Sunday, November 02, 2008

A letter from a concerned American

With all of the political stumping and posing going on, there has been plenty of verbiage from both sides, as to what needs to happen when they take possession of the White House...
A fellow musician here in town sent this well written (by him) tome to me, and lots of historical sense and plenty of crystalized, clear thoughts contained here in essay form.

Permit me to share with you and please just remember to VOTE!



Some of my friends are undecided voters, so I wrote several essays--one in response to one of those lying forwards that someone sent around, one in response to a friend saying that he voted for Bush but now realizes that the promises that led him to vote were lies, but now he's undecided because he can't believe either side. I took the time this week to edit them all into one (hopefully) coherent statement.

Here's what I wrote:

Politics in America

When I decided to go back to school, I was told that “you really don’t know what you think about an issue until you write about it, and I really need to make some sense of the 2008 presidential campaign. I know that this time in the campaign is known as “The Silly Season,” but because of the size and nature of the problems our nation faces, I can’t do “Politics as Usual” this time. The following essay represents my best efforts at explaining why I think things are so bad in America today without blaming it on Republicans or Democrats but on the simultaneous rise of corporate power and fall of government power.

I am concerned with 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the current financial crisis, the Iraq war, the US highway system, global warming, the US electrical grid, education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance. There are certainly many more challenges confronting our nation, but the eleven problems I just mentioned are either potentially threatening to the existence of the United States as a superpower, the value of our currency, or the basic health and safety of Americans.

The first thing I realize—and you should too—is that none of these problems can be solved by cutting taxes. Ask yourself the following questions and answer them before reading further.

If these problems are as big and ugly as they appear to me, why is such a large percentage of our campaign about which presidential candidate can cut our taxes better?

Do you want to be treated by a doctor who was selected because he cost the least?

Do you want to buy the cheapest car you can find without discussing whether or not it meets your needs?

Do you know the relationship between the quality of education and what it means that I met a student teacher who, when I asked her why she became a teacher, said, “I wanted to go to veterinary school, but I didn’t have the grades, so I had to go into education?

I’m sure that you want an expert to treat your illnesses and injuries, you want a car you can afford but that meets your needs, and you want the best education possible for your children. How would you feel if all the people who wanted to advance in your company campaigned for the job by arguing about who could cut your salaries better? (The fact is that corporate bonuses are often awarded for cutting employee costs, that’s why corporations are anti-union, and why jobs are moving overseas). Did you know that it is not always, or even usually, true that lowering taxes increases revenue?

Then there’s the problem with taking serious issues and turning them into jokes. Read this article and tell me how you would feel about this issue if it were your town with the infrastructure problem:

I started with this issue because it is the one that the Republicans used on themselves rather than against Democrats. It was Republican Senator Ted Stevens, recently convicted of perjury, who tried to get this bridge built for his state. (For those of you reading the hard copy, this article explains why the “Bridge to Nowhere” is important to the town that was promised it years ago).

It’s too bad that duct tape and plastic kept around your house could spell the difference between life and death, because it’s been made into a joke—or maybe the joke will remind you to seal your house—I don’t know.

Enough frustration, let me explain something about why things are the way they are.

In the United States, there are five concentrated powers, the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches of government, the news media, and large corporations. Because the Republican Party has turned the conversation to how low your taxes can be, (lessening the power of the government to protect YOU) the news media are all owned and controlled by large corporations, and corporations have figured out how to make the lies contained in advertising believable, the government’s power has been severely atrophied. BTW, people who charge that corporations are trying to make you ignorant for some sinister reason are wrong—corporations are just trying to make money entertaining you.

This is not a political charge against George Bush but against Ronald Reagan. For twenty of the past twenty-eight years, we have had presidents committed to the ideal that if we give more money and power to the richest and most powerful, they will do more and more to grow the economy and the benefits will trickle down to us folks at the bottom. They have also been committed to the idea that since government is ineffective and corrupt, the best way to rid us of its influence is to starve it so that it cannot be effective and will go away. Tax cuts are just a side effect—and a strong selling point for their agenda.

