Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fear Is Not An Option

Are you afraid? According to our government, you should be. You should be scared of terrorists (obviously). You should be scared of immigrants and their desire to steal every job available (even the ones you would never take). You should probably be scared of the Chinese and their plot to kill and retard our younger generations through lead poisoning.

People form societies and governments in order to protect themselves from threats. In the beginning the threats were external—your garden variety saber tooth tiger, warring clan, etc—but have since evolved. We’re still worried about the warring clans (more commonly called “evil empires”), but the tiger threat has pretty much gone away.

It’s obvious that governments need enemies to stay in business. And they use fear to keep their subjects passive. America is no exception. Before we were allies with the British, they were our oppressor and our enemy. We’ve been enemies with Native Americans, Canada, Mexico, most of Europe, Japan, all those tiny islands between Hawaii and Japan, Russia (and the countries that comprised the Soviet Union), China, the Middle East, and various well evil people with no country to call home. They’ve gone by different names: Monarchists, Savages, Communists, Fascists, Anarchists, and Terrorists, but they all have the same plot. They must end our freedom-loving way of life. And we must fear this.

What is so shocking and outrageous to me is how this current administration has abused the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Those tragic events were a wake up call to America, but Bush has used those events to keep Americans afraid and force legislation that chips away at the very thing that makes our country great: our civil liberties.

Subtle isn’t a word anyone would use to describe the President, but in one case, he has been quite subtle. I suppose it’s a matter of semantics, but Bush has done irreparable damage to the American psyche. Where “evildoers” and “Islamofascists” perpetrated the events of 9/11, the bombing the USS Cole highlighted a “serious geopolitical threat.” Similarly, the bombings in Bali, London and Madrid indicated “security concerns.” by using the language that they do, the Bush administration perpetuates the idea of a mythical, all-powerful enemy that does not present the same concerns as a typical enemy. But Bush is describing the same enemy that Clinton described after the USS Cole attacks. And those “evildoers” are the same people that create ‘security concerns” to Europe and Indonesia. What is the purpose of using such intense and horrific language? It’s used to put keep fear in Americans’ hearts.

And how does Bush keep the fear in our hearts? With the Terror Alert scale, of course. In case you have ignored it, I’ll give you a quick refresher. The scale has five levels: Green (Low), Blue (Guarded), Yellow (Elevated), Orange (High), and Red (Severe). For today, the National Treat Level is Elevated and the Flight Threat Level is High (which is why you have to buy $5 water to take on the plane). Since its inception, has it ever been below Yellow? No. In fact, it has only alternated between Elevated and High. So, the administration keeps us in fear, and as soon as we become too complacent, the threat level is raised to High. Just to keep us on our toes and under their thumb.

What is the point of all this fear? Why are we being made to fear the entire world? Because subject who are afraid are passive. Since we’ve been afraid, we’ve let the government pass some astonishing pieces of legislation. First and foremost, the PATRIOT Act of 2001, which is anything but patriotic. Of course, there is much more to the Act, but here are the highlights:
• Expands terrorism laws to include “domestic terrorism” which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy.
• Expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, gives them wide powers of phone and Internet surveillance, and access to highly personal medical, financial, mental health, and student records with minimal judicial oversight.
• Allows FBI Agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of crime if they say it is for “intelligence purposes.”
• Permits non-citizens to be jailed based on mere suspicion and to be denied re-admission to the US for engaging in free speech. Suspects convicted of no crime may be detained indefinitely in six month increments without meaningful judicial review.
And then there is the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The MCA eliminates the constitutional due process right of habeas corpus for detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. It allows our government to continue to hold hundreds of prisoners for more than five years without charges. It also gives any president the power to declare — on his or her own — who is an enemy combatant, decide who should be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime and define what is — and what is not — torture and abuse.

Now let’s talk about what we should really be afraid of. We should be wary of a government that tries to oppress us through fear. The world is a dangerous place, but it’s not out to get us. We should be afraid of a government that tries to suppress our civil liberties in order to further its own goals. We should be afraid of an administration that does not value our Constitution or the rights we are afforded. As citizens, we have an obligation to vote out the people who support these laws and ideas. We also have an obligation to notify our congressional representatives and have these pieces of legislation repealed. It will save our country and our collective dignity.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In America Anyone Can Be President. Almost...

