Dec 22, 2009

The Milquetoast Presidency

What makes a man turn neutral ... Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality? -- Zapp Brannigan

If the Obama administration was a color, it would be gray. Far from the socialist revolution feared by the right and still pathetically whined about by the TEAbagging crowd, and far from a paragon of strong liberal policies effectively executed, Obama is no longer the enigma that worried many voters in 2008. We know exactly where he comes from:

The Center.

This may seem a betrayal to liberals who thought they were voting for a more inspirational version of Howard Dean. With his message of hope and significant change, Obama's base thought that transformational policies were going to sweep across this country: better schools, faster and cleaner transportation options, renewable energy , a transparent and ethical government, a peace-oriented foreign policy and single payer health care reform. In fact, Obama's rhetoric throughout the campaign and the earliest days of his presidency implied that he intended to deliver on these promises.

Obama has been far too willing to compromise on all these policies. The brand of health care reform in the process of passing the Senate is a giveaway to major insurance conglomerates that bears little resemblance to the government-managed option most voters wanted to see in 2008. The administration decided to pass an opportunity to cease the Afghanistan war, instead dedicating more troops to the conflict. A weak compromise on climate change revealed the diplomatic weakness of the Obama White House. Thus far he has failed to close the infamous prison at Guatanamo Bay and deal with its inmates. Obama's brand of clean energy initiatives boil down to the same kind of tax incentives that failed to stimulate development during the Bush Administration, just targeted at different industries. And Obama's transportation plans? $8 billion for high speed rail - not enough to build a single rail line.

It isn't that progress hasn't been made on all these promises. $8 billion for high-speed rail is $8 billion more than we have ever had before. The Bush Administration and Republican-controlled Congresses failed to make any progress dealing with detained enemy combatants. Obama simultaneously set a target date for a drawdown when announcing that additional troops would be deployed to Afghanistan. For the first time the United States will participate in a global treaty to reduce human impact on the climate, and the health care reform, while a compromise, is a landmark piece of legislation that will reduce the cost of health care and expand its accessibility.

Obama's willingness to compromise and assume the middle ground makes him an effective leader who has actually had a very productive first year. He is down-right Clintonesque. He occupies the same grey-area as Clinton - in the middle of the political scrum.

Let us not forget that Clinton led the Democrats to disaster in 1994. Count me among those who hope that Obama can deliver in 2010.

Dec 21, 2009

Things Are Moving

As the last week has shown, the end-of-the-year crush is on. As the nation digs itself out from a crippling snow storm and a devastating recession, decisons are being made on the fly. Especially within the U.S. Senate where the race is on to pass health care reform before the week is out. The largely septuagenerian chamber held cloture vote on an amendment at 1 a.m. last night. If the Senate can keep up this pace, it looks like the Democrats will succeed in passing health care reform and President Obama will keep yet another of his campaign promises.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is heating up, and it is fly-by-night candidate Rand Paul who finds himself in hot water, embroiled by a scandal that has him closely associating with white-nationalist satanic death metal heads. Actually, Dr. Paul might gain votes among some crowds for these shenanigans, but I can't imagine the recent revelations will help him in the Republican primary.

On the world front, the death of Ayatollah Montazeri, a moderate Iranian spiritual leader, has spurred echoes of the Twitter Revolution. Obama is turning out to be quite the statesman, brokering a compromise agreement in Copenhagen after arriving to a summit in complete disarray. There is a good chance that these standards will make it through the Senate next year. The Obama administration is also making progress towards a new disarmament treaty with Russia. If I recall correctly, Mr. Obama wrote an undergraduate thesis on strategies for nuclear disarmament and thus successful negotiation and passage of a new arms treaty would be the culmination of almost 30 years of work.

David Axelrod became the first member of the Obama Administration to acknowledge their slipping poll numbers in the media. In 2010 it will be interesting to see if Obama can dig himself out of the hole - and take his party with him.

Dec 18, 2009

Why High Speed Rail Will Not be Like Amtrak

I have no problem admitting my bias in this situation - I have been an Amtrak traveller often in my life and I have always enjoyed my experiences riding America's rails, even the two times I was victim to 12-plus-hour delays.

