Archive for July 22nd, 2011

Advice for Norway

| July 22, 2011 | 3 Replies

Two weeks ago, my 12-year old daughter and I strolled through downtown Oslo. It was a beautiful city back then, as it will again be someday soon. As my nieces pointed out the various government buildings at the center of downtown, I remember commenting, “They are so very accessible,” meaning that there were no imposing walls surrounding them, and I didn’t see any heavily armed guards.  I’m attaching a couple photos I took in downtown Oslo during my trip.   As I walked around, the thought keep recurring: This would be a wonderful place to live (I write this based on many conversations I’ve had with Norwegians, such as this one).

And now it deeply saddens me to hear of the recent bombing and shootings.

I would only have one bit of advice for the Norwegians:  Don’t do what the U.S. did after 9/11.

Don’t trash your civil liberties.  Don’t vilify each other based on “lack of patriotism.”    Don’t drum up evidence to start an unnecessary war somewhere.   If your conservatives become overt warmongerers as a result of these tragedies, demand that they provide substantial evidence to substantiate whatever claims they make.  Whoever caused this, be very careful to not overgeneralize your anger toward large groups of people who are innocent.   Don’t get suckered into draining your treasury to feed new-found paranoia.  Don’t become a closed society.  Don’t let anyone disparage the importance of your civil rights. Don’t let this tragedy define you or obsess you.   Beware that a bomb can, if you are not careful, become a fuse to a much bigger self-imposed tragedy. Don’t self-destruct, like the United States is doing.

To my Norwegian friends and family, I am so very saddened to hear of this tragedy.   I love your country.

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An obvious way to cut the deficit

| July 22, 2011 | Reply
An obvious way to cut the deficit

Alan Grayson included me in his recent mass-emailing on the topic of the budget deficit. Guess how he would cut the deficit?

Last year, we spent $154 billion in appropriated funds on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is in addition to the $549 billion in appropriated funds for the Pentagon – you know, just to keep the lights on. And the non-appropriated cost of war was even higher – especially when you include the cost of care for the 15% of all the American troops in Iraq who come home with permanent brain abnormalities. According to Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, the war in Iraq alone is costing us $4 trillion and counting. That’s more than $13,000 for every one of us, and roughly 8% of our entire net worth as a nation.

The cost of war is enormous. So enormous that, as I pointed out in H.R. 5353, The War is Making You Poor Act, if we simply funded that cost through the Pentagon’s own budget, rather than through supplemental appropriations, we could eliminate taxes on everyone’s first $35,000 of income ($70,000 for married couples), and still reduce the deficit by more than $10 billion a year.

And that was last year. Since then, the number of wars has gone up by 50%.

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It’s time for Amazon to start paying sales tax

| July 22, 2011 | 5 Replies
It’s time for Amazon to start paying sales tax

America has a long track record or the dangers of monopolies. With the closing of Borders, Amazon is one step closer to becoming a monopoly. At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum makes a strong case that Amazon maintains its position of strength thanks to the fact that it doesn’t collect sales tax.

For all its talk of technology and convenience and selection, Amazon basically stays in business because it can charge slightly lower prices than brick-and-mortar stores. A level playing field might be good for state coffers and the schools and police officers they support, but to Amazon that doesn’t matter. It’s nothing personal, mind you. Just business.

Local bookstores are more than commercial enterprises. They are social institutions, where people meet, share ideas and organize. This pertains especially to independent book sellers, but it occurs at all bookstores because they tend to attract open-minded socially responsible people. If we don’t stop the current trend, the market will be completely dominated by a cyber-bookshop, leaving local communities in the lurch.

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Why are Obama’s supporters not expressing outrage at his actions?

| July 22, 2011 | 11 Replies
Why are Obama’s supporters not expressing outrage at his actions?

Glenn Greenwald sums up the problem at the U.K. Guardian:

The same Democratic president who supported the transfer of $700bn to bail out Wall Street banks, who earlier this year signed an extension of Bush’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and who has escalated America’s bankruptcy-inducing posture of Endless War, is now trying to reduce the debt by cutting benefits for America’s most vulnerable – at the exact time that economic insecurity and income inequality are at all-time highs.

Where is the “epic shitstorm” from the left which Black predicted? With a few exceptions – the liberal blog FiredogLake has assembled 50,000 Obama supporters vowing to withhold re-election support if he follows through, and a few other groups have begun organising as well – it’s nowhere to be found.

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama’s legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left’s political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party’s leader endorses – even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.

And that’s just the beginning of the problem with Obama. Consider the damage he has done on other issues.

Obama has continued Bush/Cheney terrorism policies – once viciously denounced by Democrats – of indefinite detention, renditions, secret prisons by proxy, and sweeping secrecy doctrines.He has gone further than his predecessor by waging an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, seizing the power to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process far from any battlefield, massively escalating drone attacks in multiple nations, and asserting the authority to unilaterally prosecute a war (in Libya) even in defiance of a Congressional vote against authorising the war.

Greenwald’s article contains many links documenting Obama’s abysmal record.

Obama has destroyed the modicum of “hope” that I still had. I am now convinced that there is no solution to our biggest problems by using the system. On the national level, voting is a charade to trick ordinary folks into thinking that they have a voice in their government–they’ve been tricked into thinking that voting is adequate and responsible citizen participation. What we need, more than ever, is for people to turn off their TVs and to stop living in the fantasy world of sports teams and movie stars. We have a country to run, and we have President who does what loud and obnoxious people tell him to do. We need to become loud and obnoxious if we are to get Barack Obama to do the right thing, because he has proven himself to be, at best, a channeler, not a leader. We need to challenge him by calling him out and labeling him for what he is: Not-Leader! I write this as a person who financially supported Obama and voted for him. And I would still support him over McCain/Palin or any modern-day equivalents.

The big question, then is how we get the voters to wake up from their fantasies, to become well-informed and to loudly demand that our elected representatives run the country in a responsible and sustainable way. How do we get citizens to express unrelenting outrage at the corrupting influence of the current system of financing campaigns with huge sums of private (mostly corporate) money? Anything less is nihilism. Perhaps that is what we need to start calling Americans who think that the mere act of reading their crappy local newspapers, watching the most popular versions of TV “news” and voting makes them responsible citizens: Nihilists!

Perhaps I am able to see Obama for what he is because I am not very “tribal.” I agree with Glenn Greenwald that “tribalism” is why progressives are not speaking out against the man they supported for President. It’s time to stop being tribal. That would be the start of a solution.

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