Let’s take a look at countries that currently have elected female leaders: Ireland, New Zealand, The Philippines, Mozambique, Germany, Liberia, Chile, Switzerland, Georgia, Argentina, Ukraine and India. The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Canada and Denmark all have female monarchs.

Of the world's 10 most populous nations, six have not had a woman as head of government or state in the modern era. They are the United States, Brazil, China, Japan, Nigeria, and Russia

It is an embarrassment to America that we have not progressed enough as a democracy to elect a female President. We are just now electing women to congressional and gubernatorial seats, yet we demand that Iraq reserve and elect women to leadership positions. And in a greater percentage than they are elected in this country. Many countries that have female leaders have been democratic for decades, not centuries, yet they have seen that it’s not about gender, it’s about ability. This country needs to dust off its tired stereotypes and step into the modern era.

I’m no angry feminist, but I do see an obvious disparity in what we say our political system can do versus what we actually do with our political system. Nor am I saying that I would vote for Hillary solely because she is a woman, but I do take offense to the obvious double standard that she is being held to.

Looking at the numbers, men are the largest group of Hillary detractors. Yet outwardly they say that they would vote for a female candidate. It just won’t be Hillary. And then they proceed to list bogus “reasons” as to why she wouldn’t be a good President. I’m going to take some typical statements and debunk them (or at least give my thoughts on how people are making excuses).

1) Hillary doesn’t give straight answers.

Um, ok. This is a cop-out. First, we are talking about politics. There are no straight answers. Issues are more complex than yes or no (and if you believe that things are just black and white, you probably still think Saddam had WMDs hidden throughout the desert). Second, no politician wants to make a statement that they believe will be taken out of context and used against them, which people are more than wont to do in Hillary’s case.

Bush has been much less honest than any democratic candidate ever has. And this administration has continued to use lies and half-truths to perpetuate the war in Iraq, give tax breaks to the rich while claiming that they are helping the average American family, and to perpetuate their own conservative agenda.

2) Hillary doesn’t have enough experience.

Considering that she’s the only candidate who has lived in the White House, I would say that she knows more about what it takes to be President than any of the people running. Being the President is about being a diplomat. It’s not about how much legislation someone has written or how someone has led a state. Her experience as First Lady has given her inside knowledge about what the President truly does. She is more than prepared to be the President lead America, both nationally and internationally. Besides, with Bill as First Husband, she’ll essentially have the crib notes for “How to be President in Every Situation.”

3) Hillary isn’t a Uniter

Well, considering that about half the country is red and the other half is blue, no candidate is going to be a uniter. What Hillary does have are mainstream, progressive views. The leading Republican candidates are a Mormon and a Baptist minister, neither of whom have uniting views. Neither has proven an ability to appeal to a large and diverse demographic. The person that is going to win the vote is the person that is moderate, but don’t expect any uniting to happen.

4) She doesn’t know what it take to be Commander in Chief

This is a big problem for men because they see the military is a man’s realm. But, they had no problem electing Bush and Cheney, who not only had no military experience between them, but they both actively sought ways out of the draft. Only one of the candidates running today has any military experience, so the argument that Hillary is somehow “lacking” in the military arena is totally bunk. The Joint Chiefs of Staff exist for a reason, and Hillary is more than willing to listen to their recommendations (we know all too well what happens when Presidents decide not to listen to the professionals).

To everyone out there that is holding Hillary to a higher standard: get real. This is the 21st century and women have proven themselves capable of being in power. If men are scared of that fact, then they need to take some time for introspection to figure out why they are so scared. Look at the candidates for who they are and what they can do. Don’t make lame excuses about why a woman can’t do the job.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

We're Not Getting What We Pay For

The basics of money are something that most people learn in childhood. If you want to buy something, you have the money to pay for it. In order to get that money, you either have to earn it or get the credit for it. This is apparently something that President Bush has not learned, as evidenced by his latest round of illogical vetoes and spending requests.

President Bush has vetoed children’s health insurance in the name of principle. He has prevented the roll back of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, despite the mounting costs of two wars. All in the name of principle. President Bush resisted an $11 billion increase in domestic spending, yet demanded $200 billion in additional war funding. This could add $239 billion to the deficit just this year. Without adding one additional cent of revenue.

Throughout human history, governments have taxed their people in order to generate revenue. American history is no different. In WWI, the top income tax rate was raised to 77% (for incomes of $1 million or greater). Seventy-seven percent!!! During the great depression, income taxes were raised to 94%. And in World War Two, the government even introduced payroll withholding! And all of this is on the highest tax bracket. Today, the highest tax rate is 35% (and even that is on a progressive scale, so the effective tax rate is lower).

Something has to give. The government can’t continue to spend at an out-of-control rate, while denying the simple fact that it is not generating the necessary income. At a time of war, it would be prudent to fund the war with actual dollars instead of dollars borrowed from future generations.

Taxes are not the enemy. Republicans would like you to believe that a government can exist solely on spite, war and oil. They’ll also have you believe that the Democrats want to tax you into oblivion. And that your hard-earned money will probably be used to fund underwater basket weaving courses for drug addicts and people on welfare. These so-called proponents of “small government” continue to grow the government at staggering rates. The government (and the national debt) grew ten-fold while Reagan was in office. And these are the people who continue to operate our government in a deficit situation even though it flies the face of all logic. As the population grows, the government should grow to compensate. It's the direction of that growth that causes problems (Department of Homeland Security, anyone??).

The fact of the matter is that a government is a social contract among a group of people. The government agrees to protect and provide to the people, and the people agree to follow the rules set forth by the government. Americans seem to have forgotten that their government is supposed to give them more than headaches. It should be providing education, health care, and jobs to the people who need it. And everyone needs something from the government, not just the underprivileged. I’m by no means a socialist, but the government should be striving to improve society, not drive it into recession in the name of principle. I don’t see the government working to benefit the people. I certainly don’t see my tax dollars going towards anything but war and the depletion of natural resources.

In the years during the Cold War, America was truly a leading nation, with the healthiest people and the best paying jobs. But, since the decline of the Soviet Union and the growth of the global market, America continues to fall behind. American students are ranked lower by international research each year. So is the health care system. The U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance, the World Health Organization reported. And why? Because the money is consistently directed away from the people and causes that will ensure our continued success. As domestic programs continue to operate at reduced capacity (or are chopped all together), America falls behind.

How can a government be allowed to so blatantly fail its people? We are paying taxes at a rate comparable to developed European and Asian nations. The same countries that are ranked ahead of America. We must demand a government that puts our money to use for us. We should revamp the 1950’s public school system into something that supports modern learning and technology. By decreasing the tax breaks for the wealthy by just $5000, we can generate $1.2 billion in revenue for education programs. We should demand a repeal to the outrageous tax breaks for big oil companies. Hell, we should demand corporations pay the $300 billion in back-taxes that they’ve owed since Bush took office.

Do the wealthy pay more taxes? Sure. Is it fair? Definitely. In this social contract we’ve created, we owe it to each other to do what we can to improve our society. In the end, whether we’re rich or poor, we are all American. And what we’re doing is looking out for each other and the future of the nation. And the next time a politician tells you “no new taxes”, watch out, because you’ll end up paying more in the long run.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bring Back The Draft!

We should bring back the draft. After all, if people felt that they were personally impacted by government decisions, they might be moved to participate. If we truly cherish our democracy, we will protect it where it matters most: at home. Maybe we need the shock of the return of the draft in order to realize that we are thisclose to losing our democracy. This is not the time for America to be ambivalent about its government. Each individual needs to do all that they can to make their voice heard. The leadership is supposed to represent the people, not the other way around.

Americans don’t care really about their country. Sure, they might take an interest in the things that directly affect them such as El Niño, Hannah Montana concerts, Major League Baseball, etc. But, overall, the interest of the citizenry in its government continues its steady decline into the 21st century.

Many people compare the current political environment to the Vietnam Era, but it’s obvious that people today prefer to distance themselves from any real involvement with the direction of the country. In one day in 1969, almost 500,000 people gathered in Washington, DC to protest the war in Vietnam. That’s half a million people who took leave from their schools and jobs to send a message to leaders. Protests today fall on deaf ears, both within the leadership and the citizenship. An ANSWER coalition protest permit in September 2007 estimated that 10,000 people would attend. At the time of the ANSWER coalition protest, polls showed that 70% of Americans did not approve of the handling of Iraq. It’s hard to believe that only 10,000 people care enough to actually do something about it.