Recent criticism of the Obama Administration's relatively modest high speed rail proposal suggests that the new rail lines would be subjected to the same kinds of inefficiencies as the Amtrak system. While it is true that high speed rail would require a significant subsidy to build and operate during its first years, there are a lot of reasons why the Amtrak comparison does not hold water.

For one thing, most of the delays which negatively impact Amtrak's popularity will not impact the new high speed rail system. Amtrak trains are frequently delayed by the private railroad corporations on whose rails they run. The new high speed rail system will have its own dedicated tracks and will not be subject to delays by freight trains on the same rails.

Amtrak can't compete with air and vehicle travel in most areas of the country because it simply isn't fast enough. Outside of the northeast corridor most trains are limited to a maximum speed of 79 mph. In more congested areas that speed can drop to 10 mph. These factors often limit Amtrak trains to an average speed over their schedule of around 40 mph. Even the northeast corridor's vaunted Acela service, currently the US's only high speed rail, has a maximum speed of 150 mph with an average speed of 80 mph. At these speeds Acela successfully competes with airline and automobile traffic along the I-95 megalopolis. The proposals being considered for high speed rail involve trains running at an average of 80 mph in the midwest and at speeds of up to 225 mph in California and Florida. This will make these trains competitive and attractive to business and leisure travellers.

Amtrak is also hurt by its scope - by mandate Amtrak provides a nationwide passenger service, from San Diego, to Seattle, to Portland, Maine, and all the way to Miami, Amtrak stretches from corner-to-corner of the United States. This means that it has to serve many smaller communities like Fulton, Kentucky and Alpine, Texas, where ridership is small and time is lost. On the new high speed rail lines, shorter corridors between large cities will be served. Instead of running a single train from Miami to Chicago, as Amtrak might have done during its better days, the new high speed rail network would run a train from Miami to Orlando, or Miami to Jacksonville. Studies have shown that there will be more frequent ridership along these corridors and that they will be cost competitive with the airlines.

Finally, the claim from opponents of high speed rail is that Americans are simply to connected to their automobiles or the jet-set lifestyle that they have known since the Nixon Administration collaborated with private rail companies to kill passenger rail in the United States. The average joe-sixpack will not want to ride the rails. However, the last decade has shown amazing increases in ridership and public support for Amtrak. Furthermore, municipalities from throughout the country, even in some of its most conservative areas, are lobbying for inclusion on Amtrak routes. It makes sense that this same enthusiasm will carry over to newer, faster and better trains.

Dec 17, 2009

Health Reform Check-up

The Senate debate on health care reform is starting to wind down as we approach the Christmas holiday. This comes after the House of Representatives passed a bill with a public option funded largely by rolling back tax cuts on the rich.

The original Senate proposal involved a public option funded on what amounts to a tax on health benefits, primarily 'cadillac insurance plans' which under a public-option system would be high-cost premium private plans. In other words, both public option plans would have cut the deficit, lowered the cost of health care, and received funding not from new taxes on the working classes, but on restored tax levels on the rich.

Unfortunately, this was not good enough for many conservative and moderate Democrats in the Senate, so a compromise was formed that scrapped the best part of the plan, the public option, and replaced it with a higher threshold for medicaid qualification and an option to buy into the Medicare system at the age of 55. It was hoped that by making this sacrifice, conservative and moderate members of the Democratic caucus would help prevent a filibuster.

Then the most powerful man in the Senate had his say. Connecticut independent Senator Joe Lieberman decided that he could not support a plan with a medicare buy-in option because it amounted, in is eyes, to the same thing as a public option.

If this really is a principled stand from Senator Lieberman, then he should be commended for standing up for his principles in the face of unanimous opposition from his caucus. However, Lieberman has gone on record in the past supporting an expansion of Medicare. This reeks of political opportunism at the worst possible time for the president, his party, and the country as a whole. Lieberman is a grinch! If the current private-sector health care system is allowed to continue without substantial reform, the system will go bankrupt and only the large donors to the Republican Party will be able to afford the cost of insuring themselves.

