The Constitutional Fight That Never Seems To End.

You may think that the current debate between the Tea Party and Democrats over the role of the federal government is relatively new. It’s not. The debate is as old as the nation itself. Following the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there was an intense debate over the same issue.

Anti-Federalists such as Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason and John Hancock were against the Constitution. They feared that a strong federal government would lead to monarchy. They believed that the bulk of the power should rest with the states and saw no value in abandoning the original Articles of Confederation. They feared an independent judiciary and disliked the separation of Church and State.

On the other hand, Federalists such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin believed the Articles of Confederation were too weak, and that a strong central government was necessary to hold the new nation together and raise the revenue needed to fund military pensions, foreign embassies, etc.

The Federalists won, but the fight has never ended.

One could make a strong case that this very issue led to the Civil War.  The South claimed states’ rights in order to maintain slavery.  And, following the war, former Confederate states complained of oppression by the federal government during Reconstruction, vowing that the South would rise again.

The issue resurfaced following World War II with the John Birch Society.  It was, once again, front and center during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

Now the Tea Party is leading the fight.

To support their beliefs, the Tea Party faithful, along with the nitwits on Fox News and talk radio, selectively quote the Founding Fathers in order to convince us that they (the Tea Party) are the true patriots; that they are merely doing as the Founders wanted.

What they neglect to mention is that there are at least as many quotes by Founding Fathers extolling the virtues of a strong federal government.  Moreover, the Constitution itself is evidence that the Federalists prevailed, as the Constitution is the very instrument that created the strong federal government in its current form.

The teabaggers can complain all they want about the federal government being too big and  too powerful.  They really can’t change that without abandoning the Constitution or starting another Civil War.  And we all know how the first one turned out.

If you’d like to learn more about this subject, I highly recommend That’s Not What They Meant!  Reclaiming The Founding Fathers From America’s Right Wing by Michael Austin.

Most U.S. Problems Are The Result Of The 2000 Election.

In some ways, those who predicted apocalyptic disaster as the result of Y2K were right. No, our computers did not stop working.  No, the millennium did not lead to the end of the world. But we did experience a disaster nonetheless.

Despite winning the majority of the popular vote, Al Gore was denied a recount in Florida and, as a result, the White House. Consider, for a moment, the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision to award George W. Bush the presidency.

That unpopular decision led to almost all of our most intractable problems.

Let’s begin with 9/11.  A Gore administration likely would have continued most of the policies of the Clinton administration, including its attempt to kill Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda with a cruise missile (a strike derided by Bush as “sending a million dollar missile to blow up a camel tent”).  Unlike Bush, President Gore almost certainly would have listened to warnings by counter-terrorism experts of an imminent strike in the US using hijacked airliners.

And without 9/11, we wouldn’t have become mired in the 10-year war in Afghanistan which has cost us trillions of dollars.

Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that a Gore administration would have falsified evidence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq, leading to a second war costing trillions more dollars.

As for our economy, Gore would have continued the Clinton administration’s policies which led to budget surpluses – surpluses that were on track to eliminate the national debt by the end of 2012.  The Bush tax cuts, which added hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt, never would have happened (at least, not until the debt was nearly paid off).

As vice-president, Al Gore led the successful Reinventing Government Program that streamlined the federal government and cut wasteful spending.  He likely would have continued that program as president, continuing to down-size government.

Bush, on the other hand, oversaw the largest increase of the federal government in history!

Finally, Gore almost certainly would have led efforts to stem climate change at a time when smaller changes could have had great and lasting effects.  But thanks to Bush, Richard “The Dick” Cheney and all of their oil buddies, it now may be too late to avoid the predictable devastating effects of runaway carbon emissions.

Remember this the next time you hear Teapublicans complain about the budget deficit, the escalating national debt, and the cost of clean-up efforts following storms made worse by climate change.

Apocalyptic Politics.

Many Americans seem convinced that the Apocalypse is upon us.  Remember Y2K? Remember Nostradamus?  Remember the Mayan calendar?

There have been dead-enders around as long as I can remember.  Usually, they were part of some wacko religious cult that had bet its future on the book of Revelation.  But, in recent years, the dead-enders have become mainstream, especially after the election of our first president of African-American heritage.

