreed to raise taxes in 1990.

Despite $858 billion in December 2010 tax cuts, companies still complain that they pay too much in tax. General Electric (GE) has become famous for paying no taxes on its $5.1 billion in 2010 U.S. profits while keeping a big staff of lawyers on hand to make sure it pays as few of them as possible. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that GE is not alone and that the prevailing estimate for the actual U.S. corporate tax rate is 25% — costing the U.S. about $100 billion in lost revenue.

But corporations have absolutely no reason to complain about taxes. After all, they earned record 2010 profits of $1.68 trillion and 85% of them are beating their first quarter 2011 earnings estimates as 70% are growing revenue faster than expected while their operating margins stand at a near record 19.8%.

And companies are achieving that record profitability by squeezing workers. After all, 2010 productivity rose 3.9% while unit labor costs fell 1.5%. To get more work out of the same number of workers while paying them less, it helps to have 13.5 million people out of work and the easy ability to hire part-time labor and outsource to countries that pay much lower wages.

So tax cuts have not spurred big companies to create jobs. But what about start ups? Based on my October 2010 interviews with 17 start up CEOs, my conclusion is that not a single one of them would create a job based on tax cuts. All of them told me that their decision to create a new job would be based on whether the long-term cost of that new job would be offset by higher revenues and profits.

As Dick Cheney famously pointed out — deficits don’t matter. And his supporters are probably profiting from the weak-dollar, commodity-inflation bet whose profitability depends on the persistence of those deficits.

If Washington was serious about creating new jobs, it would make companies pay the 35% rate — yielding $600 billion in tax revenue on their 2010 profits. That and the peace dividend that should flow in the wake of Bin Laden’s execution, would go a long way towards balancing the budget and creating a climate that would spur a boost in capital flows to new ventures.

As always, Rachel Maddow brings up some excellent issues on this topic:

Another astute blogger pointed out:

“Rush Limbaugh famously said, “Ive never been employed by a poor person” which is true, if irrelevant

­. I’ve never been employed by a rich person myself… I’ve been employed by a lot of companies though. An increase in taxation on millionair­es would mean nothing, let me repeat, NOTHING in the way of jobs.

Corporatio­ns employ large numbers of people, not individual billionair­es. If a billionair­e got a tax break, he wouldn’t immediatel­y invest it into his company for the purpose of hiring new employees. There is a salient difference between taxing an individual CEO’s paycheck, and taxing the corporatio­n itself.

Rather he would most likely save it (along with his other excess funds); which again does NOTHING to stimulate the economy or jobs. A Poor person with excess funds, on the other hand, would be prepared to spend it, which WOULD stimulate the economy.

If you really wanted a fairer system, I’d eliminate the tax on the first 20k of EVERYONE’s income. Then leave all the loopholes and tax cuts that the rich enjoy in the dust, and raise taxes on everyone making over 250k a year. If everyone is sacrificin­g, those poised to benefit societal rewards should pay most of the costs.” (source)

Republicans say they know how to create jobs but they never produce the results. Take Mitt Romney. According to the Huffington Post: “[A]s Massachusetts governor from January 2003 to January 2007, Romney presided over one of the puniest rates of employment growth among the 50 U.S. states, at a time the nation’s economy was booming.” (Huffington Post, 5/31/11). According to MarketWatch:
While he was Governor, “according to the U.S. Labor Department, the state ranked 47th in the entire country in jobs growth. Fourth from last. The only ones that did worse? Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana. In other words, two rustbelt states and another that lost its biggest city to a hurricane. The Massachusetts jobs growth over that period, a pitiful 0.9%, badly lagged other high-skill, high-wage, knowledge economy states like New York (2.7%), California (4.7%) and North Carolina (7.6%). The national average: More than 5% (MarketWatch, 2/23/11).
FactCheck.org noted, “By the end of his four years in office, Massachusetts had squeezed out a net gain in payroll jobs of just 1 percent, compared with job growth of 5.3 percent for the nation as a whole.”
If you look at how Romney made his millions, you get a sense for how important jobs really are to his class.  In 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported:

From 1984 until 1999, Romney led Bain Capital, a Boston-based private equity group that earned jaw-dropping profits through leveraged buyouts, debt hedge funds, offshore tax havens and other financial strategies. In some cases, Romney’s team closed U.S. factories, causing hundreds of layoffs, or pocketed huge fees shortly before companies collapsed.

