Friday, March 25, 2016

A Message To Democrat Superdelegates

     2016 has already been a year of tumultuous changes, some good and some bad, but there is a chance to experience a change we haven't dared in a long time. I mean Democrats that are relevant and meaningful to American workers and voters, and I say that because at present the Democrats are of little or no consequence in most states and make little difference in our everyday lives except when they rubberstamp the kinds of things we generally think of as associated with conservatism and neo-con globalist business requests.

     Most of America's legislatures are heavily tinged toward a reddish purple, to the great detriment of those states, and to the detriment of the people living in them. A democrat in the Oval Office has not reduced the suffering and diminished hopes in those states by much at all, because state legislatures and governors have enormous influence over local affairs, while congresspersons have clout over national issues (assuming they choose to wield it.)

     Unionism is scarcely relevant in the United States political world, save for a few hold out donors in major races, and with red states locking down voting polls in new and innovative ways every year it becomes challenging to break out of the gerrymandered status quo that dominates the U.S. landscape. This is especially hard in an era where voter participation is only modest at the best of times, and dismal at all others. The doldrums of political life in the U.S. are well documented, and contempt for our Congress and all associated entities, state and local alike, is at an all time high.

     2016 has brought a fairly obvious game changer into the mix, one that has been denied and ignored for entirely transparent reasons. The status quo works. It gets congresspersons paid and paid well, gives them a pipeline to the private sector after time in office that ensures their financial well being, and pumps cash into their re-election while garnering support from their party as long as they toe the line. Losing ground for America and relevance as a party is profitable as hell, and even if its hard to stay elected to office, who cares as long the checks are good, right?

     The game changer is Bernie Sanders. I didn't start off as a fan, and in truth I grossly underestimated his abilities and his draw. I thought he was unrealistic, I was concerned that he lacked the clout to make good on any of his intentions, and I was genuinely looking for a possible Republican in the vast field of would be candidates that better suited my tastes, because I have no faith in the Clinton brand and can't ethically support her candidacy. Not because of Benghazi or any of the other micro scandals cooked up over trivia and spewed by right wing media, but because her stances and voting record speak for themselves, and because her powerful connections to Wall Street make it very clear that she may not BE 'the problem', but she certainly has a friendly relationship with it. You can scarcely find a person more dedicated to faux-centrism and capitulation to high finance in current American politics. This isn't news...since she holds the remarkable distinction of being the most disliked candidate ever shored up by her party. Her chief selling point is the threat of a Republican victory, and I strongly suspect that only reason we saw a herd of Republicans lining up to battle for the chance to run against is because they already understand her vulnerability as a candidate, but we have another option. A better option, and surprisingly, a more viable and genuinely more electable choice. We have Sanders.

     His support is largely from a younger crowd, and a very large younger crowd at that. These are people new to politics, likely only having voted in one or two presidential elections prior to this, and in many cases, this their first major election cycle. That millennial or post millennial bulge in population has a value beyond just their immediate presence at rallies, filling stadiums that have never seen a political event of such size or scope before. They represent a more politically active, more engaged, more socially connected generation, with attitudes and norms that almost automatically place them far from the existing GOP and its stance on social issues.

     This is a one time gold mine of an opportunity to brand a generation with a sense of connection to a single party, but there's only one candidate that can make that happen...and that is Sanders. Even if Clinton takes the nomination, and even if she wins a divisive battle for the presidency with only a portion of Sander's fans capitulating for the sake of a win against the GOP, the rest of the surge of youth will vanish into the woodwork, accepting as law that politics is meaningless and their votes count for nothing against an establishment that is entrenched to serve interests wildly divergent from their lives. That opportunity to revitalize the DNC is lost, gone until some new candidate arrives who knows how far into the future. The local races will go on with few participants, with vote suppression by Republicans and apathy by Democrats deciding that most states will remain mostly red and slowly sliding into ignominious failure and irrelevance.

     Or you can use those superdelegate votes to tie the party wagon to the excitement and vigor that is Sanders' campaign and its supporters, and hand Democrats all over the country a surge of new voters that can actually overcome the gerrymandering, the suppression tactics and every other dirty trick being used by Republicans to cling to power. The GOP has never been weaker or more vulnerable. So fractured that an outsider can topple all the party stalwarts. Likewise the DNC has never been so firmly rebuffed by constituents, with an independent who has actually walked the walk pulling in arena rock numbers at rallies...and this from the kids that ostensibly love their iPhones and Xboxes more than sunshine and air and real life!

     This is your chance to capitalize on a generation that is aching to support someone and something better than conservative values. Discard and ignore them and you discard the generation that can make you relevant once again, and sustain you while the GOP slowly collapses in on itself. Or vote for Clinton. Vote for the machine politics and the dirty tricks and the same rackets that have made most Americans left of center turn away in disgust and repulsion. You can do that if you wish, but history is being written, and your names can be among those lauded as visionaries...or they can become synonymous with treason, ineptitude and graft. The decision is yours. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Standing Your Ground...Against The Zimmerman Verdict

  To start, I'd like to carefully point out my nearly unilateral support for the concept behind Stand Your Ground laws nationwide. Too often we've heard of the victim of a break-in or an attack being charged and tried for acting their own defense. Many states have grown weary of having no legal recourse but to pursue the letter of the law, even when the spirit and intent of same are being stretched beyond the believable.

  It should be unquestionably true that people have an inborn right to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their homes and possessions when necessary. Sometimes the force used may be excessive, but as terrible as it may sound to some...I have no empathy for a robber or rapist who unexpectedly winds up the victim of an ironic turn of circumstance. Crawling in a window or creeping up another person's stairwell pretty much clears the victim of the break-in of any obligation to be reasonable or merciful. It is safer to assume the ill-intent of an intruding stranger suddenly found in your home. If someone dislikes being shot at...then they should probably consider looking into a career that doesn't involve home invasion or assaulting strangers.

