A Case For Renaming The Department Of Defense.

Until 1947, the United States military operated under the name Department of War.  At that time, it split into the Department of the Army, the Department of the Air Force and the Department of the Navy. Then, in 1949, the service branches were brought together under a new name – the Department of Defense (DoD). Tired of war, our representative government apparently intended the new name to reflect a change of philosophy; one that would prioritize the defense of our homelands so that we would never again experience a Pearl Harbor.

If that truly was the case, the name has long since become a misnomer;

Since the name change, the US has been involved in dozens of wars on foreign soil (Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, Libya, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and more). Not one of these wars involved military actions in defense of our homeland. Indeed, the Department of Defense is no longer tasked with defending our borders. Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, that task has been left to DHS, the Border Patrol, US Customs, the US Coast Guard and the National Guard.

The Department of Defense has, instead, been given the task of projecting our military power to lands far from our shores in support of our corporations and allies. The DoD currently has more than 700 bases of operations in 59 nations around the world. Most are merely anachronistic reminders of World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War. So, too, is the name.

Why does the name matter?

It’s not merely a matter of accuracy. Calling the War Department a Defense Department is a form of propaganda. It engenders blind loyalty. After all, which would you more likely support? A military devoted to defense? Or a military devoted to war? Are you more likely to thank a soldier who is serving in defense of our country? Or a mercenary who is waging war in another land on behalf of greedy corporations?

Names matter. Truth matters.

If we are ever going to end our endless participation in wars, we must first be honest with ourselves. We must understand exactly who and what we are fighting for. We must be certain that our military has the right assets for the defense of our nation and its citizens. We must be certain that our military budget is well-spent. We must be certain that we are fighting for the ideals our nation was founded upon. We must be certain that we are fighting for personal freedom and liberty.

Not merely imposing our will on other people.

Why We Can Never Return To The Nostalgic Post-War US Of The Baby Boomers.

The Baby Boomers who comprise the majority of the Tea Party movement fondly recall the world of their youth; a world of cheap gasoline, muscle cars, rock ‘n roll, full employment and US world dominance. They want that world back. And they are convinced that the only thing standing between them and the world of their youth is a liberal, out-of-control government that wastes their money on freeloaders.

I have bad news for them. That world no longer exists. And it’s never coming back.

You see, following World War II, we were one of the few countries that had not suffered significant destruction. While much of Germany, Japan, Italy, France, Belgium, Poland, Great Britain and the Soviet Union had been flattened, the US was essentially unscathed. That led to unprecedented industrial production and wealth for the US. We produced an astounding 50 percent of the world’s goods and services…goods needed to rebuild much of the world. We held two-thirds of the world’s gold. And Americans were looking to the future by investing in education and infrastructure through increased tax rates.

For those in the US, life was good. Really good!

Now contrast that situation with today’s economy. Instead of making the materials to rebuild other nations, we must now compete with them. Instead of exporting manufactured goods, we have been exporting middle class jobs. Taxes are near 60-year lows, reducing revenues and forcing our government to borrow money in order to maintain our crumbling infrastructure. We are recovering from the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression and two unfunded wars. And, according to Teapublicans, it’s all the fault of President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Say what?

The nostalgic world of the fifties and sixties was not the norm and never could be. Moreover, Americans got fat (literally) and lazy. We also got greedy. Instead of investing in our future, we cut taxes. Instead of maintaining our manufacturing base, our corporations became engaged in a race to the bottom looking for impoverished populations they could exploit in order to lower their labor costs. Instead of forcing multinational corporations to pay the true cost of energy and transportation, politicians enabled the export of jobs through government subsidies. And instead of promoting hard work and the American Dream, we eliminated estate taxes allowing the wealthy to create dynasties leading to unprecedented income disparity.

Truth is, today’s situation is the result of decades of bad political decisions…most originating during the Reagan administration. Doubling down on those policies, as the Tea Party demands, will not help. Instead of taking us back to the days of Leave It To Beaver, they’re more likely to take us back to the days of Oliver Twist and Scrooge.