As of right now I have substantial doubts as to whether a bill in any form will pass the Senate before the Christmas holiday. Given the substantial differences at this point between what the Senate is considering and the bill that the House passed, there is no way that Congress will be done conferencing on the bill before the holiday.

Thus, I predict that Obama will not get his Christmas wish of a health care reform bill on his desk, and any reform bill that might make it there will be a huge disappointment -- unless, of course, Joe Lieberman's heart grows three sizes this week.

Dec 16, 2009

No Post Today

Okay, that is a slight lie as this is certainly a post, but finals week has killed me and I am unable to provide my usual insights.

Instead, please enjoy the dramatic chipmunk, Kill Bill edition:

Dec 15, 2009

One Hope Over the Line

Amidst the current 'Great Recession' there have been a number of interesting proposals to stimulate hiring, investment and lending. There have also been calls on both sides of the aisle to control government spending which has racked up record-setting deficits and has expanded the national debt.

One creative solution proposed by everyday Americans like the student in the clip below is the legalization of drugs and vice.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Waive your magical wand to change our laws, reduce the ridiculous prison population levels, and rake in the savings. Let us take a look at the impact of marijuana legalization on our economy.

Marijuana is a good place to start because there is pretty good evidence that any harm from marijuana use is negligible. Many Americans are already growing, selling and using it legally through the blossoming medical cannabis industry. Yet marijuana is also responsible for the vast majority of drug related arrests and citations in this country.

So legalization sounds good - you end the prohibition of a mostly harmless substance and thereby reduce the number of prisoners our taxes support and also reduce the number of legal proceedings necessary to appropriately process the accused, meaning municipalities can use resources that now go to catching, charging and incarcerating cannabis users for other activities.

It also makes sense to tax the sale of marijuana. There is precedent for such a tax, we already place levies on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol. With all the above savings and a new stream of revenue, you might think that legalization would put a big dent in budget deficits.

It won't. At best, legalization of cannabis products would account for $10-$14 billion a year in savings and increased revenue. Since we now measure our debt and our deficits in the trillions of dollars, the economic impact of legalization would be minimal for the country as a whole.

The biggest benefits from legalization would be local and regional in nature. Depressed areas like appalachia and the deep south are also prime areas for the outdoor cultivation of cannabis. Legalized marijuana would bring jobs to communities in these areas and would significantly increase revenues for the small community and county governments in these areas, allowing them to expand services to the part of our population which needs them the most.

The argument that legalizing drugs and vice would solve our economic woes and help end the deficit does not hold water, however we can't ignore the potential good that can come from policy change. Although the benefits of legalization would be minimal for the country as a whole, I believe that ending cannabis prohibition would help the most needy communities in the U.S. This makes marijuana legalization worth it in the long run.

Dec 14, 2009

Climate Balks

Interesting news from Copenhagen this morning. It seems that emerging industrial countries led by India and China have brought the climate change talks to a screeching halt with demands that industrialized countries accept deeper cuts in their emission levels.

At first glance this appears to be punishment by the developing world for the success of the West (and Japan). However, there is a certain justice in their demands. The current global momentum toward cooperative action on climate change would deny developing countries the opportunity to grow their economies as cheaply as the first world did.

Western Europe, Japan and the United States built themselves into world powers by burning fossil fuels. Any serious attempt at climate legislation would force these developing countries to make a jarring switch to renewable energy sources which are more expensive to implement in the short-term.

Furthermore, most of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere up to this point has been put there by Japan and the industrialized West. The West continues to emit more greenhouse gases than China and India, even with the size of their population. It seems only right that the West dedicates itself to more meaningful cuts to its emissions. At the very least such a pledge would get the Copenhagen talks moving again and raise hope for a comprehensive and enforceable climate change agreement.

If the United States and Western Europe expect China, India, and the rest of the world to take the harder road to development, then we should also set the example by accepting these cuts.

Sweet Sounds 12/14/2009

This song was featured prominently in a wedding I was at on Saturday. It has become my 'happy song' for the time being, which of course means that it must be shared. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a ukulele player, singer, songwriter and activist from Hawai'i. He died in 1997, and it always pains me when I stumble upon such a beautiful voice posthumously.