  Stand your ground laws came into being to prevent people who had survived a criminal assault or intrusion (by exercising the right to defend themselves) from being incarcerated or prosecuted  for an act of very clear self defense. Such laws have a worthwhile place in the world, and are founded on common sense...something too often lacking in our highly politicized legal system. It doesn't help that the act of creating a new precedent regarding an existing law is considered a career building exercise for lawyers and judges. This process actually lends itself to wild stretches of existing law.

  I support the right to own firearms, even a wide variety of firearms, since different purposes call for different firearms. I cannot accept any claim that standard shotguns, rifles or pistols should be banned for any reason. I do believe in registration...and tracking of manufacturers shipments...because what constitutes a genuine 'ban' begins when someone cannot gain access to a gun...not, as some would claim, when they had to sign for it so that, if they kill another person with it, they can be traced and arrested. If you kill someone with it, either you have a reason worth explaining and should report yourself...or you should be arrested period. Registration is actually a more powerful deterrent than death penalties...and is measurably less fatal.

  Having said all this, and having spelled out that I still support the concept of stand your ground laws, we must inevitably move toward the sad drama of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The basic facts, even the ones spelled out by Zimmerman in police reports, cry out for an arrest...not for a stand your ground claim. Zimmerman was making his rounds as neighborhood watch, which trains all participants to observe and report...not intervene, when he saw Trayvon hop a fence on the way home. Zimmerman observed a black youth in a hoodie walk down a street after dark. He did not observe a crime in progress. He still called the police as he followed by car, and was instructed to wait while police were dispatched and keep watching.

  Sometime during that conversation Trayvon seems to have noticed that a man in a car was slowly following him down the street, which is something most of us would find creepy even in daylight, much less at night. When Trayvon hurried to get to safety, Zimmerman appeared to become convinced that the 'suspect' (again...the suspect of nothing but walking) was 'getting away'. Having duly convinced himself that a criminal was clearly escaping, Zimmerman left the car and physically assaulted Trayvon Martin, resulting in a scuffle or brawl. Frankly speaking, Zimmerman was fortunate he didn't attack a legally armed adult...because assaulting a person pretty much at random as they hurry for home is pretty much grounds for a self defense claim.

  Trayvon seems to have defended himself well...assuming that Zimmerman, the only survivor, is being accurate and truthful about the injuries he sustained. We'll assume that he was honest about it, because it's still not relevant. This is because when attacked by a strange man at night, everyone has the right to defend themselves, perhaps even excessively, because the fault lies with the aggressor, not the victim. Zimmerman's role as the aggressor is unquestionable, because his own explanation of events very clearly spells out that he was in no danger when he chose to leave his car and 'detain' (read that as physically assault an innocent person) Trayvon Martin.

  Now we come to the ugliest parts. Zimmerman, apparently bleeding and bruised after losing a brawl with a frightened and angry teenager roughly less than 75% his own weight, breaks off the fight and flees to the car, claiming that he was in fear of his life. Again, frankly, he deserved to be in fear for his life, because he'd decided to attack a stranger without even marginally real justification, just his own questionable mental state guiding him to 'be a hero'...if being a hero means attacking strangers at the drop of a hat. Still threatened by the angry victim of his assault, Zimmerman gets his gun from the car...and his defense now includes the claim that Martin nearly took the gun from him. Once again, we return to the other perspective: Trayvon's. The crazed assailant that stalked and attacked you has drawn a weapon...and wrestling it away from him is an act of desperate self defense in an attempt to keep a madman from taking your life. These would be the acts of a person defending their life and person within the boundaries of the law.

  And then we come to the end of Trayvon's life. He fails to wrestle the gun away...and makes a break for it in a last ditch attempt to save his own life. He runs...and out of five shots three manage to hit him in the back as he flees for safety. By the time police arrive Zimmerman is the only survivor and witness to the entire ordeal, and we have only his word and the police reports to draw from, so the whole truth cannot be known. A 17 year old is dead and the police inexplicably invoke stand your ground laws immediately...suggesting that an unarmed teen who bought snacks after dark was so dangerous that he deserved to be stalked, harassed, assaulted and then fatally shot while fleeing his own attacker.

  The entire case only became national because family members saw the horrible flaw in the reasoning of the police: you cannot "stand your ground" against an innocent person you stalked and attacked, then shot after taking a well deserved beating. The police exercised 'stand your ground' completely out of its context, stretching its definition to include vigilantes who disobey clear police directives, because any loosening of stand your ground laws is so unacceptable that even terrible injustices somehow became unimportant.

  People have made much of the dead kid's internet life...a 17 year old who had occasionally used marijuana and profanity (and yet maintained a superb grade point average and avoided actual trouble). I cannot recall a male teenager in the course of my entire life whose image wouldn't be tarnished by a thorough search of every deed and spoken word, because teenage boys seek out every opportunity to show themselves off in front of peers, to act tough or cool, to seem confident when they aren't. Marijuana was suddenly treated as a violence-inducing drug...despite the fact that marijuana has only ever induced violence against snack foods...not people. There's been much made of the wearing of a hoodie, much the way trenchcoats were made suspect in the wake of if clothes determine or indicate criminal intent (they assuredly do not, or at least play so slender a role that no serious attention can be given to these claims, especially regarding trenchcoats and hoodies, which are ubiqitous.)

