Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hope is Not Enough

In our hallway is suspended that iconic poster of Obama and the word "Hope."
I may have to take it down.
I love the man, his intelligence, his sympathies, his willingness to suffer for his people, but I'm not sure he ought to be President.
Here is the perfect oppurtunity handed an incumbent Democratic president: The Republican party, in control of the House of Representatives finally unmasks itself, refusing to lower taxes for corporate jets, second and third vacation homes, refuses to raise taxes on millionaires, refuses to even talk about raising taxes on anything the rich enjoy, and the President quietly, patiently walks into meeting rooms and tries to reason with them.
Well, what else do I expect him to do?
He should be on television every day, on the radio, on talk shows, out in the country at huge rallies and small towns, with pie charts and with soaring rhetoric, with allies like the suddenly absent Barney Frank, and he should be pilloring the Republicans by individual names and by party name.
All barrels should be blazing.
And not just about budget negotiations, but about Elizabeth Warren. The one thing that came out of the financial crisis was a law which might have punished and frightened the bankers into good behaviour and Obama found a sharp tongued chamion who could have lacerated those fat cats Republican bankers and all those who sail with them, but when he faces opposition, does he react with fury? Does he take to the airwaves or to the town halls to champion his ally? No, he wilts and accomodates.
Qui Tacet Consentit. He who remains silent consents.
He looks only a shade warmer than that Casper Milquetoast who for some reason known only to God and to the Democratic senators is the "leader" of the Senate, Harry Reid. Neither of these Democrats show any sign of having hot blood in their arteries, not even warm blood. They are stooped, weak voiced, old in spirit and simply not leaders.
With such leaders, the Republican rich have nothing to fear. They cannot lose.
And perhaps, that is as it should be. The strong take all the meat and the runt of the litter simply starves and withers.
Call it Darwinism.
Call it politics.
But politics is a blood sport and Democrats need a leader.
What we've got is a kind old uncle who should have retired a few years ago.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Frank Guinta, of New Hampshire, voted with fellow House of Representatives Republicans to kill Medicare and Social Security, a bill called Cut Cap Balance. As Chris Hollen, Representative of Maryland, explained, what the Republicans say they have done is to pass a law to cut the deficit and to lock this into the Constitution with a balanced budget amendment, all of which sounds lovely, but what they have actually done, when you look at the actual details, where the devil so often lies, is to fix the level of spending on Medicare and Social Security to a percentage of the budget which is below anything these programs have ever cost since their inception.

So what they really did was to vote to kill these programs under the guise of "reforming" the budget process.

Even the Republicans are smart enough to know the people love Medicare and Social Security, so the Republicans are afraid to say, "We are killing Medicare and Social Security," they simply slip through a law which cuts the funding so drastically it has the effect of eliminating (defunding) the programs.

When Paul Ryan was foolish enough to speak plainly and say he wanted to convert Medicare to Coupon care, to a voucher program for an annual payment of $6000 which would cover about the first 5 minutes of your ordinary bypass surgery, the Republicans were inundated with phone calls from angry constituents and they ran for cover.

Now, they've figured out a way to kill the program by strangling off its oxygen--money, and call it a reform.

Oh, we have to do this, the Republicans say, because of this horrible deficit, a deficit which will bring the government down.

But when the Democrats say, "Well, if it's the deficit you're worried about why not just tax millionaires, raise their taxes back to where they were before the Bush tax cuts?" The Republicans look over their shoulders at the Tea Party and they say, "Oh, we can't do that. We cannot raise anyone's taxes."

Now they are talking about "Revenue Enhancements," which is what, exactly?

Are "Revenue Enhancements" not taxes?

Do the Republicans really think they are fooling anyone?

They cannot even bring themselves to say the word, "Taxes."

That's how sick they are.

But, fortunately, they can rely on the citizens of New Hampshire. When I did an informal survey in my own office, right here in New Hampshire, not a single one of my coworkers knew who John Boehner, Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan were. Only one had ever heard tell of the deficit. "Which deficit?" one asked.

Our citizens are out of touch, disconnected, uninterested, apathetic.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty one of our founding fathers said.

Even temporary vigilance is nowhere to be seen in New Hampshire.

Should we really be the voters choosing our next President in the first primary in the nation?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sex, Lies and The American Way of War

     "Doesn't matter who did what to who, at this point.  Fact is, we went to war.  And now, there ain't no going back.  I mean, shit, that's what war is, you know?  Once you in it, you in it.
        If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we got to fight."
                                    --Slim Charles, The Wire

Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was considered a relative liberal, for his time. He had impeccable credentials of manhood, having fought with distinction in the Civil War, wounded a Ball's Bluff, just upriver from Washington, DC, where Holmes would ultimately reign over the Supreme Court for decades.  But it was Holmes who sent Eugene Debs to prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, for the crime of having spoken and written against the United States' involvement in World War One, and Deb's had spoken against the draft initiated for that war. Holmes noted both these opinions were made illegal by the Act, which forbid opposition to the war or to any government act which supported this war.  

Holmes evoked the most colorful and oft quoted analogy about the limits of free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution: "You cannot cry 'Fire,' in a crowded theater," Holmes said, when the "Clear and Present Danger," of panic and injury resulting from this false alarm would harm people in the theater.

The problem was, and still is, the analogy could hardly have been less apt. A better analogy, one which would have actually fit the circumstances, would have been the man who stands outside the theater and shouts, "There is a fire about to happen inside the theater. And once you are inside, there are no fire exits!" 

