Friday, September 24, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Keith Olbermann gave the Democrats their mantra for the now-delayed vote on taxes (and for the campaign trail): Bush tax cuts for the rich, Obama tax cuts for the people. Let's see if they use it.
2) Once more, we leave the dirty work to the Brits.
3) Wax on, whack off. Once more, the Republicans are shining Americans.
4) What Americans SHOULD be doing. In Europe, the government fears the people. In America, the people fear the government. And rightly so. The government, from federal to local, is in the deep pockets of business.
5) Stephen Colbert to testify about migrant workers and illegal immigration in front of Congress. Please be serious, Stephen.
Actually, I'm fairly sure he will be.
6) Who says there's no bipartisanship in Washington? Both the Obama administration and Republicans are beating up on gays!
7) Howard Kurtz, once in a while, makes a good point: Where were the stories?
8) America itself died a little last night.
9) I'm curious as to how this would work, precisely? It's a system specifically designed to remain up in case of nearly anything.
10) It takes a lot to get the French, nudists no less, up in arms. But it happened!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Out Of Africa

Altho the policy pronounced by President Obama is not specifically designed solely for Africa, it is essentially a development plan for the continent:

"Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business," Obama said at the summit of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious agenda world leaders set 10 years ago to tackle global poverty, which has grown amid the world economic recession.

The program has four approaches. One is changing the definition of development. [...]

Second, the administration is changing how "the ultimate goal of development" is viewed. [...]

The third pillar is putting an emphasis on "broad-based economic growth," Obama said.[...]

[T]he fourth pillar is insisting "on more responsibility -- from ourselves and from others."

Let's take him at his word that this policy is genuine, and take a closer look at it. In this instance, "development" will supplant foreign aid, in many cases. Right now, much done in the name of development is to give food and humanitarian aid to a region, with a little actual development on the side. According to Obama's policy, that will change slightly. There will be a transition from aid to economic development, so that a region can become self-sufficient and competitive on the global market.

Aid is fine. It's a short term boost to a people. It doesn't solve the underlying problem, which is how to get those people on their feet and able to fend for themselves. This meme has been particularly true in Africa, where for any number of reasons, economic development has been slow to non-existent. This is particularly ironic for a continent that has perhaps the best climate on the planet. It should be a world leader.

There are any number of benefits for America in this policy. For one thing, poverty tends to breed terrorism. Somalia, as we have seen over the past twenty years, is a hotbed of terror activities, and provides a harbor for international terror groups to incubate plots.

For another, poverty breeds disease. It's not a coincidence that Africa and Asia, the two poorest continents on the planet, are home to some of the nastiest illnesses in human history. Eradicating malaria, for example, is a top priority of American health officials, and Africa is Ground Zero for the disease. In this day and age of near-instantaneous international travel, a bug in Africa is a bug in New York City inside of a week.

For a third, in the wake of really the first global economic catastrophe that occured simultaneously across the world, we need more trading partners. A safe, secure and viable Africa provides this.

But looming over all of this is China. China has made huge strides in Africa, securing contracts with Nigerian oil companies, for example. America simply cannot, for its own economic health, afford to let China have the run of the table. We have to be competitive there. We have to maintain a stake in the economy of the continent. 

The final pillar of this plan, responsibility, is a key. For too long, America has looked the other way as regimes and tyrants have raped and pillaged nations all around the planet. We let Saddam Hussein have his lead, we've let the Saudis practically dictate our foreign policy, we've given free rein to the Mugabes and Taylors of the world. and we've given all of them, all of them aid over the years. Hell, we just signed a $60 billion dollar defense contract with the Saudis! 

We drop a bagful of money or food off, pat the leader on the head, and then turn and walk away. That's no way to do business, nor is it a way to be humanitarian. We have to make sure that not only does a nation receive help, but that the people in that nation who most need the help get it.   