  In the end, the diversions all come down to attempts to assassinate Trayvon Martin twice...once in life and again in death, to somehow make his death acceptable. The idea that 'stand your ground' laws might be jeopardized by a lone gunman vigilante who attacked an unarmed student walking too much weight for minds to bear...and so they take the easy route to safer grounds...and blame the victim.

  To my mind, the only person who had a right to stand their ground, was Trayvon Martin, and despite making every attempt to get away first, he wound up forced into a confrontation and barely fought off his assailant...and paid for his courage and success with his life, only to have that life slandered in acts of naked partisan bigotry.

  Zimmerman's trial was so pathetic that I am forced to assume that the prosecution actually planned to fail...intentionally. It was a trial in name only, devoid of facts, full of theatrics, and empty of justice. Murder 2 was non-provable. In truth, Zimmerman was not guilty...because Murder in the second degree would have had to show planning instead of desperate reaction to a crisis (even a self created crisis.) The prosecution MUST have known this to be true...and so I presume that their overreaching was entirely deliberate. Manslaughter would have been an accurate charge, since it doesn't imply planning or intent to kill, just responsibility for the fatal ending of that encounter. Manslaughter could have proven beyond reasonable doubt, and yet it wasn't chosen as a charge, and the wildly improbably Murder 2 was chosen instead.

  Given the conduct of the officers on that initial night, and their rush to attribute the well-connected Zimmerman son's conduct to a stand your ground defense, it's actually safe to say that Sanford's law enforcement and judicial community are now suspect of not just incompetence, but actual conspiracy to obstruct justice. The appropriate act would be a federal intervention and investigation, to determine if the prosecutor, judge or any other local officials colluded to build a severely flawed case against Zimmerman, one which they were sure would fail in court and leave Zimmerman a free man.

  However much I like stand your ground laws, and I really do, I deeply despise unequal treatment under the law. The backbone of a free republic is a legal system that struggles constantly to avoid bias and prejudice. Our courts should let the actual events speak for themselves...not the pocketbooks or skin colors or accents of the defendants decide the outcomes. The fact that our legal system is such a shamble of patchwork local evasions and racially motivated exceptions should rightly be offensive to us all, because it stand in direct contradiction to everything that the earliest Americans were striving to prevent from recurring after the end of British rule and the imperious and unjust conduct of Crown courts. Knowing that a man or woman's life or freedom is at stake means that legal proceedings should be undertaken with great seriousness, and that innocence is assumed until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately for Trayvon, guilt was assumed on sight, the sentence was death, and there was no trial to clear him...just a fraudulent show of legal trickery to ensure the freedom of his killer, while for the killer no expense was spared, innocence was assumed despite a confession that contradicted even that generous assumtion, and no serious charges were filed against him...just a laughably inept attempt to press an improbable claim of Murder 2.

  My condolences go not just to the family of Trayvon Martin, but to the people of an entire country who watched their legal system fail, and watched crowds of violent, slanderous bigots cheer for a gross miscarriage of justice. Nearly as culpable as George Zimmerman is our culture of partisan obligations...which induces normally sane people to bend their minds in every possible way to avoid ugly truths. We encourage a culture of frightened sheep to clutch their firearms to the breasts and sleep lightly, ready to open fire at a moment's notice. This sad attitude has even penetrated police departments, until officers that once would have responded with calm assurance and minimal force, now open fire almost at random, or make use of tasers and tear gas when dealing with small children and elderly persons. The inherent cowardice in this is a reflection of a society losing its intestinal fortitude but unwilling to acknowledge that painful reality. If you live in fear, you will be ruled by it and act on it, and you do not have the 'right' to call those actions 'reason'. Cowardice is not courage, failure is not success, and feelings are not substitutes for facts. The world is a dangerous place...and it's made that way mostly by kidding ourselves about our own fears and their influence over us not only won't make us puts us all at greater risk than ever before. Let's hope Trayvon's legacy, if he can be said to have one despite a life cut short, is a wake up call to the fearful who let their fear give birth to the kind of madness that took a young man's life without cause.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Unraveling 40 Years Of Economic Failure: Part 1

There is a reason that economists often seem disassociated from reality...and the reason is that they, in many ways, are actually disassociated from human reality...the reality of everyday life. This isn't a unique condition, however, and can be equally applied to most people when discussing the mathematical reality of economics. There is a disconnect...because the subject too easily lends itself to emotional reactions based on personal experience or political philosophy. When the numbers are in the trillions, and the ebb and flow of wealth becomes divorced from anything we can connect to, we seek out meaning and connection...even imposing false meaning atop empirical evidence to the contrary. Reality, especially with regard to a mathematical absolute, is far less digestible than patented buzzwords and comforting slogans. The purpose of this exercise is to reacquaint at least some small number of people with fiscal realities that may have political ramifications...and may be philosophically repugnant...but remain absolutely true just the same, without regard for finer sentiments.

An economy is, at its core, the financial actions of millions upon millions of people, interacting on small scales and large, simultaneously and constantly. In addition to its classical origin, our new era of information transfer and high speed communication has lent itself to the swift movement and calculation of immeasurable wealth...with fewer human involvements than ever before. The dynamics of past eras cannot be said to have remained unchanged by this leap forward in technology. To postulate otherwise is the manifestation of desperate desire for a grounding in the familiar. The way in which our economy can be called 'managed' has changed radically in a very small number of decades...and the results have been measurable. The very wealthy have grown considerable more wealthy, with a corresponding increase in influence...while the more average worker has experience an increase only in hardship, a loss of opportunity, and a diminished relevance politically and socially, with corresponding stresses in other facets of their lives.

To begin in earnest, lets dismiss the concept of a 'free market'. The popular imagination has absorbed the two words with an attached meaning implying few or no interferences by attempt to move back to a time when markets ebbed and flowed with little involvement by outside forces, which is ludicrous after even a short historical study of economics. There has never been a time when the choices of governments, be they theocracies, monarchies or democracies, have left markets theoretically untouched and allowed to flow freely. Government, in all its forms, is always a powerful mover of capital, shifting wealth from place to place, sometimes toward industrialization and modernization, sometimes toward military conquest, sometimes to art and science and faith. The degree of involvement may vary, but its impact has always (and will always) be massive. The only issue at stake is where its influence is most effective and generates the most positive overall effect. Some weigh 'positive effect' differently than others. For my purpose, I consider the most positive effect to be a broad involvement of as many people as possible in the economic system of a nation. More is better in my view. 350 million involved people generate greater results economically than 100 million involved people. The greater their level of involvement, the greater the corresponding gain on a national scale. This is not an unreasonable assumption.

No market has ever been truly free. Once we accept this, we move unerringly to the understanding that what marks a healthy 'unfree' market from an unhealthy 'unfree' market is the degree of accessibility and level of accountability to legitimate civil authority. The worst examples of poorly regulated, ill managed economies have given us visions of hell on Earth. Pre-revolution France, pre-Soviet Russia, modern Haiti etc etc. These markets and nations suffered from both an excess and a shortage of freedom at the same time. Freedom became a limited commodity available only to those who could wrest it away from others...and with no civil authority strong enough to maintain a balance and no means to equitably involve a wide array of people in the economy, revolution, violence and chaos ensued.

Again, it is just my view, but as far as I am concerned Communism failed utterly in its attempts to create a more just system of governance that would level the playing field. In every case where it has been attempted, the system has always been subverted by a limited group of powerful players who diminished access for others and enriched themselves, recreating a new class struggle even while railing against it. We can assume safely that class will always be an issue, that some will have more and others less, but it is how we manage and balance that difference between classes that determines if we spiral into anarchy and bloodshed...or if we trundle along with comparative contentment.

By way of example, lets consider an automobile. Imagine a car with countless rules thrust upon it and its driver. Its every function is micromanaged and carefully controlled until minimal risk is achieved. It is utterly stagnant, slow, and nearly valueless as a means of transport or personal freedom of movement. Imagine a second car and driver, on which no controls of any kind are placed. It careens wildly from place to place with no nod toward safety or even survival, at speeds that would normally be considered suicidal in the hands of any but the most expert, and ultimately crashes spectacularly. Neither of these is a desirable outcome. Somewhere between the two exists a harmonious acceptance of limits that allows both modest usefulness and likely safety. Somewhere between the extremes lies a long term path to success. This is also true in economics.

My contention would be that, in part by design, and in part by accident, the United States briefly stumbled upon that happy medium. Even a cursory glance at its changes through the Twentieth Century would show a country that shifted gears from a largely rural, isolationist nation of modest an economic powerhouse that unquestioningly dominated the global scene by any measurement that one cares to use. Note that this article isn't about the countless small inequities which have occurred along the way. Inequities arise...always...and can and have been dealt with in any number of ways for better or worse. What is being reviewed and examined here is the impact of economic policy on the United States...and what portions of those policies have resulted in great gain for many...and what portions have resulted in great gain for few at the expense of many.

Let's consider money supply in the most simple possible terms. There is money. The supply of same is not and has never been based solely on the basis of limited precious metals. For those who imagine a rosy era of gold standards absolutely determining the total amount of wealth a nation can possess...the bad news is that this is a modern fiction when weighed against the history of global economics. It had been a factor...not an absolute, and it remains a factor, not an absolute. The wealth of a nation is in part its goods and services, its productivity and the countless tiny exchanges of materials and services and wealth. The supply of money allotted is loosely based on the approximate total value of all that is transpiring at a given time...and this is both reasonable and true. What isn't reasonable is expanding the supply of money infinitely or excessively for mere convenience. In this, popular conservative views of economic policy are absolutely correct, even if they rarely apply this truth when it's inconvenient for them. It should be agreed upon that any increase in the theoretical supply of money based on anything other than actual value is essentially a devaluation of the existing currency, stretching and flattening dough until it becomes thinner and thinner...ultimately creating less value for all (especially for those who possess quite a bit already, and have no desire to see the real time value of a billion dollars become something more like 600 million.)

Having asserted that there is, and should be, a limited supply of money at any given time (with room for adjustment as the combined value of economic activity changes), let us move to how that total wealth is managed and measured, and what difference it makes. Government, be it elected or unelected, for better or worse, looms large in its ability to organize and accomplish large scale tasks. How trustworthy it is...that is another issue...but every monumentally large task undertaken throughout history has always returned to government. The Great Wall, the Pyramids, Hoover Dam etc...leaving aside the religious connotations and connections as inspiration, the actual work was organized and executed by act of government. Government rarely ever has managed all wealth in a nation, but has always been involved in the controlled movement of wealth...determining the means by which wealth is measured, the value of the available money, the terms under which the money is used and distributed and the taxation of property, goods, services and other forms of economic activity. In this era, where finance is crucial and goals incalculably more complicated than in the past, government finds itself with more on its plate than ever before. No highly successful or internationally relevant government is lax and divorced from the process of oversight.

Management and measurement of capital and wealth are, in fact, the primary task of government. In measurement, it is a matter of maintaining an accurate picture of the value and nature of the accumulated wealth and influence of a nation...and in management it is the determining of where that wealth is best directed or supported...and for what gain. With the measurement of gain being considered as a vibrant economy in which the widest possible number of people are included and involved (purchasing goods, services, property and making investments), it becomes obvious that government's ideal part in the process is furthering that goal and moving to include as many people as possible in the economic activity...which furthers gain for both government and business as a pleasant side effect.