Fueled by Teapublicans and the right-wing media, we are constantly told to be afraid…be very afraid.  Unless we do as they say and accept their ideology, we will suffer the consequences of a failed, bankrupt state and, quite likely, the wrath of God.  (You know, the God who personally created America by taking land from the natives and giving it to God-fearing Christians.)

All of this is disturbing enough.  But our media seem to have bought into these fear tactics in the same way they bought into the Bush administration’s lies leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

As a result, we’re exposed to Teapublican and Christian evangelical fear-mongering at nearly every turn.  Fire-and-brimstone pastors preach fear from the pulpit and tell their flocks that they will go to hell if they support Democrats.  Hate mongers such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin spew apocalyptic nonsense daily.  And the gun manufacturers’ lobby, otherwise known as the National Rifle Association, tells you that your neighbors are out to get you and your government is coming to take your guns.

To make matters worse, mainstream cable channels offer studies in paranoia such as Doomsday Preppers.  Even the movie studios have gotten into the act with a never-ending series of disaster movies.  And, in the most egregious example, the History Channel recently produced a TV series on the Bible, casting an Obama look-alike as Satan!

The clear message is that we will all perish and go to hell unless we all become right-wing Christian Teapublicans who bow to multinational corporations, turn our backs on the poor, ignore the rights of women, show intolerance to minorities, and worship at the altar of intolerance and greed.

Now that would be a REAL apocalypse!

Let’s Create A New Tax System!

The US is a patchwork of federal taxes, state taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, gasoline taxes, tobacco taxes, etc. In addition, there are a myriad of tax loopholes allowing billionaires to pay lower tax rates than the secretaries who work for them. Worse yet, some of the world’s largest corporations are able to avoid paying income taxes, despite billions in profits.

If all of that isn’t confusing enough, taxes in some states are higher than in others, leading to competition between states.

For decades, states have spent more time trying to coax companies from other states than helping their own entrepreneurs to create new companies. Low tax states such as Arizona and South Dakota try to lure away businesses (and jobs) from higher tax states like California and Minnesota where the businesses began and grew, likely because of tax incentives and other state-funded investments in those businesses.

This kind of nonsense has to stop!

Businesses are not created by low taxes.  They are created and nurtured in states which value education, innovation, technology, infrastructure, and quality of life.

If states like Arizona and South Dakota want more jobs for their citizens, let them invest in the things necessary to create them. Let’s stop the competition to see which state can cut taxes to the lowest possible rate at the sacrifice of everything else. Let’s level the playing field. Let’s eliminate the multiple layers of taxes. Let’s create a single, federal tax system in which each state charges the same tax based on income and cost of living. (I think we can all agree that a $250,000 salary in Wyoming goes a lot farther than the same salary in New York.) The money would then be parceled out by the federal government based on population and defined need.

This system would end the free ride for low tax states and encourage real development and innovation.

After all, why should Minnesota, Delaware, New York and New Jersey have to contribute far more taxes per person to the government than they get back? And why should states like Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico and Wyoming get more out of the federal government than they pay in? And why should companies be encouraged to uproot their offices, production facilities and personnel just because another state offers a slightly lower tax rate?

Think about it.

What The Frack?

If you’ve followed fracking in the US (the process of releasing gas and oil from rock formations hundreds of feet underground through hydraulic fracturing), you’ve heard about the many nightmares.

Some people have had their wells so polluted, the water can be set on fire.  Others talk of bullying tactics by the oil drilling companies who take over their land. Still others talk about the large tanks containing a secret witches brew of toxic chemicals placed on their land and the pools of highly polluted waste water.

It’s very different in the United Kingdom.

In listening to a discussion about fracking in England, I learned that the British government is handling the procedure far differently.  Unlike the US, England demands that the chemicals pumped into the ground to release the gas and oil be made public.  (In most cases, they use just one chemical.)  England also demands that the waste water be placed in double-walled tanks and treated before it can be released back into the environment.

Why the difference?

Apparently the oil and gas industry doesn’t own Parliament the way it owns Congress.

The Iraq War Summed Up In A Single Letter.