Dec 11, 2009

GOP Now Polls Neck-and-Neck with Dems

Bad news for the Democratic Party. A CNN poll has the GOP within 1% of the Democratic Party in a poll where respondents were asked whether the country would be better off under the leadership of one party or the other. Congressional job approval has dropped to dismal levels, and this all comes at the threshold of the 2010 primary season.

Recent polling shows widespread dissatisfaction from voters on how the president has dealt with the issues of health care, the economy, and jobs. Though media outlets like MSNBC often attribute this to unrest within the liberal base over Obama's centrist policies, internal Democratic polling suggests this is not the case.

It is clear that time is running out for the Democrats in 2010. The Republicans have the political momentum and an energized and entrenched base. That doesn't mean that the party should sound the retreat, but it does mean that they will have to weather the storm of lost seats in the House and possibly the Senate. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight keeps a good record of which seats are most vulnerable.

Dec 10, 2009

Who Is The Family?

A powerful and somewhat secretive group has been slowly permeating headlines recently in Washington. They are The Fellowship, also known as The Family, a growing circle of conservative Christian political leaders who seek to put their concept of God directly into our country's governance.

The Family is not new to the Washington scene, they were formed decades ago. They host the national prayer breakfast, an event that every president has attended since its inception. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were counted among its membership. Watergate conspirators were also involved. The famous Camp David summit between President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Begin, and Egyptian President Sadat was orchestrated in part by The Family.

The group's current membership is a who's who of conservative idealogues in the US Congress, including Senators James Inhofe, Sam Brownback, Jim DeMint and Representative Bart Stupak.

Why should we be concerned? Because this is a non-governmental group which has direct influence on the federal government. Because The Family inserts itself into international diplomacy and often helps to bridge the gap between the US government, defense contractors, foreign dictators and executives of transnational corporations. The members of The Family work closely together in a non-transparent way to propose and pass legislation. Furthermore, The Family has recently been linked to an effort in the country of Uganda to punish homosexuality with death.

Dec 9, 2009

Kentucky and Local Politics Time

Bad signs for Democrats in Kentucky. An attempt by governor Steve Beshear to take the Senate for the Democrats failed as Republican Jimmy Higdon defeated Jodie Haydon for the 14th district state senate seat occupied by Dan Kelly. This loss will make the governor's pro-gambling agenda difficult to pass in next year's session of the General Assembly.

The loss of a long-safe Democratic state house seat in eastern Kentucky's 96th district should also have the party nervous about their chances next year. Not that Kentucky is well known for being a blue state, but after some well fought battles for US Senate seats many Democrats have been optimistic about their chances of winning Jim Bunning's seat in 2010 and adding to their majority in the US Congress.

I like to save the best news for last: Lexington, KY vice mayor Jim Gray is challenging Jim Newberry for the position of mayor of Lexington. Newberry has overseen the failed Centrepointe project and major scandals at Bluegrass Airport and the Lexington Public Libraries. Jim Gray represents a progressive but rational voice in local government. In a shocking twist, Gray counts well known arch-conservative Scott Crosbie among supporters for his mayoral bid, which he announced today.

The Global Government Conspiracy Theory

I have been critical of Kentucky US Senate candidate Rand Paul for his irrational views on the U.N. and the Federal Reserve. Dr. Paul looks at these institutions as parts of a global government conspiracy to subjegate American sovereignty to a global regime.

House Republicans took this paranoid fearmongering a step further and argued that international cooperation on the major issue of climate change is evidence of a global one-government conspiracy at work.

I think it is important that we stop here and acknowledge that it is true that the United States often gives up a piece of its sovereignty. Every time we sign a treaty with another international power or cede a piece of authority to a state government, we chip away at the sovereignty of our supreme national government. What Republicans are objecting to is not a conspiracy, but the way power politics functions. As it turns out, the government has decided to cede out some of its sovereignty to over 10,000 active treaty agreements. These treaties govern activity on subjects as diverse as ocean navigation, weapons proliferation and the conservation of albatrosses.