See more of Romney’s record.
Conclusion
To says that tax cuts do not necessarily create jobs does not mean that all tax cuts/breaks are without value. There are certainly ways to offer tax breaks as incentives to businesses to invest in areas that stimulate the economy. But these incentives should be offered to businesses to encourage investment, not gifted to individuals who already make great money.
In conclusion, Republicans hold fast to their two faith-based economic axioms: (1) tax cuts generate more revenue; (2) tax cuts create job. Both of these idea are false. But it is worth exploring why Republicans push these ideas so forcefully. Why is it so important to Republicans to make sure the rich continue to have low taxes, even at the expense of many social programs that they happily cut? What is it in the system that allows they to get away with this? Why do the American people tolerate this? We’ll have to tackle these questions in another post. But I think we already know the answer: Follow the money.

More resources:

Afghanistan in Hindsight

July 5th, 2011 by Whitey 1 comment »

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks. So much has happened since that day. Over time, history seems to have been blurred quite a bit, especially when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. Let’s review a few critical facts about what led us to Afghanistan in the first place. This is a common story of imperialist scope creep (and we don’t hear much about how this mission has added to the much-discussed national debt). We just don’t learn the hard lessons of history, therefore we are condemned to repeat it. Here are some facts worth reviewing:

  • Feb. 1998 – bin Laden releases a statement declaring Jihad against “Jews and Crusaders”; explains that the Jihadist war is over (1) US occupation of holy lands in Saudi Arabia (since the gulf war); (2) America’s continuing aggression against the Iraqi people; and (3) its support of Israel
  • 1999 - UN imposes an air embargo and financial sanctions to force Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden for trial.
  • Early 2000 –  The FBI was warned about the attacks more than a year before 9/11 (see also: link)
  • January 2001 – UN imposes further sanctions on Taliban to force them to hand over Osama bin Laden.
  • Aug. 2001 – President Bush received a briefing on Aug 6th, 2001 that read “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US”
  • Sept. 11th, 2001 –  Attacks on Trade Towers and Pentagon
  • Sept. 20, 2001 – President Bush warns that the Taliban must deliver bin Laden of they will share his fate (source).
  • Sept. 22, 2001 - Afghanistan’s Islamic clerics asked bin Laden to leave the impoverished country on his own volition (source).
  • Sept. 22, 2001 – Taliban envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, states: “Our position on this is that if America has proof, we are ready for the trial of Usama bin Laden in light of the evidence.” Asked if the Taliban were ready to hand bin Laden over, he snapped “No” but his translator said, “No, not without evidence.” He said, “We are ready to cooperate if we are shown evidence.” (source) This was seen as a rejection of Bush’s ultimatum.
  • Sept. 21, 2001 –  Bush explains “Why they hate us”; he explains, “They hate our freedoms.” He declares a “war on terror.” (source)
  • Sept. 2001 –  The US Prepares for war in Afghanistan
  • Oct. 2001 –  bin Laden releases a statement to explain to Americans why there “is hate against you.”
  • October 2001 - US, Britain launch air strikes against Afghanistan after Taliban fail to hand over Osama bin Laden
  • Oct. 14, 2001 –  Taliban offers to turn over bin Laden if the US stops its bombing campaign; Bush rejects the offer (source).
  • Nov. 2001 – Taliban government falls
  • Nov. 2002 -  bin Laden writes a “letter to America,” explaining why he opposes America (and it was not, as Bush asserted, because they “hate our freedoms”)
  • June 2002 - Hamid Karzai elected as interim head of state.
  • May 2005 – Details emerge of alleged prisoner abuse by US forces at detention centers.
  • May 2006 – Violent anti-US protests in Kabul, the worst since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, erupt after a US military vehicle crashes and kills several people.
  • August 2007 – Opium production has soared to a record high, the UN reports.
  • June 2008 – Taliban engineers massive jail-break from Kandahar prison, freeing at least 350 insurgents.
  • September 2008 – President Bush sends an extra 4,500 US troops to Afghanistan, in a move he described as a “quiet surge”.
  • November 2008 – Taliban militants reject an offer of peace talks from President Karzai, saying there can be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
  • February 2009 - Up to 20 Nato countries pledge to increase military and other commitments in Afghanistan after USA announces dispatch of 17,000 extra troops.
  • March 2009 – President Barack Obama unveils a new US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to combat what he calls an increasingly perilous situation. An extra 4,000 US personnel will train and bolster the Afghan army and police, and there will also be support for civilian development.
  • December 2009 - US President Barack Obama decides to boost US troop numbers in Afghanistan by 30,000, bringing total to 100,000. He also says the United States will begin withdrawing its forces by July 2011.
  • May 1st, 2011 – Osama bin Laden is killed by US forces.
  • June 2011 – US opens talks with the Taliban; Secretary Clinton declares talks with Taliban as “necessary.” (source)
  • June 2011 – Obama give speech. Promises removal of 10,000 troops by the end of 2011, 33,000 by July 2012, and all U.S. troops by 2014. (source)