Remember when Paul Wolfowitz said that the Iraq War would pay for itself?  He and others in the Bush administration claimed that we would be welcomed as liberators; that it would be financed by oil revenues.

Contrary to those claims, the cost is now more than $800 billion and rising.  When you take into account the cost of healthcare for Iraqi veterans, the cost will likely rise to as much as $3 trillion!

And that’s just the cost in dollars and cents.

The human costs are much higher.  We know that more than 4,400 US lives were lost. The cost of Iraqi lives is less clear…the most conservative estimate is approximately 198,000 men, women and children!

Moreover, many of our US troops came back from Iraq with serious issues.  Of course, they got a pat on the back and a “thank you for your service” from most Americans.  But little else.  Many have been forced to wait up to two years to receive care.  Many are amputees.  Many have PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.  And many have committed suicide.

But nothing sums up the war better than a letter written by Iraqi veteran Tomas Young to George W. Bush and Richard “The Dick” Cheney.  I challenge you to read his letter and still be able to justify this unnecessary war.

Nevertheless, in recent interviews, both “The Dick” and Wolfowitz have said they have no regrets; if they had it to do over again, they’d do the same thing.  And Congressional Teapublicans, many of whom were in a hurry to invade Iraq, seem unconcerned that sequestration and their proposed budget cuts will deny help for many more veterans.

There should be a special place in Hell for these people…alongside Saddam Hussein.

The Treason Party.

Following the fallout of the Watergate break-in, we learned that Richard Nixon was a crook. Thanks to a documentary by the BBC and the Rachel Maddow Show, we now know that he was also a traitor.

The Thursday before the 1968 presidential election, President Johnson announced that the allies had reached a peace agreement with North Vietnam. But since Nixon had run on a platform promising to end the war, he couldn’t afford to have Johnson end the war a few days before the election.

So Nixon used an intermediary to convince the South Vietnamese to back out of the peace agreement!

Recordings of Johnson’s phone conversations reveal that he knew about Nixon’s treachery, but since he learned of it as the result of illegal FBI wiretaps of the South Vietnam ambassador’s phone, LBJ couldn’t make the information public.

The treason helped Nixon win a close election over Hubert H. Humphrey.  It also caused the war to rage on for another 5 years, costing 15,000 more American lives!

Of course, Nixon isn’t the last Republican president to play fast and loose with the Constitution. Reagan created a shadow government to covertly arm Iran in exchange for money to finance the Contras of Nicaragua.  George W. Bush led us into war with Iraq on false pretenses.  And his administration violated international treaties by torturing captives.

More recently, Teapublicans have used every parliamentary trick in the book and a record number of filibusters in order to block President Obama’s appointments and his attempts to improve our economy.

Yet they have the audacity to wave flags and call themselves patriots!!!

If I Were King.

Ever think about what you might do if you were named King (or Queen) of the US for a day? I realize this is a somewhat narcissistic exercise, nevertheless, here’s what I would do:

1 – Cut the defense budget in half and use the leftover money to rebuild our antiquated and decaying infrastructure

2 – End the war on drugs by decriminalizing the use of illicit drugs

3 – Empty the prisons of those incarcerated for drug use and petty drug sales

4 – Prosecute those who have ordered or participated in war crimes

5 – Prosecute the bank executives who crashed our economy by stealing trillions from ordinary citizens

6 – Prosecute those who have created off-shore bank accounts for tax evasion

7 – Limit the number of Congressional lobbyists and ban campaign contributions

8 – Institute public financing for electoral campaigns

9 – Implement a national holiday for elections with mandatory voting

10 – Institute a tax on financial transactions

11 – Index federal income tax rates based on cost of living for each taxpayer’s permanent address

12 – End sales taxes on everything except luxury items

13 – End tax exemptions for more than one home

14 – Restore the FCC Fairness Doctrine requiring electronic media to operate in the public interest and withholding licenses to those who knowingly tell lies

15 – Create a single-payer national healthcare system

16 – Strengthen Social Security by removing the income cap for FICA deductions and means test Social Security recipients to prevent millionaires from receiving it

17 – Reduce the influence of multinational corporations on our State Dept.