Public Versus Private. Corporations Versus People.

Ever since President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” conservatives have attributed virtually all of our problems to the federal government. They believe that the government cannot do anything well. As a result, they have continually cut taxes in order to starve the government of revenue, making it less effective and less efficient so it better lives up to their expectations.

At the same time, conservatives have pushed to privatize many government functions. Private, for-profit contractors now handle many of the functions that our military once did, including food service, transportation, supply and security. Both state and federal governments have awarded contracts to private prison corporations. Public education now competes for funding with private charter schools. Even our most sensitive spying and surveillance programs have been outsourced to private companies as evidenced by the revelations surrounding Edward Snowden.

But are these private entities really better than the government? Is the government really the problem? Much of the evidence says no.

The jury is still out on whether or not privatizing our military is a good idea, but there have been numerous embarrassing incidents in which private contractors were accused of committing war crimes. As for private prisons, studies have shown that they cost far more per inmate than public prisons, even though private prisons refuse to accept high security prisoners and those with chronic illnesses. And a study by Stanford University has shown that private charter schools perform no better than public schools.

Moreover, the 2013 Customer Rage Survey by Customer Care Measurement and Consulting and the Arizona State University W. P. Carey School of Business found that the percentage of people with customer service problems grew from 32 percent in 1976 to 50 percent in 2013. And 56 percent of those who complained in 2013 remain unsatisfied. Most telling is the fact that 98 percent of the most serious customer service problems involved private companies. Only 2 percent were associated with the government!

How can that be? Is it possible Reagan was wrong?

The truth is, our government is ultimately accountable to us. It may seem big and uncaring, but one election can change everything. On the other hand, today’s giant financial institutions and multinational corporations have little accountability to customers. Certainly, you can move your account from a large bank to a smaller one, but the likelihood is that it, too, is controlled by a large holding company. You can switch insurance companies and find that the new company is just as difficult to deal with as the previous one. Likewise, you can get rid of your cable company, but your satellite provider may not be any more responsive. Indeed, it may be worse.

The problem is not a matter of public versus private. Most customer service problems stem from bureaucracy – both public and private.

But our most serious problem involves both public and private institutions. It centers on the alliance between government and large corporations based on disproportionate access and influence. Consider, for example, the alliance between the George W. Bush White House and Richard “The Dick” Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, which was awarded billions in no-compete military contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan; or the alliance between Ohio congressional representatives (both Republican and Democrat) and the Ohio contractor for Abrams tanks which was awarded a contract for additional tanks that the Army neither wants or needs; or the alliance between Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s staff and a private prison company which led to the company receiving multi-million dollar contracts for private prisons. There are many, many more examples.

Not surprisingly, many of the government’s most outspoken critics are conservatives who will gladly spend money to enrich their districts, their states, their corporate friends and themselves.

Mourning Mandela.

It has been said that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. No statement more accurately describes Nelson Mandela.

Mandela began his career as an activist by non-violently demonstrating against South African apartheid. When the white South African government responded with exceptional brutality, Mandela and his followers reluctantly turned to terrorism. But rather than kill people, their intent was to blow up buildings in order to make a statement and disrupt the government.That led to Mandela being tried for conspiracy to overthrow the government and being sentenced to life in jail. With most of the world supporting sanctions against South Africa and, with Mandela as a symbol for freedom, the government was eventually forced to release Mandela and apartheid finally came to an end.

Yet Mandela’s political career was just beginning.

Having won freedom for himself and his people, Mandela directed his energies toward healing the wounds of apartheid. He was elected president of South Africa and, rather than seeking retribution for the crimes of the previous government, Mandela promoted national unity. Is it any wonder, then, that Nelson Mandela is now celebrated by most of the world?

That was not always the case.

Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Richard “The Dick” Cheney and other conservatives considered Mandela a terrorist and placed him on the terrorist watch list. Although Reagan publicly spoke against apartheid, he vetoed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. His veto was over-ridden by Congress. But Reagan defiantly refused to implement many of the sanctions against the South African apartheid government, and Mandela was kept on the US terrorist list until July of 2008.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who follows today’s GOP.