Obviously (to most), the money cannot be simply gathered up and doled out perfectly equally. This is as abhorrent and pathetic a concept as its opposite (the money simply being piled at the top with zero accessibility to others). As soon as money begins to move, whenever value is allowed to change hands, it begins to accumulate in greater or lesser amounts that wildly vary from person to person. Capitalism, for all its faults, acknowledges this simple reality. No successful attempt has ever been made to equitably deal with this reality...only failed attempts that stifled opportunity and led to a gangsterish clique with near total control of the supply of wealth...a grotesque mirror parody of capitalism at its worst. The only realistic approach is to accept that money will accumulate in specific places as it changes hands...and then take action to force that money to continue moving. Whether this is ethical or not is is still less horrifying than the consequences of letting money stagnate. Ask the Russian monarchy about it...if you can find any who are alive.

The movement of money is not unlike the movement of flows fastest where a path is cut for it...or left to its own devices cuts a path for itself and then sticks to precisely that path unless diverted. Since it is untenable to leave money utterly to its own devices, or to assume control of all of it, it is both reasonable and right to make attempts to divert it and control its flow. Let us make for our example a small population of 10,000 people, because it is far more difficult to keep our minds on simple realities of the task when the numbers move into the hundreds of millions. Of that ten thousand people, all desire to live and prosper, and all must find sustenance and shelter in a modern economy. All have access to at least some small amount of money, and some few have access to quite a bit more than others. The ebb and flow of goods, services and property are already assumed to be in place, the presence of jobs and of government may likewise be assumed to be in place. Consider it a tiny, miniature America if you will, in proportion identical to the makeup of the United States. Assume an identical timeline politically and socially as well...and we begin.

At and during the period of its greatest power and influence, government had a heavy hand in taxation and distribution of wealth, as well as in the oversight of commercial activity. This heavy hand came into being after a period of increasing laxity that resulted in extreme losses and considerable harm to many people. The resulting firm hand and excessive involvement came about as a response intended to smooth the flow of wealth and prevent future crises...and to reassure the people that they were invested in the process and should not choose to destroy it in favor of some other political/financial system. Government had its hand in nearly everything...doling out money for education, infrastructure large and small, research, agriculture, defense, and even general employment and oversight of seemingly minute issues. Money was effectively moved from everyone...but most visibly from the very wealthy...and shuffled about in many ways and for many ends...but more important than where it moved...was THAT it moved.

We return to that example of 10,000 theoretical citizens...they have ample access to education and higher education at reasonable prices, sound infrastructure that enables development and transportation, subsidized utilities and a marketplace that remains competitive while keeping competition checked against excess. Legitimate means are available to seek redress of both economic and social grievances. In short...there is balance...certainly not perfect balance, but sufficient to engender an environment of affluence for more people than usual. A larger percentage of the average population can afford what other countries might consider luxuries...and we agree that this is good. Investment is at an all time high...and stability and peaceful transfer of power is more visible than elsewhere in the world.

Popular wisdom has become, largely by advertisement and think tank propaganda, that taxes are wholly onerous...doubly so when placed heavily upon corporations and the wealthy, and that taxes stifle investment and expansion. The conventional wisdom holds that if companies and wealthy individuals have more money...they have more to invest in innovation, expansion and hiring. Despite the fact that the greatest widespread economic growth took place while top tax rates were double or even near triple the current rates, and that considerable regulation and restriction and oversight were in place...the popular myth remains that low taxes lead to greater investment.

The opposite is true. I know its hard to believe after two generations of the same drumbeat...but the exact opposite is true. Taxes breed investment. In fact...they force it into being by default. Lower taxes promote hoarding of capital and flatly discourage any form of investment save for the most spurious and intangible. Why on earth would anyone...anyone at all...with enormous amounts of capital and imaginative ways to increase it with few taxes...turn around and squander that money on hiring, wages, safety, expansion or any other form of civic or civil investment? They logically shouldn't, and just as they don't. Onerous taxes...especially applied heavily to those individuals who build enormous amounts of capital through profit or inheritance, force investment because the money serves them better when invested and tax-free...even when spent on hiring, wages and charitable causes, than it does when withdrawn as profit and made subject to taxation. Who wouldn't choose to take home a 1 million dollar paycheck and lose half to taxes...rather than withdraw 100 million in profit and see 85% of it vanish instead? This is precisely why many of the great 'gifts', bequeaths, trusts and other foundations came into being. The money they were created with would have been devoured by taxes if not given away in a goodwill raising public relations gesture. Taxes built the greatest economic engine, with the soundest wages, and with the most productivity and shared wealth in the history of the planet. Taxes funded the largest public works programs and developed the most modern infrastructure ever conceived by humankind. Taxes developed a quality of life that set one nation apart from the entire world, a model of futuristic potential achievement that all others merely sought to copy.

And then we started slashing them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Assange Quandary: Wikileaks Under Fire

It's rapidly becoming the fight of our times, the crucial battle to define all future battles, the question that once answered will decide what future questions will be permitted. Is Wikileaks a terrorist organization with the purpose of harming world governments as its core mission? Or is Wikileaks a whistleblower's paradise, a large and well run website that funnels evidence of criminal wrongdoing into the public eye when no one else will touch it with a ten foot pole?

It may be easy enough to play devil's advocate and fight for the little guy (Assange) who is presently under attack by multiple governments and legal systems at the same time...not to mention the heretofore unheard of decision by various corporations to shut off routes for funding and donation for Wikileaks as well as Assange personally. My instincts always push me to root for the underdog, but the question of the hour is whether the underdog is worth rooting for.

More than personalities or state security, what is now at stake is decidedly larger than like or dislike of any one government or that governments actions. Much larger than the petty frauds of global corporations. Infinitely larger than the bruised egos of various players around the world. What is underway now is the fight to close off any future avenue by which information might move from the hands of the protected few, into the hands of the outraged many.

The ability to make an informed decision is the backbone of actual democracy. Take that away and all that is left is a gilded land of make believe where citizens make decisions they believe are right...never knowing that if the information they needed had been available to them...they might have chosen differently. Information is freedom, because it determines the faith one has in one's leaders, decides the course of action one sees as wise, and makes possible the best decisions when ignorance only breeds the worst.

Wikileaks, for all its faults, as well as Julian Assange, may be less than noble at heart and full of human errors and flaws...but the purpose they serve is larger than they are, more precious than they can ever hope to be. We are in the Information Age...and that name is no accident. The capacity to move data around the globe in seconds is the defining characteristic of our new era, and the debate over virtual rights and control of same has become the deciding question of our time.

We scoff at China's Great Firewall, or North Korea and Iran's attempts to clamp down on what is seen and heard and read and even spoken...but when the hard question is asked of will we respond? Is transparency worth its risks and price? Are we really better than the nations we scorn? Does inconvenient truth have greater value to us than to others?

In Australia, attempts to blacklist the worst extremes of pornography passed and became law...and it was universally agreed to be a good thing except by the shrillest voices at the fringe. Of course, after the fact we all look at the inclusion of political and religious sites among the blocked...and consider that an overuse of power by the Australian government. The temptation was too great...once some small group of persons was entrusted with the choice over what Aussies might be allowed to see or read on the internet, the censoring immediately spun out of control and moved far beyond what was agreed to at the outset.

The United Kingdom has bandied about a new anti-porn system, intended to make it necessary for people to 'opt in' if they wish to view pornography...but this has been poo-pooed as unwieldy and too difficult to implement...and even without such a law the surveillance state of England has already intruded into the personal lives of every citizen in the proclaimed fight against terror...even resulting in the recent case of a 12 year old being questioned by local police and accused of 'terrorism related activities' in advance of the public protest he planned to save a local youth building.

Control of internet access and the way in which it may be employed is a planet wide battle, a patchwork quilt of corporate lobbied notions and rights groups insistences, shifting to and fro depending on who wins the debate in what country. The U.S. Congress will likely be reviewing the FCC's latest compromise on net neutrality...if such a thing can be called neutrality when it surrenders most of the power to decide content to the largest players in the game.

Everywhere the battle is being fought, but depending on the information available to you, your position is subject to change. Imagine for the briefest of moments a world where someone wrote a script to be read in front of you, and that script was called your news, and that person who wrote it decided on your behalf what sides would be taken, what questions asked, what information revealed. That script constitutes all that you know of the world beyond your doors and your town and your political choices hinge on what that script tells you. That imagined world is entirely possible...that world is China, Iran, and North Korea.

So in the end, whether the underdog of the moment is an unworthy individual or group like Assange or Wikileaks as a whole, and whether I find fault with them personally, I stand absolutely and resolutely on the side of both genuine net neutrality and transparency by questionable means when necessary (since any legitimate means to achieve transparency are thwarted easily). It may be ugly, but it must be done, because the concept of an informed citizenry was and is rightly seen as necessary for the maintenance of a truly free society. Whether Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine would have agreed, I cannot say...but to me their principles apply just as well in an era of cathode ray tubes as they did in an era of hand printed pamphlets.

Hate them or love them, Assange and Wikileaks are the voice of future freedom, with all its entailed costs and curses. There is one other voice...and that voice is an droning Orwellian recording, repeating endless praises for the State and constant assurances that all is well. That is the voice that should be silenced, muffled, gagged and cut off once and for all. That is the voice of a future that no one would choose...if they were allowed to know they were choosing it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I know that ultimately this is just a whisper being fired into a tornado...but it's my whisper and I'll do with it what I please. Vote.

Technically it may invest you in the process that gets us into this mess we're neck deep in...and I know it doesn't feel good to know that whomever you voted for didn't achieve what you'd hoped. Vote anyway.

I know it's a fuss and a bother and involves standing in a line with a bunch of people that you have nothing in common with...except that you Vote.

It really is a great deal like a lottery...there is very little chance that you'll hit the perfect combination and get what you want...but there is no chance of any kind if you don't get up and get out and join in. Vote.

The choices are like most choices in life, no better or worse. It's usually a range of compromises that aren't always fun to make...but that's life. Get over it and vote.

Vote because you can, because others paid a bitter price to give you that freedom. Vote because it is something that exists in many other places...but which still escapes many countries. Vote.

The national scene has comparatively little impact on your daily life, but the city, county, and state electorate is directly tied to your vote...and has an enormous impact on how you live every day. Vote.

Vote not because you agree with me, but because it is an expression of your beliefs, whatever they may be. In this we are true equals. Vote.

You have a voice. It is a very small voice. One among a din of millions. Not everyone will hear you...but you will be heard. Vote.

Vote because it is the one truly momentous thing you share with every nearby neighbor and with every far flung citizen...people as far away as geographically possible...Americans one and all. We all have one thing in common...we can vote, and let that tiny voice be heard, take that tiny chance at getting what we want or believe in, express that freedom that was bought so dearly by others and given to us as a gift...with only one string attached...we have to use it to keep it.

So vote.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Beast With A Thousand Heads: Why is the Tea Party so hard to pin down?