For example, the Food and Drug Administration is underfunded, so the government created a program to allow drug companies pay to have their products tested and approved. Drug companies fund the majority of drug research, food companies fund food research, and then advertising convinces you that the food and drugs that you consume are good for you.

The US more and more resembles a third world country where rich elites control most of the wealth while most of the poor are working poor, and the middle class is reeling from the outsourcing of jobs, the cutting of medical insurance, and the outrageous cost of health care and its connection to employment that is no longer stable. We are living in a country where getting sick or having an accident can, and often does, bankrupt you, we created homelessness, then criminalized it, we talk about adequately funding public education in terms of throwing money at an insoluble problem, and our government has learned or invented several ways to privatize profit and socialize risk. This is because the reduction in government power is mirrored by the relative increase in the power of corporations. Since corporations also own the news media—well, you get the idea.

While most of this essay is nonpartisan, I can’t just be neutral because the way the world looks to me is that Republicans have empowered corporations to steal us blind and given poor Americans a steady diet of lies even as the safety and security that I was raised with have largely disappeared. I just don’t think they did it to ruin the country—that’s just the unintended consequence of limiting the power of government in a way that augments corporate power. Just so you know I'm not blindly anti-Republican, I have great respect for John McCain, Colin Powell, and many others whose names you might not know, and much of the legislation that has undermined our security had bipartisan support. I don't even think that the ideologues who got us into the current mess in Iraq and Afghanistan are thieves, assholes, or stupid. What I don't get is how anyone could believe that they did a good enough job so that you or anyone else would support them. Then, to think that after the Bush administration ran up two trillion dollars in national debt, a tax cut would be a good idea!

While I'm at it, don't you want to know about why we're many trillion more dollars in debt ten years after Bill Clinton balanced the federal budget?

What do you know about 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the current financial crisis, the Iraq war, the US highway system, global warming, the US electrical grid, education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance?

Did you know that back in 1988, Gary Hart was America's foremost expert on foreign terrorism? We might have avoided 9/11 if he hadn't gotten caught having an affair.

Do you know how much of the devastation wrecked by Hurricane Katrina was due to wetlands policy implemented by the Army corps of Engineers, how much was due to lack of preparedness on the part of New Orleans, (linked to budget woes as much as short-sightedness) how much was due to the Bush Administration’s decision to make the head of FEMA a political appointment, appointing someone with no experience in administering disaster relief. Do you know what sorts of policies are guiding the rebuilding efforts today?

Do you know anything about the relationship between the current financial crisis and those of 1819, 1837, 1873, or 1893? Do you know how much of the mortgage crisis is due to people borrowing more than they could afford to, how much is due to predatory lending, and how much is due to bankruptcies caused by medical bills?

Do you understand how the decision to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein was reached—what the intelligence actually showed, and what Americans were told the intelligence showed? Do you know where the trillions of dollars spent on the war went? Do you know what happened to create the prison in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base?

As a result of Guantanamo, our government's willingness to torture despite the fact that it doesn't work, our government’s deceit in leading the US to invade Iraq, and the refusal to talk to enemies, we have lost several important battles and lost the respect and admiration of people around the world. Most of the situations I'm talking about require long detailed explanations, so I hope the ones you know about are enough to convince you.

Are you aware of the current state of US highway bridges and how likely we are to see another collapse like the one in Minneapolis in 2007, or in Cos Cob Connecticut in 1983? Are you aware that a report on global climate change that was unaffected by American efforts to politicize the science was recently released to the delight of the global science community?

Do you know what happened when we deregulated the generation of electricity but didn't do anything to assign responsibility for the maintenance of the grid that used to be taken care of my regulated utilities?

Do you understand what kind of resources it takes to give everyone a good education and really leave no child behind?

Do you know or understand what assumptions are used in calculating the future failure of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlements--and how realistic those assumptions are?

Do you know why America spends three times as much as any other industrial country on health care yet ranks at or near the bottom on most measures of care, service, and satisfaction? (Note: we do have the best trauma care system in the world, and that does play a role in increased expenditures. When we save lives, those people have lifetime health expenses that they wouldn't incur if they had died of their injuries). Do you wonder why Americans are so afraid of government bureaucrats deciding who gets health care that insurance company bureaucrats decide who gets health care?

