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Stop SOPA!

No posts today in solidarity with the effort to make legislators understand how we feel about SOPA:

Stop American Censorship

Get the facts:

Protect IP

Fight For The Future

-Chris

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January 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

America Is Losing The Mantle of Liberty

 
 

Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley has a nice piece in this Sunday’s Washington Post on an issue most American’s really aren’t paying attention to.

10 Reasons The U.S. Is No Longer The Land Of The Free

His list:

  1. Assassination of U.S. citizens – Obama has affirmed the right to assassinate any US citizen he feels is in league with terrorists. Really.
  2. Indefinite detention – Under the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act, the president has the right to indefinately detain American citizens that are accused of terrorism.
  3. Arbitrary justice – “The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)”
  4.  Warrantless searches –  Companies and organizations can be compelled to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations, including searches of library records, through the use of “national security letters” which require no probable cause and no requirement that the subject of the search receive any notification whatsoever.
  5. Secret evidence – Used to detain and try the accused in military tribunals. Taking the additional step of classifying evidence, “…allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.”
  6. War crimes – In 2009 the Obama Administration gave blanket immunity to CIA agents who waterboarded detainees. “This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries.”
  7. Secret court – Being used increasingly, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court‘s jurisdiction has been extend to include searches of people not associated with known terrorist groups, and is not restricted by Congressional limits on surveillance.
  8. Immunity from judicial review – “Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy.”
  9. Continual monitoring of citizens – The government can use GPS devices to track a target’s movements without any intervention from a court.
  10. Extraordinary renditions – Essentially, the US can send any citizen or non-citizen to other countries to avoid our pesky bans on torture. “The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.”

Each point is punctuated with a blurb about how each of these policies tracks nicely with such paragons of human rights as China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

Turley takes politicians to task for helping to create all the makings of an Orwellian police-state:

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Ironically, many of these powers were extremely popular following 9/11, cheered and promoted by the very people who now fear that Obama is a Socialist dictator.

Time will tell if American will come its senses, but for the time being, our reputation as a shining example of liberty and freedom is tarnished.

-Chris

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bertrand Russell On God

Someone posted this nice clip from 1959 of Bertrand Russell discussing his atheism on Facebook today.

His succinct answers track closely with how I feel about God and the supernatural.

This is in no way meant to offend people of any faiths, but it is how I see the world.

To be clear, I strongly support the right of people to believe as they will and to practice whatever form of religion they wish to.

However, that support ends when religion is used to endanger others or violate anyone’s rights.

-Chris

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Brin On The State Of America

United States Capitol

Image by lofaesofa via Flickr

Science Fiction author David Brin posted Saturday with an insightful piece on several of the problems that are conspiring to actually rob us of liberty.

Do You Despise Congress?

With an 11% approval rating, you would not be alone, and here are some of the reasons why this may be the case:

The oft-noted phenomenon where Americans hate Congress but love their particular representative is undoubtedly the result of Gerrymandering. The practice leads to homogenization of districts and thus to hyper-partisanship and marginalization of minority (in the sense of political ideas) voices in districts designed to favor candidates of one party or the other.

For balance, this isn’t strictly a partisan issue — Maryland recently went through a bought of the deplorable practice in favor of Democratic candidates. But Gerrymandering is extremely harmful to obtaining consensus and moving forward to solving problems; regardless of who does it.

However, an equally important factor in dividing and immobilizing progress in our political sausage-factory is Republican intransigence and their outright war on facts and science:

I have long pointed out that Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution of 1995 started out with some impressive activity. Part of it was disturbing, like the banishing of all scientific advisory staff from Congress, freeing right-wing members to simply declare any facts they felt like uttering. This action was an early harbinger of what became today’s pyrotechnic, outright and open War on Science.

Republicans moved from being merely disagreeable in the mid-1990’s to claiming their rightful mantle as the party of “NO” after 2000. As an example, Brin notes that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is almost exactly modeled on the Republican’s own counter plan in response to Hillary Clinton‘s health care reform proposal. Only now, the same provisions (including the same “market-based” solutions and individual mandates) are now considered horribly socialist.

He explains, “Republicans under Gingrich, in the 1990s, appeared to (occasionally) want to deliberate, negotiate, dicker, come up with some way to move ahead”.

Now they don’t.

And Brin also offers an important note:

…the GOP-led Congresses from 1996 through 2006 were also the laziest and least effective in 100 years.

I don’t say that from any “liberal” perspective. Rather, I base it on objective and unambiguous standards of hard work, time and productivity. Giving their employers what they pay for. The recent Republican Congresses passed fewer bills, held fewer hearings, issued fewer subpoenas and held fewer days in active session than almost any other since the era of William McKinley. The record is damn near perfect. There are no metrics of legislative or deliberative indolence that weren’t broken by the GOP-led Congresses of the last decade or so.