Like the Lernaean Hydra of old, the Tea Party presents the media, and average people everywhere with a political bent to their nature, with a tantalizing conundrum. It came into being quickly, gelling as a national force, albeit a smaller one than many would like to admit, and devouring as much media attention as groups many hundreds of times their size. Despite this, when the topic of the Tea Party comes up there are as many definitions as there are people in the room. It is all things to all people, a ghost in the machine that cannot be explained away, a different mask on each of a hundred different faces. What the hell is the Tea Party?...and more importantly, if we're defining it inaccurately, how can we honestly oppose it when we aren't genuinely sure of what it is?

And therein lies the truth of the problem. We can't easily define it, because in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the vast coalition of smaller groups that dominated the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the Tea Party Movement is everything and none of the above. It is comprised of widely varying groups as well as lone citizens joining others for the first time. It is anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-white, pro-Christian, anti-Federal reserve, and pro or anti ALMOST anything you can a few more things besides.

You can't easily lump them all as bigots or racists...because a vast many of them are not racist at all. One of the heads of the hydra bellows the N-word...and the other heads disagree and drown it out, sheepishly embarrassed by one of their own number. Another head shouts out for the belief that America is a purely Christian nation chosen by God to dominate the world...and the other heads roll their eyes and facepalm themselves while trying to quiet things back down. Likewise the conspiracy theorists, the Birthers, the 9/11 Truthers and more more more.

For every diverse little face in the crowd, there is someone outside of the Tea Party who equates that person with the totality of the movement itself. If a person hates Fundamentalist Christians, then Fundamentalists become the aspect of the Tea Party that he despises most and perceives as the dominant characteristic of the Tea Party. If a person despises racism, then the fringe of white power activists in the Tea Party becomes the powerhouse of the movement, defining it utterly as a racist organization.

This is neither truthful or productive...and by micro focusing an attack against a tiny portion of the Tea Party (even if you believe that its not tiny) it becomes like struggling in quicksand. The tiny grains cannot be dealt with...but the whole is the greater problem. Insulting a large number of people who may be very genuinely opposed to the taxes they pay and the general corruption of federal government isn't the answer. Being clear and concise in criticism of the worst elements is more effective than attempting to brand the whole with a label that won't stick...because people, despite their faults and foibles, generally trust personal experience over simple labeling.

I've been as guilty as others...sometimes venting my frustration at the general ignorance of Tea enthusiasts by blasting them with broad strokes...and I have to admit that after giving due consideration to the matter, I was wrong. I may have been right about the individual I was dealing with, but I was wrong about their relevance to the whole movement. In the future, I will try to aim my criticism with precision, because I would appreciate and admire the same courtesy being shown by others, and even if they don't do this it would still set my mind at ease and prevent hypocrisy on my part.

What do I see the Tea Party as now? They're new, largely white and Christian, fast forming into a national brand, and concerned with a wide variety of different issues...but focusing broadly on the reduction of taxes and the curtailing of federal authority.

And unfortunately, despite the degree to which I agree with those two concepts, they are massively underwritten by powerful conservative groups who are channeling that general dissatisfaction into a movement that will vote alongside the neo-conservative bloc of the GOP. There is no question in my mind on this single issue. Despite some bucking at the reins and complaints from within, the Tea Party as a whole is completely co-opted at the national level, and is being manipulated to help coalesce support for the party and policies that treat government's task as the facilitation of ease for business interests...not service to the people of the nation that elected them. This is worse in principle than even "big government liberalism" at its most onerous.

Government's role is not to facilitate the creation of an atmosphere conducive to easy money for the top percent of citizens. Government may serve best when it serves least, but it should be a duly elected body that serves all of its people, equally, not just a few...and its ability to act should be supreme when necessary. If you want an example of weak central authority and free markets...look no further than Haiti. It isn't pretty, but it's an honest picture of how those principles fare in the real world. Government is a necessary evil...but one which should be kept in check by various balances of power...and if I could encourage Tea Party enthusiasts to adopt one single platform it would be the restoration of the checks and balances originally framed in the Constitution and Bill Of Rights of the United States.

One helpful side note for them as well...if you undertake anything as radical as a call for real and effective change to make the government the servant of citizens and not vice versa...neither FreedomWorks nor the Koch Bros. will be there for you with free buses and pickets...there will be no website developers leaping to your aid on the house, and there will be no media firestorm beating its path to your office doors...because the minute you no longer serve the interests of the supremely wealthy individuals who are footing the bill and seem so sympathetic now, you will be on your own. If power welcomes you to speak truth and hands you a microphone to do must not be dangerous to them...and if it doesn't meet that criteria, you are just an quiet ally to entrenched power and a fart in the wind tunnel of public discourse.

But if they should need advice on how to cope with that sudden loss of support and the distance suddenly placed between them and access to media and influence...they can always talk to the real Left. The genuine Left (which is to be distinguished from the DNC...a completely separate being with nearly no relationship, political, philosophical or otherwise to the political Left) have been experiencing exactly that for generations now, and they already know its the price they pay for threatening the flow of money between powerful people with interruption and expecting government to serve rather than represent those who expect service from all.

In the end, even if the Tea Party's members can't acknowledge that every single member doesn't share their personal branch's beliefs...and that some of those members' beliefs are so radical as to be horrifying and even downright evil, they will splinter and fragment, remaining a vocal new minority...but they'll never have national relevance as they collapse in on themselves.