For a bunch of people supposedly working to take over the entire world in some kind of Dr. Evil/Ernst Stavro Blofeld-esque coup, the Copenghagen summit attendees sure seem to have issues coming to a consensus. Conspiracy indeed.

Democrats Fiddle as Obama's Approval Burns

The latest Quinnipiac poll puts Obama's approval rating at a new low of 37%. While people's support for the president is in a free-fall, that does not necessarily equate to a rebuke of his agenda. Instead, it appears to be frustration that he cannot implement his policies even with a supermajority in the Senate.

It is beyond popular comprehension why the Democrats in congress have been unable to pass more of the president's proposals and actually enact the 'change' that Obama ran on. The simple answer is that getting a unanimous decision from a group of Democrats is no easy task.

For one thing, Democrats are not a united party under one central set of policy positions, as the GOP makes every effort to be. Democrats are not forced to vote a certain way or required to believe in specific issues. There is no large media or propaganda tool to foster more unity and homogeneity in the Democrats. While the Republicans effectively create party unity and squash party dissent through talk radio and political pressure, the Democrats do not regularly engage in such behavior.

Democrats, in general, do not believe in ideological purity tests for their candidates or membership. Instead, the Democratic polity is made up of compromise. They compromise because only a coalition of interests can counteract the dangerous and monolithic Republican party. While Harry Reid struggles to get individuals as different as Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Chuck Schumer of New York to agree on the president's policy proposals, Obama is a sitting duck for the GOP criticism which portrays him as a do-little president with no sense of urgency.

If and when the Senate finally finds their compromise and starts passing this legislation, Obama's numbers should rise.

Dec 8, 2009

Obama Lays Out Jobs Initiative

Using much foresight, President Barack Obama laid out a plan to use the unspent money from TARP (the much maligned financial sector assistance program) on an initiative to spur job creation. In a speech earlier today the president focused on small business and infrastructure. Through tax incentives and lending assistance for small business growth and creation Obama hopes to stimulate a growth in jobs from the bottom up. At the same time an investment in roads, aviation and energy efficiency will help bigger business put more people to work by reducing overhead.

I only have one question: Where is the funding on high speed rail in all of this? By writing high speed rail into the first round of stimulus the government got an amazing response - over $100 billion in state applications for federal funds from a pool of $13 billion over five years. States clearly have an interest in hiring private companies to build high speed rail lines connecting the mega-regions in our country. Many of these jobs are shovel ready. If we spent more of this money on high speed rail, we could put tens of thousands of Americans to work in a matter of months.

Fun in Kentucky!

If you live in Kentucky's 14th Senate district, today is special election day! Go out and vote to dismantle David Williams obstructionist republican bloc in the state Senate. Or, if you are like most of us and you do not live in the 14th district, you can always help phone bank to stop the bloc!

A Compromise Too Far

There are reports that a group of 10 conservative and progressive Democratic senators charged with finding a compromise to get health care past a GOP filibuster have tentatively come to an agreement. They would scrap the public option as we know it and replace it with two fixes.

One would be a government sponsored national insurance plan which would compete on the open market. This plan would be similar to the insurance offered to members of Congress. The other would be opening up the current social health insurance options, Medicare and Medicaid, to more people. Americans over the age of 55 could buy into Medicare early and pay to be covered by Medicare before their retirement age. Medicaid would be expanded to cover those at 150% of the poverty level.

The plan is being hailed as a potentially great deal which would give conservative Democrats political cover to vote for health care reform without going on record as supporting a public option controversial with non-liberal non-moderate voters. However, it expands two government programs that do not exactly have the greatest track records.

Medicare and Medicaid, while they do successfully insure the elderly, young, and disabled on both the state and federal level, often do not pay out the full cost of care to the hospitals with which they are contracted. In other words, public health facilities take a hit to their bottom line every time they treat one of these patients due to the discounted care they are required to provide. It is true that these 'losses' may be on paper only due to the ridiculously inflated cost for treatment and services pushed by the private health care industry, forcing this compromise on our health care providers will cause much more urgent growing pains than establishing a true, vigorous public option to ensure Americans health coverage.