…The GOP owned Congress and the Courts for ten years, and operated all three branches of government for six of those years, with nothing whatsoever to stop them from passing anything they wanted. Yet, amid a tsunami of complaints, they would not even issue subpoenas or hold investigations to harass their enemies! Nor even show up on days that they were paid to.

Americans are acutely aware that we currently have a “do-nothing Congress” but most, shackled by their party loyalties, fail to examine why this is the case.

It certain appears that there is a clear pattern over several decades of GOP candidates using social “wedge issues” to bait their base into the polling places. However, unless some of the more rabid Tea Party candidates manage to convince the Republican establishment otherwise, that base is likely to have a long wait for their “representatives” to introduce legislation to make good on their promises.

Although Brin only gives a brief mention the impeachment debacle, which I feel was defining moment in the ongoing GOP transformation, he is on point with his main observation — given the power to make good on overturning abortion rights and ending Social Security and Welfare, they did nothing.

On the Democratic side, to be fair, candidates have not delivered on a number of issues important to its base, but for the large part, few if any of the candidates even promise to do so. The once progressive party has shifted to the corporate middle as well, with disastrous consequences.

I and other liberals have been very critical of the Obama administration for such lapses, but for anyone paying attention during the 2008 campaign, Obama never promised anything on the checklist of progressive agenda.

There are a few fighters out there, but they are mostly ignored by the Democratic establishment, busy with deregulating and giving up at the earliest sign of Republican resistance to their most tepid requests for any legislative change designed to aid anyone not in the 1%.

On the other hand, this Republican unwillingness to do anything may lead many to question why a group of people so opposed to governing bothers to run for office.

The answer becomes clear when you look at what legislation did pass during those years (admittedly with the help of many Democrats):

One constituency actually got enough attention to get bills passed. Do you remember which? De-regulation of the banking and mortgage and credit industries. Liberation of Wall Street gamblers. Removal of gas mileage standards. Plenty of the sort of thing that sent our economy toward a cliff.

Money.

Wall Street and corporations pay the bills and lines the pockets of politicians looking out for their most important constituent; themselves.

Brin also brings in the fact that voting machines are ALL manufactured by the very same far-right company (under several subsidiaries) and that those machines are extremely hackable and insecure — making the result of elections more than a little questionable.

To close out the list he takes a shot at the Citizen’s United ruling that Stephen Colbert has made a mockery of quite effectively:

Stephen Colbert hands super PAC to Jon Stewart

All of these forces are working to removing the power from the people and concentrate it in the hands of a few very wealthy people. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this arrangement will lead directly to less liberty for the majority of Americans.

The only way to stop this from happening is to get the money out of the system — and no who can make a difference is proposing this at all.

That’s what is missing from the 2012 presidential race and out national conversation.

-Chris

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government As A Corporation? Nope.

I’ve heard this meme over the past three decades, and the emptiness of it never diminishes.

Paul Krugman apparently agrees:

America Isn’t a Corporation

If business and the free market really could meet all of our needs, government wouldn’t exist.

It is because government steps in to moderate the excesses of the market and set the rules and create a level playing field that capitalism can thrive.

Unfortunately, the idea that government should be run like a government is part of the conventional wisdom — of people who don’t think too hard about it.

Krugman remarks:

But there’s a deeper problem in the whole notion that what this nation needs is a successful businessman as president: America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.

Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.

In fact, running government as a business has some terrible consequences:

Consider what happens when a business engages in ruthless cost-cutting. From the point of view of the firm’s owners (though not its workers), the more costs that are cut, the better. Any dollars taken off the cost side of the balance sheet are added to the bottom line.

But the story is very different when a government slashes spending in the face of a depressed economy. Look at Greece, Spain, and Ireland, all of which have adopted harsh austerity policies. In each case, unemployment soared, because cuts in government spending mainly hit domestic producers. And, in each case, the reduction in budget deficits was much less than expected, because tax receipts fell as output and employment collapsed.

Currently, it is Willard MittGordon Gekko” Romney who is claiming that his extensive portfolio of firing people makes him uniquely qualified for the presidency.

Poppycock.

He’s even tried to compare his actions at the now-infamous Bain with Obama’s bailout of the automobile industry.

Like many observers, I was somewhat startled by his latest defense of his record at Bain — namely, that he did the same thing the Obama administration did when it bailed out the auto industry, laying off workers in the process. One might think that Mr. Romney would rather not talk about a highly successful policy that just about everyone in the Republican Party, including him, denounced at the time.