Now, that would have very possibly hurt business, just as not having a good war would hurt business, but what we are talking about is a warning to people before they leap into a room afire, a warning against war and against conscription. 

But the times were against Debs. Theodore Roosevelt called those who opposed war eunuchs, emasculated cowards who did not love their country and did not  have the fortitude to defend it. As if fighting in a war fought among monarchs for the murkiest of reasons had anything with defending the United States. As if the Spanish American War of 1898--in which Teddy Roosevelt got his bone fides for brass balls had anything to do with defending the United States. 

But oh, what rousing fun war can be; how we love it so, this peace loving country of ours.

Hearst made a pretty penny off Teddy's war and unnamed millionaires made a pretty penny from WWI. 

But, as the man says, once you in it, you in it. And pretty soon everyone is buying $2 stickers in the shape of ribbons for their bumpers, or in the time of WWI, war bonds. 

So Debs went off to jail for years, for having voiced opposition to the war. Holmes dealt a deep blow to freedom of speech, from which, over time, the nation seems to have, mostly, recovered.
Holmes became the Antonin Scalia of his day, with the just the pithy phrase to project his point of view, the Constitution notwithstanding. 

Imagine, if Holmes or Scalia had still been on the court when the draft resistance of the 1960's and 1970's flowered, in opposition to the war in Vietnam. We might still be there.

Once again, we have evidence that a "Nation of Laws" is an empty notion, if we do not have a Supreme Court of men who can look beyond their own opinions and convictions, conscious or unconscious, toward a clear headed conclusion.

Now, we have Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, still sucking dry our nation. One might ask our own Democratic President, "What is the mission?" 

As wonderful and thoughtful as President Obama is, he looks only marginally better than Lyndon Johnson when it comes to fighting this war in a distant land, in an effort to remake a very foreign country and culture to our liking. 

Yes, there is a difference between Vietnam, which we were fighting to resist "Communism," and Afghanistan, where we are fight to resist "terrorism."  Wait a minute, it will come to me. Communism was one of those things you couldn't really see all that easily, but you knew they were out there trying to get you. Terrorism, well, pretty much the same. We did have 9/11, so we know there are some people in the world who hate the US of A. 

But a war? As Carver tells Griggs, the war on drugs is not a war. Why not? Because wars end.

That's the problem with the "War" on terrorism and the war on drugs. There's no flag to capture, no check mate, no end game. 

Endless war, we I love it so.

As Bob Dylan once said, "Join the Army if you fail."  And with the all volunteer army, that has sadly been all too true for at least a portion of the troops. They are in the Army because they have no where else to go.  They may justify their decision with words about patriotism, defending their country, but how many would make the choice that National Football League player who quit the NFL to join the Army? (And was then shot dead by his own comrades, by mistake.) One reason his story got so much play was because it struck so many people as so unusual. People who are making huge salaries, who have attractive options do not, ordinarily, join the Army nowadays.  This is a politically incorrect statement.  It is sad, perhaps, but true.

I'm not saying American men and women have never joined the Army out of a sense of the urgency to defend their nation. An individual signs up to go to war for all sorts of reasons, but there may be one over riding reason-- and that may be to defend your nation. But today, in 2011, with this type of unending "War" against unseen enemies, not the same. 

Today, with a paid army of professionals, people are engaging in Freakenomics--they are motivated to help their country, but there are many ways to do this--George W did not urge mass enlistment, he told the nation to go out to the shopping mall. No, today, we are doing calculations before we enlist.

Now we have Afghanistan, from which, maybe, the 9/11 terrorists may have set forth. Hard to know that, actually, since Al Qaeda, which means "The Base," actually does not need a geographically defined "base." It can train and organize in an apartment in Berlin and a motel in Florida.  So how much sense does it make to attack a country to clear it of "training bases?"

As if.

As if any nation could ever "clear" a nation the size of Texas and Colorado combined, of some off the grid maniacs hiding out and playing war games.

If President Obama loses the next election, it will be cause of the economy, stupid. But he may lose the election, and he may not be able to even claim to have been a losing President who had pointed the right way. Had Lincoln lost his mid Civil War election, he would have, at least been able to leave office with his head held high, and he could have looked his countrymen in the eye and said, "I did what I knew was right."

President Obama ought to have looked his countrymen in the television eye and said, "This war is being fought on a lie. The lie is the proposition we can remake Afghanistan into a happy little democracy filled with people who love America and will not tolerate the presence of anyone who might wish to harm America.  Clearly, even if we could do that in Afghanistan,  we cannot do that also in Pakistan and Iraq, as our finding Osma Bin Laden has revealed. Now, we are out."

My father clung to the notion LBJ was, overall, a good President. He passed Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act.. He launched a war on poverty and he did a slew of good things. But, for my money, all that was crushed by Viet Nam.  LBJ kept voicing the lie that we had to win there, when Walter Cronkite and the CBS news made it patently clearly every night we could not  win in Viet Nam; we could not win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. Nor did we have to. We could just walk away. Which, ultimately, we did. Now we trade with them.

So for me, even if President Obama manages to save the economy, if he does not get us out of Afghanistan and quickly, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for his candidacy.

The only thing which could do that, of course, would be a Newt, a Sarah, a Michele or even maybe a MItt, as the alternative. 

The problem is, when you look at the Republicans, their Tea Party faction, their candidates, every last one of them, and worst of all, the yowling snipes who are their faithful--Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck--it's enough to turn your stomach. 

What is that called?  A Hobbsian  choice?