Most Americans don't know that in the late 19th and early 20th century the US was rife with human rights abuses that resemble China's (poisonous additives to baby's milk and lead paint on children's toys are just two of the dozen crises facing China that I could mention without looking them up) but government created agencies—bureaucracies, to use the negative charge, to protect Americans from the abuses that had been perpetrated by corporations—knowingly AND unknowingly. Many Americans died to allow the unionization of American workers—balancing the power of large corporations. That was as ugly a war as any we have fought during my lifetime. The Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and many other organizations were created to limit the future potential for disaster and abuse like that which we had already suffered. Some of these agencies were so successful that some politicians thought—or still think—that they outlived their usefulness. In the same way, people who don’t remember what it was like to lose children to whooping cough, diphtheria, polio, and other childhood diseases are deciding not to vaccinate their children. So, our country has been recreating the plagues and ills that government eliminated or greatly reduced in the mid-twentieth century.

I believe in government regulation as the best way to keep us safe and free—at least this is true in a country where the People have the power to watch the government. I also believe that adequately funded government is the best defense against the complexity of the world and the number of other power centers--multinational corporations, drug and arms smugglers, and terrorist groups to name three. So what does this mean for you and me?

Here's the truth. Either Obama or McCain might make a good president. Either might be the victim of history or assassination, moral failing or simply be outmaneuvered by an adversary. I'm voting for Obama because his ability to inspire people who were apathetic about politics means that he will have a mandate to ask us what we really want for our future and what we're willing to do to receive it. I also trust Obama more than I trust McCain on foreign policy, and I have no faith in a President Palin—another Bush-like ideologue with no prior experience in, or understanding of, how global power is wielded.

As Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the military, the place that a president can make the biggest difference is in foreign policy. In my opinion, the foreign policy choices of the Bush administration--Axis of Evil, Iraq War, Korea, Iran, etc., have been so bad that there is some chance that our nation will never recover and we'll become a former super power like France and Britain.

I believe that both McCain and Obama would make better choices, (not Palin) but we have a much better chance of finding out what really happened in the ultra secret Bush White House if the next president and congress are Democratic. My biggest worry, the erosion of American civil liberties, will likely be addressed by either Obama or McCain—especially if the public demands it, but I definitely want enough Democrats in office so that we can find out what happened in the Bush Administration that is illegal, immoral, and/or dangerous to America's place in the world.

Next most important of the presidential powers is that the president chooses Supreme Court justices. We recently had a ruling that is truly chilling for women--the court decided that since the Founding Fathers didn't think domestic abuse was serious, they shouldn't either. The Republicans have appointed judges whose agendas are scary. (No time to research the details for you, but you can look up the case). It is Republicans who have appointed judges that find in favor of big business against those who have been harmed, recently canceled punitive damages against Exxon for the Alaskan oil spill 20 years ago that the area still hasn't recovered from, and installed George Bush as president after he lost both the popular vote and would have lost Florida except for some dirty politics. (The Supreme Court stopped the recount, which would have showed that Gore won the state and thus the presidency).

McCain has already promised to appoint more like-minded judges.

I love my country, and I believe that when everyone notices that the stadium is on fire, the two teams (Democrats and Republicans, in this case) roll up their sleeves and demonstrate that the stadium really is more important than the game. Undoing the damage that we have done to our country will require personal sacrifice--the most important personal sacrifice is the realization that understanding the issues and having a opinion based on actual knowledge is so much more important than deciding which car to buy, which laundry detergent to use, and which medications will relieve our symptoms better.

Sometime in the last thirty years, candidates realized that if they never made any specific proposals, no one could criticize them. So, it's not possible to figure out what a candidate is actually going to do by listening to him or her speak. The only way to figure out what a candidate is likely to do is to look at his or her—and their party’s record. And it is unpatriotic to believe candidate ads, no matter which candidate you support!