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In It To "Win" It

An interesting dynamic is shaping up in American politics: three candidate races.
Let's start with Alaska, where incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has defied party bosses and the results of her recent primary loss to Joe Miller (Sarah Palin's lapdog) to remain an independent candidate. Her rationale is that a mass of voters have begged her to stay in the race, but the truth is, Miller has rubbed the Teabagger noses in their Big Government bias by accepting federal farm subsidies.
Murkowski is pretty smart. And while not my idea of a moderate, given the current Talibanesque environment of the Republican party, she can be considered a moderate where the Overton Window is now fenestered.
Next, New York. Perennial punching bag Rick Lazio was defeated last week in his bid to be ritually slaughtered by Andrew Cuomo in a race to replace Governor David Patterson (who was installed by default after Eliot Spitzer was run out of town with his pants around his ankles). His opponent, former Buffalo mayor Carl "NY's Own John Edwards" Paladino, a Teabagger, is currently within striking distance after winning the nomination in polls that do not factor in Rick Lazio. Lazio, of course, has mounted a rival campaign under the Conservative Party banner, and Paladino is desperate for Lazio to give it up. Effectively, this would hand the election to Cuomo (altho Paladino would likely do that anyway. The Quinnipiac poll was taken just before the e-mail scandal...did I mention that?...broke).
And then of course, there's Florida. Three men haven't been this important to Florida since Bush was selected. Crist was defeated for the Republican nomination by Marc Rubio, and almost immediately announced an independent run for the Senate. Since then, he has run neck and neck with Rubio in general election polling (36% Rubio 34% Crist, MoE 3%), and kept the Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek from gaining any momentum.
Given the state of flux in Republican politics, I almost expect Mike Castle to "refudiate" the nomination of Christine O'Donnel in Delaware and mount an independent candidacy of his own, especially given her penchant for demanding her campaign to pay her rent, electricity, food, manicures...
By the way, I thought Teabaggers were against politics as usual? Because it sure seems that the most corrupt politicoes are the ones that Sarah "Don't Mind My Dress, My Campaign Paid For It" Palin endorses! But I digress...
You'll notice that, except for Lazio who used an already extant party for his insurgency, none of these folks has gone quietly or turned Democrat. Moderates like Crist have declined a chance to swap parties (much like Joe Lieberman did when Ned Lamont crushed him in Connecticut's primary four years ago) and have a built-in support mechanism for their rebellions.
There's an element of revenge involved, to be sure. For instance, Lazio has been screwed over so many times by the state GOP that he should start charging. First, when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2000 for the Senate and made that horrible gaffe of nearly assaulting her publicly, the GOP stood stone cold silent in his defense. Then this year after Lazio had claimed for himself the status as front-runner for the nomination, the establishment tried to recruit Suffolk County executive Steve Levy to run in his place. 
Worse, Levy was a Democrat! Bit of a slap in the face, that. 
You can't really blame Lazio, or the others, for wanting to throw bombs. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Tragedy Of The Common

My dad retired at age 65, after 40 years of work as a carpenter. He was union, working mostly for contractors hired by the city. The term was "journeyman".
Some years, he worked all the time, except in inclement weather (a hazard of outdoor work with heavy machinery and power tools). Some years, he barely worked and had to subsist on unemployment benefits and the occasional cabinetry job he could scarf together out of the neighborhood.
Every year, tho, the union made sure he had money put away towards his retirement. A defined benefit pension, it was called. That meant that he was guaranteed a certain payout based on his income averaged over all those years. That, Social Security, and what little money he could sock away by living sparely (he didn't have a colour TV until long after I moved out, as an example) stood him well. He lived to nearly see his ninetieth birthday, and my mom is living on the residual.
His generation was the last who could promise themselves a future:

Older workers who lose their jobs could pose a policy problem if they lose their ability to be self-sufficient. “That’s what we should be worrying about,” said Carl E. Van Horn, professor of public policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, “what it means to this class of the new unemployables, people who have been cast adrift at a very vulnerable part of their career and their life.”

Forced early retirement imposes an intense financial strain, particularly for those at lower incomes. The recession and its aftermath have already pushed down some older workers. In figures released last week by the Census Bureau, the poverty rate among those 55 to 64 increased to 9.4 percent in 2009, from 8.6 percent in 2007.

But even middle-class people who might skate by on savings or a spouse’s income are jarred by an abrupt end to working life and to a secure retirement.

“That’s what I spent my whole life in pursuit of, was security,” Ms. [Patricia] Reid said. “Until the last few years, I felt very secure in my job.”

Back story. For more than fifteen years, Reid worked as an auditor for Boeing. She's 57, college educated, and has been unemployed for four years.