At some point the 'big house' times must come to an end, and an honest appraisal of what they expect from members will have to come. At that point, honesty about the fringes in their ranks will take hold and the worst elements will have to be chased off. The militant Christian brigades, the Aryan Nation spin offs, and others will have to be toned down or ejected. In all likelihood, as this happens, they will also form a coherent platform that pretty much represents the best interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, and vote as one alongside the bought and paid for politicians they despise, and with the same results...stagnant corruption in our leadership and financial duress for most Americans. It isn't really going out on a limb to predict this, since they're lined up eagerly, with representatives who have spelled out most of what they support, ready for election time in just a few weeks...and I don't see that trend changing until after the November dust settles.

I hope that, in the aftermath of this time of chaos and uncertainty, the rancor isn't so great that common ground is impossible to find. There are core principles in the Tea Party that I find principle...but I see a great rush to apply them in a way that will only diminish both our personal rights and prosperity. I actually feel great regret that a movement that emerged partly as a response to genuine frustration with corrupt government has become the fighting arm of that which it theoretically opposed. If the Kool Aid wears off and the desire to fight for justice and the rule of law over corporations and people alike ever kicks in, I will welcome them with open arms as brothers and sisters in the fight to leave something better for our children, but for now, however much sympathy I may have for the principles, they are effectively little more than well meaning dupes for the enemies of all who value freedom and democracy.

And lest anyone think I am painting with too broad a brush stroke: they are not all racists, they are not all Fundamentalists, and they are not all crazy or stupid...but they're still just working for the wrong side, and because that's a terrible thing to understand and live with, they just don't want to know it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Death By Convenience

America is clamoring for change...some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it downright ridiculous, but most of it is wishful thinking or the essence of a pipe dream at best. Much of it is powered by good intentions and emotionally charged visions of a better America...but all of it stands to face an uphill battle against the status quo...and the status quo is more powerful than ever before.

What makes even the smallest changes such an uphill struggle? Corruption, negligence, crony-ism and more reasons roll off the tongue easily, but there is a hidden poison that has added to the problem at every level, altering the mechanisms that would bring about changes for any party interested in making them.

What separates this era from any other? What marks this time and place as unique in history? What impedes the normal process of flux and change from progressing as it normally would?

Given the title of the article, it's clear that I think the problem is convenience, so let me outline why I believe this to be true.

First and foremost, just since the advent of television as a medium for entertainment and advertising, the culture of consumerism and the sedentary nature of leisure activities is a fact so well documented and evident that it literally requires no evidence to back it up...beyond asking people to examine the contents of their homes and assess for themselves the nature of their entertainment/leisure pursuits.

The hallmark of American life is the vast variety of creature comforts that are available to us. In fact, it's even the way we advertise our superiority to the world, advocating that they too could someday be as comfortable as we. Our food is price fixed to stay affordable so that chain restaurants can keep those cheap meals flowing fast. Even households not blessed with great income have DVD players, CD players, radio, wireless, cellphones with internet access and more more more.

We are a convenience culture, with stores on every corner, food that comes ready made or can be prepared and consumed in minutes, and entertainment that can soothe the restless mind always ready at hand...and this is not all bad...but there are side effects that may not have been given the consideration they were due.

In a world where one struggles for little, what value does patience or determination really have? Thinking cautiously and planning for the future are reflections of an ethos that was necessary a few generations ago...but is no longer relevant the way it once was. A person prepared to endure go without what they desire in the short term so that they may have what they prioritize in the long a person well prepared for survival in ANY era...but that person is rarer than ever.

As clear as in our personal lives, our politics also darkly reflect an intemperate, hasty, slapdash sort of thinking...a hunger for immediate satisfaction that can quickly turn into outraged frustration... more-so now than ever before. The overwhelming and sudden success of the Tea Party is a mirror held up to our own nature as a society. Where once people rose up and faced violence to fight for labor conditions that weren't terrifying or downright routinely lethal...or for civil rights so that each individual citizen might have the same access to the benefits of citizenship in a free society as any we are treated to the spectacle of people rising up on behalf of the well funded pundits and think tanks that answer the question in their souls: Why am I not happier?

Like snake oil salesman, the pitch is delivered fluently, sympathetically and skillfully...aimed at people who in the midst of overwhelming plenty, still are not content, and who need somewhere...someone on whom to lay the blame. The secret of advertising is to know your target understand what moves their hearts. Insecurity? Fear? Anger? Loneliness? Whatever your emotions may be, an appeal is being made to them, calculated to have an impact that isn't thought about...but which is responded to quickly.

The great peril in a free society where advertising and convenient entertainment is an everyday experience is that the people so exposed to that culture of convenience may become less conscious of their own responses, simply reacting from the gut without any understanding of how they can be manipulated. Our society has been built on the back of self determination and self management...principles that in theory are quite conservative...and very agreeable to me in principle.

But what becomes of such a society if it allows the minds and spirits to degrade into a state of pure, animalistic reaction? How then will a people, supposedly the masters of their own destinies, manage themselves well in a democracy? The answer is that they don't. It ceases to be a democracy in anything but name, and the gifted will simply manipulate vast herds people into believing, with righteous indignation, that they are enacting their own will...rather than echoing what has been spoon fed to them as the latest cure-all for their ills.

And here we are...nearing the eve of mid-term elections with a new and thundering voice being heard...clamoring not for freedom, but for the right to reduce inconvenient freedoms. Sounding off, not for the rights of people...but for the rights of corporations. Crying out not for equality...but for a limited superiority for certain classes of citizens.

How low have we fallen from the ideals that brought us into being as a country? How much lower can we fall? We'll find out in our lifetimes...and we should have a fairly clear vision of what that fall will be like...just a few weeks from now. An electorate driven by emotional responses to carefully selected buzzwords cannot prevail and choose a wise course, or wise leaders...and in due time we'll see where a life no longer built on patience and self determination, but instead crafted of convenience, has led us.