Since implementation of the Southern Strategy beginning in the late 1960’s, the GOP has almost completely rejected its glorious past as the party of emancipation, consistently coming down on the wrong side of history. The GOP refuses to vote for comprehensive immigration reform. It has fought against gay rights and gay marriage. It has relentlessly attacked a woman’s right to make medical choices regarding her own body. Republican legislatures have pushed through unnecessary voter ID laws in order to restrict the voting rights of minorities.

Despite Mandela’s victory over discrimination, despite his Nobel Peace Prize, despite worldwide acclaim and despite the sorrow so eloquently expressed by people the world over, even now, some in the GOP refuse to acknowledge his greatness simply because Mandela believed in economic equality as well as racial equality. That made Mandela a communist and a danger to the wealthy and the powerful, a claim that defacto GOP leader, Rush Limbaugh, recently leveled against Pope Francis.

The fact is, Nelson Mandela fought the good fight. He helped to liberate tens of thousands of people. He inspired millions more. We should all strive to do even half as much. Most especially those in the GOP.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Nelson Mandela

Conservatives Take Aim At Government Labor Unions.

This year, conservatives are gathering lumps of coal for most Americans’ Christmas stockings. We can soon expect to see multi-million dollar assaults on many of the nation’s remaining social institutions and programs. At the federal level, conservatives in Congress are seeking to cut another $4 billion to 40 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. They are also targeting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance. And they are fighting attempts to increase the minimum wage despite the fact that large corporations have raked in record profits since the beginning of the Great Recession, and that wage growth is our main impediment to economic growth.

Conservatives are facing a severe time crunch in order to accomplish these goals. You see, the economy is finally showing signs of real growth. That means more Americans are working and paying taxes, thereby reducing the drain on social programs and lowering the deficit. As the deficit disappears so, too, does the conservatives’ primary argument for slashing social programs and cutting spending.

If conservatives are going to force more austerity and “personal responsibility” on poor Americans, squash labor unions, slash corporate taxes and head off a growing environmental movement, they have to do it now while the deficit is still inflated due to the effects of the Great Recession.

That’s why, as The Guardian reported, the State Policy Network funded by the Koch brothers is coordinating an all-out assault on government and social institutions in 34 states beginning early next year. The focus is on cutting pensions and wages for government workers, cutting budgets for public schools through voucher programs, and combatting attempts to reduce greenhouse gases. But, undoubtedly, the primary goal of the campaign is to rid the country of labor unions, particularly those in the public sector.

Of course, virtually none of their goals are actually good for our country. They are, however, great for large corporations, their executives and their investors.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. Conservatives have been fighting organized labor since the 1800’s. Labor unions grew in the 1930’s following the Great Depression when workers realized that the economic collapse was caused by the rich and their insatiable appetites for more wealth. But labor unions have been under attack ever since. The attacks accelerated during the Reagan administration leading to a decline in union membership, the elimination of more than 85,000 pension plans since 1980, and the export of hundreds of thousands of American jobs. As more high-paying labor jobs were sent offshore, union membership further declined. At the same time, large corporations like Walmart fought to block the unionization of their workers. As a result, union membership declined 11.3 percent in 2012 alone. Simultaneously, corporate profits have soared. But that largess has not been shared with workers.

There is, however, one sector of our economy in which labor unions are alive and well. The percentage of union membership among government workers is now 5 times higher than for workers in private companies. Given their contempt for unions and government, that figure makes public sector unions a tantalizing target for people like the Koch brothers. Their control of workers and the disassembling of government won’t be complete until labor unions no longer exist, corporate taxes are eliminated and the federal government is reduced to the Department of Defense. (After all, somebody has to defend them from those who would like to claim part of their wealth.)

Want to learn more about the attacks on American workers? I highly recommend The Betrayal of the American Dream by Barlett and Steele.

The Tao Of Politics.

I am not a Taoist. Nevertheless, I have learned that the philosophy of Taoism has much to offer. The Taoist concept of Yin and Yang holds that nothing is ever entirely black or white; hard or soft; good or bad. Taoism teaches that good people can do bad things. It also teaches that those we consider bad can, on occasion, do good things.

This is particularly true as it pertains to politics.

For example, I know many who are otherwise caring, loving people who would deny food, shelter, health care and other human necessities to the unfortunate simply because their Republican Party preaches personal responsibility. They have become convinced that the poor are merely taking advantage of those of us who have been successful. They want to believe that the majority of the poor are lazy. Such thinking allows them to look the other way when they see someone who is in desperate need of help.

They cannot conceive that someone can work hard and still struggle to feed their families because they are underpaid by large, greedy corporations. They falsely believe that minimum wage jobs are entry level jobs that are the first step up the economic ladder. In past times, that may have been true. But in today’s economy, with many of our high-paying jobs now shipped offshore, for many people, the economic ladder has been pushed aside by greedy corporate executives.

Many Republicans refuse to accept that the American Dream no longer exists for many people; that the US is not the land of opportunity it once was; that no amount of hard work can pull many of the unfortunate out of poverty; that the US now has less upward mobility than most of the rest of the industrialized world.

As a result, many good Republicans cheered when the federal government cut $5 billion from the annual budget of SNAP (food stamps) – an amount equal to all of the charitable organizations in the nation (501c4 “charities” such as American Crossroads and FreedomWorks, not included). The same people who would gladly give food and money to a family member or neighbor are still clamoring to cut another $4-40 billion from SNAP at a time when 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 American children are dealing with hunger.

These grinches are not bad people. They are simply uninformed or misinformed.

These champions of personal responsibility and faith are convinced that social safety nets are not only unnecessary. They believe that social programs are creating a culture of dependence. They believe that the minimum wage, labor unions and government regulation are threats to our economy.

They believe that subsidies and giveaways to large corporations are good. But that subsidies and giveaways to people are bad. Why? If it’s true that corporations are people, shouldn’t they both be treated equally? If a half dozen banks are considered too big to fail, shouldn’t group consisting of millions of poor Americans also be considered too big to fail?

Taoism teaches that all things are part of a greater whole – the great Tao – and that if you harm another, in reality you harm yourself. Caring Republicans would be wise to keep that in mind.

Impeach Obama?

In the fantasy world of right wing crazies, the impeachment of President Obama is becoming a greater possibility. For example, Michele “Batsh*t Crazy” Bachmann recently told viewers of Fox News Channel that President Obama has “rewritten the Constitution to serve his own purposes.” First, I doubt that Bachmann has ever actually read the Constitution. Second, the “evidence” she used to support her claim is the Affordable Care Act (ACA)…a bill passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld as constitutional by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court.

Some evidence.

Bachmann isn’t the only mental hospital escapee making such claims. At Tea Party rallies throughout the US, it’s common to see people holding “Impeach Obama” signs or verbally calling for the president’s impeachment. Even worse, numerous Teapublican congressmen have suggested that impeachment may soon be “necessary.” To justify their calls for impeachment, they point to manufactured “scandals” such as Benghazi.  But, unlike his predecessor who ignored numerous warnings prior to 9/11 and led our nation into war under false pretenses, President Obama has done absolutely nothing to warrant impeachment. And, just one year ago, voters had the ultimate opportunity to remove him from office.

It’s called an election.

Unfortunately for Teapublicans, they lost…badly. Nevertheless, Teapublicans continue to blame the president for their own failings. They ran up the debt with their wars and tax cuts and blamed it on Obama. They collapsed the economy and blamed Obama for unemployment. They created the debt crisis in 2011 and blamed Obama for the damage done. They have used the filibuster to nullify many of the president’s initiatives and to block many of his appointments and nominations.

They cry that Obama “refuses to defend our border” despite the fact that the Obama administration has doubled the size of the Border Patrol and invested billions in a border fence. They forced our government into sequestration then howled when the cuts resulted in long lines at airport screening. Most recently, they shut down our government then blamed Obama for parks and monuments being closed.

They continue to complain that Obama was foreign born (he was not) though their most vociferous whiner and presidential wannabe, Ted Cruz, was born in Canada. They attacked Obama for attending a “radical” black Christian church yet claim he’s a Muslim (as if that’s something bad). They howl about the start-up issues with the ACA website despite the fact that they have done everything in their power to sabotage it. They not only withheld much of the funding needed for its creation, Teapublican-controlled states refused to implement their own health insurance exchanges, forcing millions more Americans to log onto www.HealthCare.gov to find health care coverage.

Now Teapublicans are back home holding town halls and giving speeches about the evils of Obamacare. They are also inviting people to bring their “horror stories” about Obamacare. One can only imagine that they will spend their last 8 working days of 2013 reading these anecdotal, and likely false, stories into the congressional record and voting to repeal the law for the 48th time. And don’t be surprised if, next year, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Paul Gosar and others use these stories as the basis for impeachment.

Knowing that impeachment is doomed to fail unless they gain control of the Senate, Teapublican congressmen are also continuing their attempts to destroy the Obama presidency by refusing to negotiate a budget and refusing to raise the debt ceiling which would force the US treasury into default. Never mind that such a move would have severe and long-lasting consequences for the world economy and our nation’s ability to borrow. It might even cause the world to replace the dollar as the world’s prime currency. But in the minds of many Teapublicans, such realities are dwarfed by their dislike for President Obama.

Teapublican hatred has no bounds.

The Sovereign State Of Arizona?

The State of Arizona has always been home to a somewhat contentious sort of people. Settled by prospectors and ranchers, many of whom were escaping the rules of civilization, it has never had a warm relationship with Washington. Yet, it has long sought to benefit from federal largess.

Prior to 1912, the people of Arizona Territory begged the US for statehood in order to receive the benefits and protection that would come with it. However, they didn’t want to give up any power to the nation they hoped to join. The territory wanted to claim sovereignty over all of the land within its borders, despite the fact that the Grand Canyon and surrounding lands had been named a National Park by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The Territory also wanted to maintain control over federal judges.

At the time, most Americans were opposed to Arizona statehood. It was felt that the Territory was a lawless frontier. But, eventually, Americans were convinced to offer Arizona statehood based on its deposits of valuable minerals. So in 1912, Arizona became the 48th state in the Union.

Two conditions of statehood were that the federal government would control the National Parks and National Forests and that Arizona would give up the recall of judges. Almost immediately after its statehood was ratified, Arizona reasserted its authority to recall judges. More recently, the Republican and Tea Party-dominated State Legislature has been trying to undo the other condition for statehood by repeatedly calling for sovereignty over all the lands within Arizona’s borders, and calling for nullification of any federal laws or orders the Arizona Legislature considers unconstitutional.

In other words, Arizona wants to be a state, but only on its own terms. Indeed, this attitude was clearly on display when Governor Brewer wagged her finger in the face of President Obama.

Yet, despite its distaste for the federal government, the state relies heavily on federal funds. The state receives nearly $2,000 more per citizen in federal funds than it pays in taxes. It receives subsidies for its roads and its schools, as well as supplemental food and other economic assistance for much of its population.

Recently, Arizona went cowboy hat in hand seeking billions more in federal expenditures for Luke Air Force Base to receive a new F-35 fighter wing. The state also requested (more accurately, demanded) billions more in federal aid for a costly border fence and thousands of US Border Patrol agents.

More than 100 years after receiving statehood, the State of Arizona is still relatively lawless thanks to the nation’s most lax gun laws. Much of it is still a wasteland…only now it’s home to millions living in denial that they can continue to drain the rivers and aquifers in order to golf on lush, green fairways without consequences. And its Tea Party Parasites and politicians still think they should be able to dictate terms to the federal government while enjoying all the benefits of federal taxpayer money.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope that the state may eventually embrace its statehood. The few moderate Republicans in the Arizona Legislature actually voted with Democrats to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That’s great for Arizona’s poor and uninsured. On the other hand, it means that Arizona will soon receive billions more in federal funds.

What a state…er…nation…whatever…