She could conceivably never work again. Worse, she could conceivably be bankrupt before she can officially "retire" at age 62 1/2. With no job, and no pension, and likely a 401(k) wiped out by the recession, she is in very serious danger of falling into and then through the safety net.

Social Security was designed to protect the elderly, among the most vulnerable of us when they are not seen to. Yes, it was a back up plan, meant to supplement a pension. Before we had SSI, we had elderly folks dying in our cities and towns for want of income. Literally. The elderly were the poorest citizens in society up to the 30s and 40s. After the advent of SSI (and Medicare) the elderly actually saw their life spans increase after they turned 65. And they could survive life. 

Retirement, which should be the end of stress, is suddenly now the largest stressor in many people's lives. Retirement is a very delicate balance of health and money. Destabilize one, and you end up pulling the whole house down. 

It's not uncommon now to work past 65. Hell, it's practically encouraged! If one is healthy enough and can manage to summon up the energy to perform, a person over 65 bring a boatload of experience to a job. 

Now, it may become mandatory. Not just because we've allowed the corporatocracy to do away with pensions, but also because Social Security itself is under attack, from enemies external and internal. Republicans want to privatize it, to move that much more profit into the hands of the greedy rich. And people are living longer, contributing less (fewer young workers and well, see above), and the system is draining money faster than its putting it away. 

The balanced system, pension with the supplemental insurance, is in danger of collapsing. People who have worked all their lives, have wanted to support themselves in retirement, cannot and will not be able to. 

All for want of some vision on the part of our national leaders. All for the sake of boosting the bottom line each quarter for companies that are already embarrassingly rich.

Shame on us.  


Monday, September 20, 2010

Another One Bites The Dust

In the midsts of the tempest in a Teabag created by the selection of Christine O'Donnel by the GOP, among others, comes some interesting comments given by one of the few RINOs who can still get away with it.
For now. Colin Powell had this to say about undocumented workers:

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says illegal immigrants do essential work in the U.S. and he has firsthand knowledge of that -- because they fix his house.

Powell, a moderate Republican, urged his party Sunday to support immigration generally because it is "what's keeping this country's lifeblood moving forward."

This points out another facet of the curious breakdown in the Republican party. On the one hand, you have a vocal and growing minority (yes, minority, even in the Republican party) of Teabaggers, screeching about scary government intervention in their homes and their health while begging the government to keep the scary brown people out of their backyards and hospitals.

Ironic, ain't it? 

On the other are the corporatist and more socially moderate Republicans who see an opportunity to exploit a weakness in the social net of America and will move heaven and earth to do so.

In other words, they like progressivism, so long as they don't have to pay for it.

One side will win. The other side will appear to win. It's the only way the GOP can save any face in this dispute. My bet is the Teabaggers will be given the appearance of a win, then have the rug pulled out from under them. This is precisely how this movement evolved in the first place, from the angry Religious Right to the angry Ross Perotistas to the angry white men of the Gingrich "revolution" to the NASCAR dads and Security Moms who held their noses and voted for Dumbya.
Each time, they were thrown a bone. Each time, the bone had a string attached and was pulled away.
Rank-and-file Republicans are only slightly stupider than Democrats, but I digress...
I watch this with a curious fascination. For Democrats, this election hinges on one thing, and one thing only: get the goddamn vote out. Scare the hell out of moderates with the witchcraft of O'Donnel and the racism of Rand Paul, and point out in other states how it doesn't take much to have a new Joe McCarthy running a witchhunt through America.
Indeed, one of the talking points of the Teabaggers is to start an inquest into the Obama Administration.
Um, what?
You heard me. A duly elected President has committed no crime, not even a blow job from an intern has scandalized his office, has governed effectively and competently, has reached across the aisle only to have his hand slapped away time and time again, and the Republicans have the ink on a bill of impeachment drying on someone's desk!
And Republican moderates are powerless to stop it, or so it seems. Which is precisely why I feel it will be stopped. The invective Republicans are hearing from these insane Teabaggers is starting to build to a crescendo, and it truly is becoming a "you're with us or against us" choice. Which makes it impossible for the Teabaggers to maintain any control over themselves or the party.
Politics, the art of the possible, will always win over the art of the impossible. Cooler heads might prevail, but it might only be after a violent and ugly purge goes on in the party of the upstarts.
Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are doomed, unless they can herd cats.
And yet, a very real possibility.