This time line tells a powerful story about how the hunt for one man (or a small group of men) turned into the longest war in American history. George Bush was determined to go to war, and it did not matter if the Taliban would have been willing to hand over bin Laden for a trial. And at the time, the American people were understandably behind Bush, with strong emotions after 9/11. Over time, support for the war has eroded. Yet more recently, people are optimistic. Now, 60% of American adults say we are winning war on terror, up from 41% before capture of Bin Laden (source). Many are now saying that “Osama Bin Laden is dead, our original mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished, let’s bring the troops home.” I agree. We should bring them home. But no one is really asking why we have been there so long in the first place. We wanted to hunt down a gang of thugs who attacked our country. Did we really need to send 100,000 military personnel (and even more military contractors) to occupy an entire country in order to accomplish the mission of hunting down bin Laden and his fellow conspirators? Why are we failing to take any lessons from this horrible experience, this tremendous waste of lives and treasure? Instead, we seem to be accepting what Noam Chomsky calls the doctrine of “change of course.” He explains:

“The doctrine is ‘yes, in the past, we did some wrong things because of our innocence or out of inadvertence, but now that’s all over, so we can’t not waste any more time on this boring, stale stuff, which incidentally we suppressed and denied while it was happening, but must now be effaced from history as we march forward to a glorious future.’ And if you look, it is literally every two or three years that the doctrine is invoked. There is a qualification. We are permitted, in fact, required to recall with great horror the misdeeds of official enemies, and we’re also required to admire with awe, our own magnificent achievements in the past in both categories, relying in no small measure on self-serving reconstructions, which quickly collapse if you follow the path of paying attention to the facts, but fortunately, that dangerous course is excluded by the convenient doctrine of change of course, which blocks any such heresies. The doctrine is entirely understandable on the part of those who are engaged in criminal enterprises, which means just about any power system, any system of concentrated power past and present, and of course, it includes its acolytes, one of the major commitments of respected intellectuals right throughout history is to be the acolytes of the systems of power…[The] doctrine is dishonest, cowardly, but has advantages. It does protect us from the danger of understanding what’s happening before our eyes, and, therefore, inducing the kind of conformism that is useful to systems of power and domination…If you want to understand anything about the world that is to come, and have any influence on the way it evolves, [it is] more than useful to keep this in mind.” (source)

So the American people, generally, have been willing to accept this war, since it has been so skillfully connected with the Sept. 11th attacks. But this war really has very little to do with attacks on America. We were not attacked by Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan had (has?) just as strong of ties with the Mujahidin (i.e., Al Qaeda) as the Taliban who governed Afghanistan. We did not attack Pakistan. And if it was a human rights mission to deliver democracy to the brutal state of Afghanistan, we should has started with Saudi Arabia, a primary oil supplier to the US. The point is, we should be fighting the “war on terror” with intelligence, police work, and special ops–not with the military executing counterinsurgency tactics. This strategy has never worked. Ask the British how that strategy worked against the American insurgents they were up against during the American Revolution (AKA, “The War for Independence”). Ask a Vietnam vet how well this strategy worked in that conflict. It does not work.

The most troubling aspect of the war has been the rise of terrorism since the war started (source). President Bush was warned by the CIA that there would be a rise in terrorism if we launched a war in a Muslim nation (source: Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, 2003, page 211; see also link). He was not concerned over the level of terrorism. We can speculate over what he was concerned about, but it could not have been to prevent or limit terror attacks. In fact, our decisions have played perfectly into bin Laden’s ultimate strategy.

Bin Laden: Mission Accomplished

FAIR journalist, Jim Naureckas, wrote:

“For bin Laden, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was not a threat to his plan for the triumph of his brand of right-wing Islam—it was the central element of that plan” (July 2011).

Rachel Maddow made a similar argument on her MSNBC show (5/3/11):

“Osama bin Laden’s stated goal for the 9/11 attacks was to cause us to spend ourselves into oblivion. His goal was to do something cheap and radical and traumatizing that would cause us to react in a way that bankrupted us. So that what they couldn’t take down by force or by ideological competition, we would take down ourselves by panic.”

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein (5/3/11) also stated,

“Bin Laden, according to [Al-Qaeda expert] Gartenstein-Ross, had a strategy that we never bothered to understand, and thus that we never bothered to defend against. What he really wanted to do—and, more to the point, what he thought he could do—was bankrupt the United States of America. After all, he’d done the bankrupt-a-superpower thing before.”

What bin Laden learned from his fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Klein wrote, was that “superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield,” and that they “are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand.” But, noted Klein, “it isn’t quite right to say bin Laden cost us all that money…. We didn’t need to respond to 9/11 by trying to reshape the entire Middle East, but we’re a superpower, and we think on that scale.” He concluded: “We can learn from our mistakes.”

In FAIR’s latest edition of Extra!, Jim Naureckas quotes Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi.  Abdul Bari Atwan was one of the few journalists based in the West to interview bin Laden, spending three days with him in the mountains of Afghanistan in 1996.

He told me personally that he can’t go and fight the Americans and their country. But if he manages to provoke them and bring them to the Middle East and to their Muslim worlds, where he can find them or fight them on his own turf, he will actually teach them a lesson.

According to Atwan, bin Laden expressed disappointment with the pullout of U.S. troops from Somalia:

He told me, again, that he expected the Americans to send troops to Somalia, and he sent his people to that country to wait for them in order to fight them. They managed actually to shoot down an American helicopter where 19 soldiers were killed, and he regretted that the Clinton administration decided to pull out their troops from Somalia and run away. He was so saddened by this. He thought they would stay there so he could fight them there. But for his bad luck, according to his definition, they left, and he was planning another provocation in order to drag them to Muslim soil.

Conclusion

We need to get out of Afghanistan, and completely out of Iraq. We need to open up a national dialogue about what we have learned from these experiences, and create or enforce laws that will prevent them from happening again. We need the media to responsibly report on the futility and horror of these wars. Amy Goodman recently said, “We need a media not brought to us by the weapons manufacturers.” We need to understand that many of our enemies were created by our own actions, and that we can significantly improve peace in the world. And it will not happen unless you and I do something about it.

More information:

Eyewitness Testimonies of Vets Against the War

9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

Civilian Casualties

Iraq (and Afghanistan) Veterans Against the War

This is a clip of President Obama’s recent speech about the war in Afghanistan.

Republicans are Bad for the Economy

June 25th, 2011 by Whitey 19 comments »

Democrats Outperform Republicans by Wide Margin

The Dow Jones industrial average increased by 29.5% in the one-year period following Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009—the third best showing, going back 110 years, for the U.S. stock market in the 12 months following the inauguration of a new President. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first year, which began on March 4, 1933, tops the list with the Dow increasing by 96.5% over the next 12 months. Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter trails his peers with a loss of 19.6%. On average, Presidents in the Democrat party saw an average one-year gain of 24%, while Republicans averaged 1%.

Barack Obama (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 2009
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +29.5%

At 468%, Genworth Financial was the best-performing S&P 500 stock during Obama’s first year in office.

William J. Clinton (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1993
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +19.3%

The industrial sector was the best-performing sector in the 12 months following Clinton’s inauguration.

Woodrow Wilson (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Mar. 4, 1913
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +0.5%

After World War I began during Wilson’s second year, the U.S. stock market closed for 4 1/2 months.

John F. Kennedy (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1961
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +10.8%

The U.S. economy grew 6% in 1961, more than any other President’s first year since at least 1948.

Lyndon B. Johnson (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Nov. 22, 1963
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +21.6%

The Dow increased 27% over the length of Johnson’s five-plus years in office, or about 5% a year.

Richard M. Nixon (REP)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1969
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: -17.0%

The Dow also lost 17% during the first year of Nixon’s second term.

Ronald Reagan (REP)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1981
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: -12.7%

The prime rate topped 21%—the highest level on record—during Reagan’s inaugural year.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (REP)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1953
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +0.5%

The Dow hit a bottom in September 1953 and then went on to double over the next 2 1/2 years.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Mar. 4, 1933
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +96.5%

The Dow Jones industrial average rose by an average 9% a year during FDR’s 12-year tenure.

George Bush (REP)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1989
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +19.6%

The 1980s ended during Bush’s first year, with the Dow rising 228% over the decade, or 13% a year.

George W. Bush (REP)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 2001
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: -7.7%

During his eight years in office, the Dow fell 22%, to 8,281. The S&P 500 lost 37%, closing at 850.

Gerald R. Ford (REP)

Inauguration Date: Aug. 9, 1974
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +4.2%

The Dow fell 45% between Jan. 11, 1973, and Dec. 6, 1974, one of the worst bear markets in history.

Harry S. Truman (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Apr. 12, 1945
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: +30.9%

Almost 18 years after reaching 200 for the first time, the Dow again climbed to 200 in January 1946.

Herbert Hoover (REP)

Inauguration Date: Mar. 4, 1929
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: -15.6%

The Dow dropped 48% from Sept. 3 to Nov. 13 in 1929.

Jimmy Carter (DEM)

Inauguration Date: Jan. 20, 1977
Percentage Change in Dow Jones Industrial Average During First Year in Office: -19.6%

Inflation increased by more than 6% during Carter’s fi rst year.

Why Businesses Should Support Socialized Healthcare

June 23rd, 2011 by Whitey 1 comment »

Why does business align itself with conservatives in supporting the status quo of our failed healthcare system? If I am a conservative businessman, why would I choose a system that discourages personal responsibility? Why would I choose to bear the burden of my employees’ healthcare? Why would I support an anti-market system that forces many to stay in a dead-end job solely for their insurance benefits? If I support the free market, don’t I want market forces—such as performance, ability, and individual choice—to prevail? Do I really want to compete again foreign companies who have universal healthcare and therefore much lower overhead costs? (see this case study) There are historical reasons behind these questions, but I don’t understand why the fear of taxes drives business to get behind such a poorly structured system.

As candidates gear up for the 2012 presidential election, most Republicans are running on a platform that includes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (AKA, “ObamaCare”). This law gets rid of some of the more harmful elements of the system such as denial of care based on a preexisting condition, the use of annual limits, insurance company monopolies that lead to abusive premium increases, and numerous inefficiencies in the system. Yet, Republicans want to get rid of it, and potentially replace it with the Paul Ryan voucher system. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. A public option would be a better way to control costs and efficiencies. But Democrats could not get it done. Republicans have successfully demonized the new law, and will make a futile attempt to repeal it (which is interesting because Republicans support almost every element in the bill when asked—in fact, many of the ideas in the bill were first proposed by Republicans. This is not about the American people!). Beside the cynical answers of trying to use the issue to spook voters, what is driving Republicans to take this position?

I want to ask my Republican friends, “Exactly which aspects of the law do you want to eliminate? Is it the market-based exchange that you are against? Do you hate the idea of guaranteeing children with chronic illness the opportunity to purchase life-saving insurance? Are you against the mandate that people take personal responsibility by participate in the system to bring down costs for all (which is how insurance is supposed to work)?” But I can hear the response now: “Well, these are all good things, but how are you going to pay for it?” This is their response to any social program. The answer, of course, is to raise taxes. We have one of the lowest taxes rates in the industrial world. Taxes are an investment into the infrastructure of freedom that allows businesses to succeed and thrive. Most businessmen would agree that a better educated workforce is preferable to one that is not. And many would agree that the public education system—in spite of its flaws—is a low-cost, efficient, and effective way to provide it. Business does not want to be shackled with the responsibility to provide all training and education for its workers. So it welcomes a public education system that turns out a qualified workforce that allows them to succeed. Their tax dollars contribute to this system—this “socialized” education system. Well, the same logic holds true for a healthy workforce. A universal, government-insured healthcare system is what will help America thrive and compete globally in the twenty-first century.

See also:

Facts about the Affordability Care Act

Current system slows entrepreneurship

Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform

American Education: World Geography

June 19th, 2011 by Whitey 1 comment »

Americans need to understand the world much better than we do. We frequently talk about “leading the world.” And U.S. foreign policy is based on the idea that we make the rules. If we are to show leadership in the world, we need an electorate that understands today’s international challenges. We need to understand what problems exist, and how we can best assist others to solve these problems. Understanding such issues should empower our citizens to elect representatives who will promote effective policy that goes beyond the failing status quo.

Here are some interesting—and entertaining—videos clips and charts about what is going on in the world. I hope you enjoy these resources.

“The public has little interest in news about other countries and generally holds uninformed, malleable opinions on most international issues.” (Source)

Check out this great clip from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart: American Views

This is how most Americans view the world:

Noteworthy Trends:

Growing Inequality

  • The richest 50 individuals in the world have a combined income greater than that of the poorest 416 million.
  • There are 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day
  • Even in the U.S., the richest society in history, the income gap is growing faster than in any other developed nation, with severe poverty levels at their highest since 1972 (source)

Consequences of Global Inequality

  • Leads to increased migration to wealthy nations, as workers seek employment
  • May lead to leftist revolutions
  • Increased poverty—an average of 50,000 people die from poverty each day
  • Leads to social disintegration, violence and terrorism




More resources:

Amnesty International

United Nations

Foreign Affairs

Foreign Policy

Al Jazeera

The Internet is Watching You

May 29th, 2011 by Whitey 25 comments »

Eli Pariser is the author of The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. He is also the board president and former executive director of the group MoveOn.org. He appeared on Democracy Now! on Friday. This is a very interesting interview.

All Too Familiar

May 19th, 2011 by Whitey 8 comments »

I got an email today with this story. It really captures the problems of hierarchy and leadership hubris that permeates our institutions.

» Read more: All Too Familiar