Election trends are even more disheartening. In the 1968 Presidential election 60.6% of the eligible population cast a vote. In the equally volatile 2004 Presidential election, 55.3% of the entitled population made the trek to the polling booths. Interim elections (which have always suffered from poor participation) have also shown a steady decline. In 1970 the direction of the Vietnam War was on the line and 46.6% of American voters participated. However, in 2006, with the Iraq war in the spotlight, 36.8% of voters cast a vote. This is down from 2002 when 37.0% of people voted. You may not think this is a significant shift, but think about how much more media the media is involved in today’s election cycles, and how many more media outlets exist. It wouldn’t be outrageous to say that more people know about today’s elections and choose not to participate.

How can America be the world’s beacon of democracy when the American people don’t care about their own democracy? How can America fight wars in the name of democracy when America doesn’t even participate in her own democracy? I don’t understand how people can say they care about an issue or an idea, but then trust that other people will somehow take care of it. So many people have fought and died for my right to vote that I can’t fathom throwing that freedom away.

In addition to protesting the general principles of the Vietnam War, the draft was a contentious issue that fueled protests and riots. At the heart of the issue was the fact that people were being pressed to serve in a war in which they had no say. See, the draft age was 18, but the voting age was 21. The war and the draft affected almost every American in a very personal way. It spurred people to work together for change. Although it took time, on July 1, 1971 the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. While this wasn’t the end to the draft (that would come in 1973), it did prove that leaders listen when the people collect their voices.

So, what can we do to pump life into the flagging American Democracy? With support for the Iraq war at perpetual lows and the American military stretched thin, there seems to be two options: dramatically reduce American military participation in Iraq or re-instate the draft. The former is favored by a majority of the country and the latter is equally opposed, but we can’t continue burning the candle at both ends. Something has to give. Up to this point, there has been grumbling and mild dissention with the occasional protest, but we choose to ignore the fact that we aren’t doing enough to send a strong message to the leadership.

I don’t actually support the return of the draft, but I do believe that people won’t participate unless the feel personally obligated. At this point, it’s going to take something outrageous to get America’s attention. Our relationship with our government is not self-sustaining, and just like any relationship, we need to work to keep it progressing. Don’t let the people in Washington, DC get away with ignoring the desires of the people…Get involved!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Lost Christmas Card

Dear Britney Spears, Federline, Spears,
I know that I have not been in touch this year, but as you know, I have been a very busy man. Or maybe you didn’t know and I’m telling you now. Either way, I just want to thank you for your patriotic contributions to this country. You might be askin’ yourself “What did I do that is so patriotic?” That is why I am writing to tell you.
You see, I know you have been busy this year with your husband ex-husband and kids, and also with your vacations, hair cuts, court appearances and car accidents. Basically, you have been kind enough to let Americans share in your life experiences. And Americans (me included) focus so much energy on you that they barely take the time to notice me or my friends. Some people would be sad about that, but I am so thankful.
For the most part, we work completely undeterred (by public opinion or law). I mean sure there was the uproar about the troop surge, but you were there to shave your head. Hahaha, that was a good one! Even I didn’t see that one coming, and I see a lot of things. Well, I see the things that Dick and Condi let me see, but it seems like a lot to me.
And when people were upset about me giving the pardon to Scooter, which really wasn’t even really a pardon. I just ‘commuted’ the jail time, he still had to pay a small fine. It was the least I could do for an old friend. I thought Americans would understand, but I guess they’re not like you and me. You were there for me, wearing that pink wig and sunglasses at night, then drivin’ all crazy like. You really know how to capture the hearts and minds, let me tell you.
I just like that so much about you. Whenever things get rough around me, you are always there to help out and steal the spotlight. Or a lighter. Thanks to you and your charms, people just totally ignore me when I veto health care or have evidence against me destroyed. I can’t even begin to mention all that you have done for me, just this year alone.
I don’t have much time left here, so I wanted to get my thanks out now. Keep up the good work in 2008!

Merry Christmas on behalf of the White House/Executive Branch (I just want to get Dick in there, who knows where he is these days…)

Your favorite (ok, only) El Presidente,