Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Defund the military

Suppose you are looking forward to a leisurely bath but find that the water pipes have sprung a leak. You call the plumber who crawls behind the tub with a great deal of groaning. When he emerges he proclaims the pipes repaired and charges $150. Alas, the next day, you discover that the pipes are still leaking. You might call the same plumber to complain, but you would certainly call on someone else to repair your pipes.
If a doctor you consult on some illness prescribed medicines that only worsen your condition, you will consult another physician.
It is common sense that when you consult a professional you will only trust your business to them for a second time if they solved your problem before. Whether its a plumber or a doctor, a car mechanic or a therapist, you don't return to anyone who did not help you the first time.
Everyone knows that.
But we do not follow that rule when it comes to national security. Since World War II our military has been involved in four serious wars and lost every one of them.
To be sure, they covered themselves with glory when they invaded Granada (Population 150,500) under President Reagan, and Panama (Population 3.8 million) during the first President Bush. But those were not serious wars for the most militarily powerful country in the world.
But Korea is still divided, Vietnam is ruled by the Communist Party. In the Iraq, daily bombings claim a steady number of Iraqi lives. It is not clear that 10 years of military occupation has improved lives for the long-suffering citizens of that country. We are about to leave Afghanistan after 12 years of combat. There is little reason to think that the current Afghani government will be able to resist the Taliban. After 12 years of war, security in Afghanistan is pretty unchanged from what it was in 2002.
Our military – and that includes the civilian leadership – is spectacularly ineffective. Investing billions of dollars in incredibly complex machinery, they are unable to pacify countries that fight 19th century style insurgencies.
All of this is important because it is budget time once again and the military is asking for roughly $925 billion. The generals, richly bemedaled, because they keep handing out citations to each other, appear before Congress to testify about the threat to national security if their budgets are cut. But it is not lack of money, or young men and women willing to sacrifice that made us lose wars over and over.
The military is completely unsuccessful. It is unable to win any real war. What is more they are accustomed to declare victories when they are defeated. Surely the sensible policy would be to reduce military budget by at least $300 billion.
That is about half of this year's government deficit.
If we also defunded the CIA and NSA, the budget deficit would be completely wiped out. We might even have some money left over to improve the lives of the poorest citizens of our country.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Oh, Oh, Obama!
The President is having a hard time of it. The New Health Care law is not working as promised. Our supposed allies are furious at US spying on their leaders. Our Mideast policy has everyone saying that Obama is indecisive and a wimp. In politics—still a male dominated occupation—being a wimp is a lot worse than being slightly unhinged like some of the Tea Party folks or intellectually challenged like our previous president.
The problems of the Health Care law are many. The failure of the computer system looks on the outside like sheer incompetence. But it may well be worse than that. In Massachusetts, a private software company had a very large contract to overhaul the unemployment payment system. After spending a lot of money the State got a system that was not, and still is not working. That is only a few years after the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives went to prison for corruption, involving another software contract that ended with a system that did not work. It is not being paranoid to wonder whether the architects of the Health Care Enrollment web-sites also profited from being good buddies or even financial benefactors of the bureaucrats in charge of the computer portions of the new health care system.
But this is of course only one of the problems of the health care law. Premiums vary from state to state because different private insurance companies are involved. In many places citizens have a dizzying number of different health plans to choose from, each pretty inscrutable because the for-profit companies that sell those plans, are quite willing to mislead their customers. Recently many persons who have had insurance they were satisfied with, had their policies canceled, in spite of Obama's promise that that would not happen. His excuse: it was not the government that canceled the plans but private insurers. But private insurers are the main sellers of insurance. Only the poor are insured by the government, through Medicaid, and the elderly get a portion of their insurance from the government.
But all these problems are a direct result of cobbling together a government program that will enable private, for-profit companies to sell more and more expensive insurance. Obama answers in the affirmative when asked whether it is legitimate for insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals and doctors to make, in some cases, obscene profits off the illness and suffering of their fellow citizens, That is no surprise. When he was first elected, Obama surrounded himself with people closely involved in the wheeling and dealing by bankers and financial speculators who caused the current recession.
Obama appears indecisive. He never says to anyone: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He is always willing to make accommodations, complicated deals even where his partners are dangerous and quite unscrupulous.
In foreign policy, where Obama is being roundly attacked by everyone, I think we must actually acknowledge that his willingness to negotiate and make deals is to everyone's advantage. He is acting with admirable caution and patience and is, most likely, doing much better than his predecessors and the senators who are grandstanding and accusing him of having no strategic vision.
His critics accuse him of not having a “strategy” – a clear-cut plan like a paint-by-the-numbers picture where you do one thing, and another, to reach a pre-established goal. An example of “having a strategy” was going to Afghanistan and telling the government there to give us Osama bin Laden. If not, we said, we destroy your country. Instead of handing over Osama, as we demanded, they wanted to negotiate. We, however, followed our plan and destroyed their country.
In retrospect that is not really such an admirable method for doing foreign policy. A bit of flexibility would have been really useful.
Obama, by contrast, is cautious and flexible. In very complicated situations with many players and shifting balances of power, he is ready to change his tack when he sees in negotiations a more peaceful, a less destructive possibility. Instead of bombing Syria, he now has people trying to find and destroy its chemical weapons. Instead of continuing harsh talk and treatment of Iran, there are now negotiations about the Iranian nuclear project.
For the sake of peace, he is willing to be accused of being a wimp. One must to admire that.
What Obama fails to see is that the private insurance industry, Wall Street, the banks, and the panoply of government security agencies are a greater threat to our liberties than Syria's poison gas and Iran's nuclear fuel production. While it is the better part of wisdom to negotiate with Iran and Syria, it is a serious error to invite the insurance companies into an expanded national healthcare scheme or to place Wall Street bankers in charge of national economic policy.
If you can persuade the armed gunmen about to invade your house to go away, you have done a great and good thing. If you invite the termites to eat up your house from the inside, you have gone too far with being conciliatory.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Unsung heroes