18 – Require 2 years of service for all US citizens

19 – Ban semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity clips and military-style ammunition and offer federal buy-backs of banned guns and ammo

20 – Require universal background checks for all gun purchases

21 – Proclaim equality for all and increase penalties for any form of discrimination

22 – End tax exemptions for church property, except that used to perform charitable services, such as education, medicine, services for the poor, etc.

23 – End all corporate welfare, especially for those corporations who export jobs or pollute our environment

24 – Ban elected officials from working for government contractors as employees or lobbyists for a minimum of 10 years

25 – Require that corporate offices of government contractors be located in the US

I’m sure I’ll think of more. Of course, our nation is as likely to implement these ideas as it is to make me King for a day. Thanks for allowing me to indulge in my fantasies.

What Next For Our Relationship With Israel?

Once a necessary relationship of a superpower protecting a fragile state, the US relationship with Israel has turned into something far different. Thanks to our protection and investment, Israel is no longer helpless.  It may be surrounded by larger nations opposed to its very existence, but Israel has a more powerful military with more advanced weapons.

For example, the US invested more than $270 million to help Israel develop its Iron Dome rocket system designed to intercept rockets launched by Hamas. We also invest approximately $3 billion per year in Israel, despite the fact that the Israeli’s enjoy a higher standard of living that’s nearly comparable to ours.

What do we get in return? We get a militaristic government that continues to build new settlements on captured Palestinian lands in defiance of international law. We get a government that meddles in our politics. We get a government that has sent spies to the US in order to steal military secrets!

Yet support of Israel has become a litmus test for American politicians. Even now, President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Defense is being attacked for disparaging the pro-Israel lobby. Apparently, no politician dares to question our “special relationship” with an ally that doesn’t even act like one.

Under Israel’s war-mongering conservative leadership, no progress has been made to negotiate peace in the Middle East. What we get, instead, is a government that continues to swallow up Palestinian lands at a rate that will soon make a two-state solution virtually impossible. Too often, Israel seems like a spoiled little brother hurling insults at its neighbors then, when challenged, hides behind big brother daring the neighbors to strike.

Our unquestioned protection of Israel has had a negative impact on our relationships with much of the world. We must recognize that, until there is a permanent peace between Israel and its neighbors, we will continue to be the target of hatred.

It’s time that our “special relationship” with Israel evolved. We must protect Israel if necessary. But we should demand something for our protection and investment. We should demand that Israel and Palestine begin to negotiate in earnest. We should demand that the Israel end its policy of settlements.

The irony is that, if Israel continues to consume Palestinian lands, it is sealing its own fate. Eventually, Palestinians will be the majority in Israel and, as such, they will control the elections. 

Drone Controversy Nothing New.

Sen. Rand Paul’s talking filibuster succeeded in calling attention to the issue of government-sanctioned assassinations. But this issue is far from new. The US has been using the threat of assassination for decades. The only thing that has changed is the means of killing.

Following World War II, our CIA and military planned assassination attempts of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, Cuban President Fidel Castro, Congo President Patrice Lumumba, Dominican President Rafael Trujillo and many more. We succeeded in having both Chilean President Salvador Allende and Chilean Armed Forces Chief Rene Schneider killed.

These plots ranged from poisons to snipers to small invasion forces.

When the CIA operations eventually came to light, President Ford issued an order banning the involvement of US government employees in such plots. The ban was renewed by President Carter and President Reagan.

Confronted with Islamic terrorism, President Clinton signed an order creating a list of specific terrorists targeted for capture or assassination. Then, in 2001, Congress gave President Bush the power to use all appropriate and necessary force against those involved with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We’ve been carrying out assassinations of terrorist targets ever since.

One can make a strong case that the drone strikes are needed to eliminate terrorist leaders in nations that refuse to make arrests. Drone strikes are certainly better than invading those countries with troops! Nevertheless, the US needs to have a transparent policy with regard to drone strikes. We need to have oversight so that this means of assassination is not abused and so that the possibility of collateral damage is minimized.

Without such oversight, drones and other weapons intended for “surgical strikes” are bound to be misused. Imagine if Richard “The Dick” Cheney was able to control such power again. Imagine someone worse!