The good news is it appears that should health care reform in any form pass the Senate, there are procedural plans to avoid yet another heated partisan battle in the conference committees between the two chambers of Congress, leaving open the possibility that a bill could be on President Barack Obama's desk to sign before the primaries begin early next year.

Dec 7, 2009

Is It Hot In Here, or Is It Just Me?

Today President Obama meets with other world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark for a meeting on climate change. This meeting come on the heels of the discovery of hacked e-mails at the University of East Anglia which bring a part of the research on the effects and causes of global warming into question. While asking such questions is always important in good science, there is no reason to doubt such a tremendous area of research because of the intellectual laziness and dishonesty of three scientists.

This morning 56 papers in 45 countries publish a joint editorial which declares climate change a profound emergency. Low lying countries like the Maldives look warily to the tides. When home is an island just a few feet above sea level, taking action on climate change is more than a moral issue - it is survival. The Maldives are not alone, most of the world's population lives close to coastlines and near sea level. After the now famous images from Hurricane Katrina, it shouldn't be hard to imagine meters of water covering the streets of New York, Norfolk, Houston, and Boston.

The president's participation in Copenhagen presents the possibility for real international action on climate change. In 1997 the United States chose to opt out of the Kyoto protocols which set targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2012. Many onlookers doubt that any real policy change will come out of the Copenhagen meeting. However, the world's largest emitters are all participating. Even more hopeful is that two of the highest profile polluters not involved with Kyoto, The US and China, are coming to Copenhagen with significant proposals in hand to reduce and regulate their own emissions. This suggests that there may be real cooperative action taken across international and ideological lines to stop the human contribution to global warming.

Dec 4, 2009

Stimulate This!

Yesterday was president's big jobs summit and today comes with good news. Unemployment is down for the time being and it appears that there have been fewer lay-offs over the last month. The economy is moving again. Before we get out the confetti and noisemakers, remember that this is the time of year when a lot of people are hired for the holidays by companies like

Why are we having a jobs summit now? Shouldn't we have had one ten months ago when Obama first took office? Better yet, why didn't the Bush administration show such interest in boosting the economy and helping American workers? The Republicans were in control of this country for almost a decade and didn't show a shred of interest in helping the American economy, and now here we are today with another Democratic president left to pick up the pieces of our shattered economy.

There is a solid blueprint available for putting Americans back to work and restoring this country to prosperity. In the 1930s the Roosevelt administration put thousands of people to work modernizing infrastructure around the country. Approximately 70 years later, much of that infrastructure remains unimproved and poorly maintained. A 21st century New Deal is necessary to not only restore Americans to the labor force, but also to restore our national pride.

As for unemployment posting its largest decline since the beginning of December, I think that's great. Obama and his economic team deserve all the credit for getting us out of the George W. Bush recession. But there is sparse evidence that the jobs we're adding right now are the kind that will stick around. And it is very cold outside.

Dec 3, 2009

Would Be Senator Doesn't Understand the Senate

Rand Paul is now on record as saying that troop levels in Afghanistan are not the concern of Congress. As a Senator, Dr. Paul would be directly responsible for providing oversight and advice to the office of the president over military matters. This demonstrates that he may not completely understand the position he is campaigning for. Maybe he at least slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Anyone who follows politics has heard the label. It is applied often on the campaign trail, on talk radio, and on the cable news networks. It applies to every state and county in the nation, and everyone from municipal councils to the President of the United States.

"Tax and spend government:"

This has become a pejorative term, an accusation by conservatives to portray government as some kind of thief that takes peoples money away - the act of taxation is equated with the act of stealing. The redistributive properties of the act of appropriation is equated with embezzlement. The libertarian argument suggests that individuals acting alone make more efficient decisions on how to spend and distribute their money. The constitution is brought up as evidence in these arguments that the government does not have the power to tax and spend.

History, especially American history, suggests this argument is senseless. For one thing, would a government even exist without the power to raise revenue and then spend it for the good of all its constituents? It is absurd.

How do these people criticizing 'tax and spend' government think roads are built? Our soldiers fed and transported?

If we so weakened our federal government, if we drastically reduced the power to raise and spend money, how would we pay off our debt?

What would countries like Russia and China think of us?

How many of their constituents would lose jobs that exist because of government money?

Taxation and appropriation are the core powers of our government, the foundation upon which our institutions have been built and the lifeblood by which they exist. Furthermore, in the United States the government is representative of the people - at least, the people who vote. When our democracy is truly participatory, our legislators and congressmen choose what is going to be taxed and where our money is going to be spent. We elect these men and women to very short terms from smaller districts - they most closely represent we the people, and they are the ones who decide how our money is going to be spent. If voters object to how taxes are being raised and appropriated, they have the power to change who is in office. Therefore, government absolutely does have the right to tax and spend money because it is representative of the needs and the will of the people.

When the Constitution was written the U.S. had been operating under the Articles of Confederation, a congress with no power of taxation was the entire federal government. The year before the constitutional convention a Massachusetts farm hand and former continental army soldier named Daniel Shays led a rebellion over imprisonment and confiscation due to war debt and lack of payment. The government was helpless to put down the rebellion or pay its soldiers. The rebels inflicted massive amounts of damage on the Massachusetts country side until their fury finally subsided.

Eight years later, during the presidency of George Washington, another rebellion occurred in western Pennsylvania over the taxation of whiskey. Using the governments powers to raise and spend revenue and field an army, Washington was able to use power to put down the rebellion and restore peace to the region.

The difference in these two situations was the United States Constitution. Not only does the Constitution expressly give the government broad powers to tax its constituents and to spend that revenue to provide infrastructure, safety and security to the country. To keep the people safe from internal rebellion or foreign security threats. To give us schools, roads, police officers, firefighters, to ensure a basic standard of living for everyone in common. That power was clearly intended by the Constitution's authors.

There is nothing wrong with "tax and spend" government and the people who make that argument clearly don't know what they are talking about. The whole concept of a representative government without the power to tax and spend is absurd. Without the power to raise and spend revenue, government will cease to exist and we will devolve into anarchy. Those in the TEA bagger movement should be criticizing their fellow Americans for making democratic choices that led to revenue and appropriation patterns that they disagree with. It is still our government, after all. Their arguments are absurd.

Dec 2, 2009

A Few Lemmings Stop Before the Cliff

It is very tempting to portray Republicans and the conservative movement in general as a monolithic mass of irrational, ignorant, selfish and dishonest individuals fighting for policies that do not better Americans as a society. It is, in fact, too easy to do so.

In reality there are a lot of rational voices on the right. Two of these rational voices recently broke with the right wing as a whole citing the backwards policies, anti-intellectualism and bigotry of the current conservative movement. Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic and Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs officially rebuked the movement that has been hijacked by individuals like Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.

This is some great reading that comes from individuals who are capable of a much more honest and comprehensive view of the right than any liberal or moderate blogger. It looks like some within the party of Goldwater have finally woken up and realized what the fruitcakes are doing to this country.

Dec 1, 2009

Apocalypse Afghanistan

Never enter a land war in Asia...

Obama has decided to plot a course in the now 8-year-old Afghanistan war that involves more troops, more guns, and more money. In a time where every penny is being pinched and our domestic infrastructure is in crisis, this decision will require a great deal of explanation from our commander-in-chief.

An invasion against Afghanistan was a fool's mission in the first place. If not for the passionate feelings coursing through the American populace in the months following the Sept 11 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, no one in their right mind would have advocated an invasion into the most divided, chaotic, and violent region on the planet. Afghanistan is such a mess that it makes Palestine look like Walt Disney World.

That Obama has apparently decided to dump more money down this festering hole of a mission is evidence that the political pressure from the right has finally compromised the White House. The President and his advisors are so eager to claim the middle ground in order to be well-positioned for the 2012 elections that they have extracted their own backbones. Furthermore, their decisionmaking alienates the Democratic base at a time when they should be trying to lure more liberal voters into the party to shore up support in Congress for the ongoing debates on far more important issues, like infrastructure repair, health care and climate change.