Many Americans are proud that we now have a Black president – ignoring for a moment all those who are struck with apoplexy by the same fact.
I have been reading Howard Zinn's book about SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that fought the brutal reign of terror wielded by small-town police and sheriffs over the African American citizens in the states of deep South. They fought that tyrannical regime by sitting in at lunch counters, by demonstrating, by desegregating waiting rooms and buses. They helped many blacks to register to vote, often in counties where no black person had dared to register before. Most of all they fought by inviting arrest, knowing that once in jail they were liable to be beaten within an inch of their life, knowing that their houses were liable to be bombed, or shot up by drive-by attacks.
We owe it to them that we have a black president today. But our debt to them is rarely acknowledged. Every town in the eastern portion of the United States boasts a memorial to the soldiers of the Civil War—the war we still have not been able to get over. Every town has memorials for the soldiers who fought in World War I, in Korea, in Vietnam, and civic leaders are now getting ready for the next set of memorials for the soldiers in the most recent wars. But no one commemorates the brave black teenagers and college students to whom we are indebted for what ever easing of racial hostilities we are now enjoying.
We just recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's speech in Washington DC. Every pundit repeats the inane “I have a dream. . .” line. But Martin Luther King, however brave and powerful himself, did not win relative improvement for African-Americans himself. It was not Martin Luther King who reduced white America's shame for the oppression and exploitation of Blacks. That was won through the heroism of hundreds of young men and women, most of them black, and of their white supporters. To them we owe so much.
Today is Veteran's Day when we celebrate the veterans of foreign wars. It is high time that we also honor the veteran's of the wars at home in these ceremonies.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Coke runnin' 'round my brain . . . .

A few years ago the Koch brothers (pronounced “coke”) were just a couple of little know billionaires.
But then they became known as the financial angels and organizers of various Tea Party groups. Groups that supposedly are fueled by the political outrage of common people, are actually created by two billionaires.
They also put their money into organizations that assert loudly that there is no global warming. While there is solid scientific consensus that global warming is real and caused by human activities, the energy industries in which the Coke brothers are big wheels, spend a good deal of money keeping the doubts alive whether, maybe, there really is no such thing as global warming
Now it turns out that some of those billions come from refining Canadian tar sands—the crude that is supposed to flow all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in the Keystone XL pipeline.
This is very heavy oil and the refining process produces a black powder called “pet-coke” that the Coke (aka Koch) Brothers are storing on the water front in Detroit and in Chicago. Large dumps of fine black powder blows all over the neighborhoods adjacent to the harbors in Detroit and Chicago, causing serious respiratory difficulties for many of the common people. 

The Coke brothers bring us the Tea Party, global warming deniers, and mountains of Pet Coke that make poor people sick in Detroit and Chicago.
Their magic weapon is money.
The product of tar sands and pet coke is a sea of money, a drug that is totally addictive to politicians. Their heads addled by the addictive drug of generous campaign funds dispensed by the coke brothers, Congress people recently shut down the government. What is worse, they undermined the international standing of the US by coming very close to forcing the government to default on its debts.
Now they are considering a repeat performance.
Coke whether in the form of two billionaire brothers, the by product of tar sands refining, or the addicting campaign fund drugs are always bad news.

Hey baby, better come here quick,
This old Koch is ‘bout to make me sick.
Koch running all around my brain.