In order to be an informed voter, one has to understand the issues and be able to predict how candidates will decide based on their track record, party platform, and public sentiment. For example, I was against the invasion of Iraq in 2001. I knew that (1) Bush senior had left Saddam Hussein in power in 1992 because he was a dictator who could keep the Kurds from wanting to take back historic Kurdistan from Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, and the Iraqi Shiites from wanting closer ties with Iran--either one of which could seriously destabilize the Middle East, (2) the evidence of WMD was iffy and being inflated to stir up support for a war that Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowicz, William Kristol and several other neocons had planned a decade before, (3) that it was likely that any war would be much more complicated, costly, and long than the American people would stand for, and we would probably wind up withdrawing in defeat like we did in Vietnam and Somalia, (and that McCain wants Iraq to end differently than Vietnam) (4) even in the best case, a war with Iraq would distract us from efforts to stop Al Kaida and other terrorist threats.

There is no way that I could have learned this in the few weeks that we had to tell our representatives how we wanted them to vote. Of course, I didn't foresee the attack on civil liberties, the torture and American disgrace abroad, the extent of mercenaries and their future effect on American freedom (watch what happens during the next disaster or terrorist attack) or the weakening of the separation of powers that eight years of George Bush would create. I now know what might happen if these abuses are not repudiated, rolled back, and apologized for. (Members of the Bush administration are guilty of war crimes--and that is not a partisan statement). We now know that senior White House officials approved waterboarding, and waterboarding has been ruled to be torture. We don’t know what else has been done.

Republican presidents are not the only ones to blame for things that are horrible in this country, like (1) we spend much more money on health care than any other industrialized nation, but we are last in quality of care and citizen satisfaction, (2) the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves and others are often imprisoned rather than given long term care, (3) there is a crisis in education, and it's so big, I don't know where to start, (4) our national infrastructure--the electrical grid, railroads, air traffic control, levees, and others--are breaking and there is no plan to fix them, and (5) the government agencies that regulate the safety of food, drugs, banks, stocks, etc., are all underfunded, and the ability to sue for negligent or criminal wrongdoing is being eliminated. There are more, but these should give you the basic idea.

I don't know if Obama can solve all of these, but too many of them will continue the way they are without a different kind of leadership than the 8 years of Reagan, 4 years of HW Bush, and 8 years of W Bush we are still reeling from.

What we need is a series of presidents who can inspire Americans to understand that this course has magnified poverty to the point where most Americans in poverty are employed. They work so hard that they don't have the time and energy to raise their children properly but still often have no health care, no emergency benefits, and are victimized by higher costs for everything from banking, (check cashing places, payday lenders, and/or high fees for bounced checks) insurance (rates set by credit score) and purchases (the poorest pay the highest interest rates on everything from credit cards to auto loans). The new bankruptcy laws were written by the banking and credit card industry! The energy companies and auto manufacturers wrote new environmental laws, and the current administration has done everything it could to politicize both the justice system and science research so that findings favorable to conservatives are promoted and those favorable to consumers and environmentalists are hidden.

Please, whatever choice you make in the presidential election, make sure it is because you know what the problems are and whether or not the solutions proposed might work.

If you want to see a great presidential contest, watch Kennedy and Nixon debate. The more of the debates you watch, the more you will understand what a poor imitation we have today of a contest where two men vying for the presidency explain what it is that they would do about problems facing our nation. Every one of the topics they discuss is still relevant today, but most of you will have never heard most of the topics even mentioned—much less understand what import each choice has for the United States.

Today, people promise solutions without explaining how their solution works. They have learned that as soon as they say what they will do, their ideas are attacked.

So, to judge what your new president will do, look at the last ones. McCain will be much like Reagan, Nixon and the two Bushes. Obama will be more like Kennedy and Clinton. What makes sense to you? (Don't answer that until you read a little history that was NOT written by politicians trying to get your vote).

If we all just gave our favorite politicians $5 each, we'd be the special interests paying for access. There are 330 million of us, and money is power. Give to the politicians you support. Then pay attention and hold them accountable!

Whoever you support—VOTE!