But what really struck me was how Mr. Romney characterized President Obama’s actions: “He did it to try to save the business.” No, he didn’t; he did it to save the industry, and thereby to save jobs that would otherwise have been lost, deepening America’s slump. Does Mr. Romney understand the distinction?

In an era when huge private corporations have led to the largest economic calamity in our lifetime, you would think politicians would be leery of drawing comparisons.

The major problem with this mindset is that it misses the real issue:

We’re in the mess we’re in BECAUSE government got too cosy with business and let corporations remove regulations and determine government policies.

It failed.

And if we are to learn from the example of Europe, cutting spending and jobs to save “the bottom line” is a self-inflicted wound to our economy and the stability of the nation.

-Chris

January 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Caused The Deficit?

English: Former President George W. Bush looks...

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a nice, handy reminder at Visualizing Economics.

Originally published in July of 2009 in the New York Times, the graphic is a great illustration of how laissez-faire and trickle-down economics led to catastrophe yet again.

In summary, for policies alone, and not owing to economic downturns ($770 billion) and not even including Bush on policies he implemented but Obama later supported ($417 billion):

George W. Bush: $673 Billion
Barack Obama: $201 Billion

-Chris

January 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lies About Jobs

map for us unemployment numbers

Image via Wikipedia

I am not the biggest fan of Barack Obama.

My leanings are more progressive, and his seem to be deeply rooted in the corporate boardroom.

That said, you have to give the man his due when it comes to the stimulus and job creation.

I am convinced by arguments by Paul Krugman and other Keynesians that the stimulus was much too small to have optimal effect, but the small package Obama was able to push through did create jobs.

This is, of course, the reality being mocked by the current meme being rolled out by the pack of jackals running for the presidential nomination on the Republican side.

Both Mitt Romney and Gingrich have calculated the number of jobs lost in the American economy from the date of President Obama’s inauguration and repeating that Obama’s policies have resulted in 1.9  million lost jobs.

In GOP-land, this proves that the stimulus was a complete failure.

Paul Krugman brings the inconvenient facts:

Start with the Obama record. It’s true that 1.9 million fewer Americans have jobs now than when Mr. Obama took office. But the president inherited an economy in free fall, and can’t be held responsible for job losses during his first few months, before any of his own policies had time to take effect. So how much of that Obama job loss took place in, say, the first half of 2009?

The answer is: more than all of it. The economy lost 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009 and has since gained 1.2 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s nothing like Mr. Romney’s portrait of job destruction.

The Economist points out that even if you used the Romney-Gingrich metric, if the economy continues to grow at the current pace (and the jobs report was actually better than expected at the time of this response) the argument will be weak by the time election day rolls around:

A lot can happen over the next year, but for the moment the current recovery looks likely to continue. On Friday, the Bureau of Labour Statistics will report the latest employment data, for the month of December. The consensus forecast is for a gain of 170,000 private-sector jobs and a loss of 20,000 public-sector jobs, for a net gain of 150,000. (In the year to November, the economy added an average of 133,000 net jobs and 157,000 private-sector jobs per month, so this would represent a slight acceleration.) If we extrapolate those changes out through the election, then Mr Obama’s opponent will only be able to claim net job losses during the Obama presidency of just 55,000. What’s more, the net figure will entail government job losses of 833,000 combined with net private-sector job creation of 788,000. Given steady improvement in state and local finances, continued loss of 20,000 government jobs per month seems too high, so there is a decent chance that the Republican nominee will be unable to claim any net job loss during the Obama presidency at the time voters go to the polls.

This is what is on offer from the modern right-wing — solutions to problems that don’t exist and a willful ignorance of real problems and what can fix them.

Unfortunately, the person likely to receive the GOP nod is a serial liar who has spent a career destroying jobs for profit.

Krugman again:

The point is that Mr. Romney’s claims about being a job creator would be nonsense even if he were being honest about the numbers, which he isn’t.

At this point, some readers may ask whether it isn’t equally wrong to say that Mr. Romney destroyed jobs. Yes, it is. The real complaint about Mr. Romney and his colleagues isn’t that they destroyed jobs, but that they destroyed good jobs.

When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case. But the jobs that were lost paid more and had better benefits than the jobs that replaced them. Mr. Romney and those like him didn’t destroy jobs, but they did enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.

And that reality is, of course, what all the blather and misdirection about job-creating businessmen and job-destroying Democrats is meant to obscure.

We are living in scary times, where it is obvious that the real lessons of the utter and absolute failure of trickle-down economics that are plain to most literate people will never be recognized by a sizeable portion of the American populace.

So you get candidates like Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum who willfully lie and distort readily-available facts on a level and scale so blatant and egregious that it beggars the imagination.

And on the other side, we have Obama.

Sigh.

-Chris

January 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment