Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TAKING STOCK - December 30, 2010

As we come to the end of the first decade of the XXI Century, it is time to see where we have come in recent time and to compare it to the accomplishments of the preceding 50 years. The comparison should be humbling, and to indicate where we have failed in building the world to be occupied by our children and grandchildren. 50 years ago we had just barely seen the first of the Sabin vaccine, hard on the heels of the Salk, and the trip to the moon was still sci-fi. Indeed, the Sputnik launch was still wet behind its ears, having appeared from seemingly nowhere to shake the hubristic dream of American scientific dominance. But these triumphs were small compared with the results that were to follow in the half century that marked US superiority in science, in culture, in industrial engineering and in many cultural and educational areas. US measured things in dollars, so the polio vaccines actually lost GDP in lowering the costs expended in the fear, cost and danger of the plague, which far outweighed the relatively trivial expenditure on the vaccine itself. Today we do not value in dollars any of the benefits of clean air and water, or of the vast blooming of graduate education here. The benefits we see in the science of the XXI Century are most evident on the wonderful mobile telephones and computer games, many of which feature simulated extermination. Lo, how the mighty have fallen. The major benefit we have from the abandonment of the effort to build the civilization is a modest reduction in taxes and a shrinking in our expectation for the lives of our descendants and a huge blooming in the prizes swept up by the members of the proprietor classes for nearly no accomplishment on their parts. The kept press keep telling us that we are much richer. Well, not richer in hope and certainly not in expectation. As long as we continue to follow that siren song, we will show the weakness in democracy, wherein the blandishments of the sirens of the rich make us all a lot poorer, through the seduction of the naïve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SECRETS - December 23, 2010

When I took a course in Constitutional Law, the discussion spent some time on the Jeffersonian view that the First Amendment to the Constitution was a prevention against secretive government and was the basic guarantee of freedom in a democracy. In the period just after the American Revolution, all the empires of Europe subsisted on the secrets of the royal houses and their hereditary power centers, even the British, which was the least bad of the lot. To the extent possible, it spoke to a world in which there were no governmental secrets, so that the People could know what and whom they were actually voting for. Of course, there would always be secrets, but these would have to be limited to things held close to the vest by a few people, and not be the recognized legal property of the ruling forces. At the same time, the Fourth Amendment guaranteed the right of the People to be secure in their persons, papers, houses and effects. A corollary of this statement is that personal secrets could only be penetrated by officials when a legal order attested to specific knowledge recognized by due process requiring certain officers to penetrate the Amendment’s shield of private life. In today’s world, these two conflicting injunctions have been stood upon their heads. The government spies on the People, as by telephone taps, whenever it wants to, and the intrusion of individuals into knowledge labeled sacrosanct by the simple stamp of SECRET is promoted to a crime, even up to the constitutionally defined offense of treason. In Britain, the Thatcher government prosecuted Clive Pontyng for violation of the Official Secrets Act for revealing that Thatcher had lied to Parliament in the matter of the sinking of the Argentine battleship Belgrano during the Falklands War. A British judge was willing to direct a verdict of guilty, but that was too much even for Thatcher. The jury gave the judge a lesson in due process by acquitting the truth-teller. It is a lesson that the US public no longer cares about, if we ever did.

DEBT, AGAIN - December 16, 2010

There is a peculiarity about many peoples and debt. One gets the feeling, in the debates on it in DC, that US do not think about debt as a burden commanding the debtor to take the measures necessary to discharge it, like undertaking the sacrifices to collect the assets to attend to it. Rather, the response is rather like debt being an alternative to paying. We who see the way our college students deal with the credit cards that have been sold to them every September understand that reality, as do the banks that irresponsibly handed out the cards in the hope of attracting interest-bearing balances. And the press accounts about the many who think that making the minimum payment each month is all that they need do sustain that same attitude. Endless preaching about the mountainous interest seems to wash off their backs. Eventually we hear about parents being threatened with permanent blacklisting of their irresponsible children and forced to pay the usurers their ransom. The same casual bearing of debt manifests itself in the debate over the deficit, in which the Class War is reflected by groups seeking to load the problem onto others than their members. On the one hand, we see demands for austerity, which amount to meeting the shortfall by slighting the civic programs by which the poor are able to evade the most horrendous consequences of their condition, as well as the demands that the bulk of the costs should be borne by the members of the class whose members seem to have profited so fully by fleecing those who have been seduced into thinking that they can expect to eat their cake and have it too. If we expect to be able to borrow, it is necessary that our prospective creditors see that those who have the means to pay it off will in fact be tapped to do so. Otherwise, we will more likely slough off the sacrifice onto the weak and powerless, whose suffering is already beyond the limits of toleration, and those who claim to lead those people had better figure out how they will put the onus where it belongs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

FILIBUSTER - December 9, 2010

Now that Obama has dishonored his pledge and given in to the conservative agenda on taxes, the fight is yet far from over. At least one senator has pledged to prevent the deal until the middle class gets its tax cut back. And that senator is not subject to Obama’s dictum, since he is openly a Socialist and has pledged to use his senatorial privilege to prevent the renewal of the tax swindle for the richest 2% of the country, those who have overwhelmingly profited by the larceny of the Cheney raid on the Treasury. Further, we can hope that other principled senators, like our Feingold and possibly Schumer and others, will stand alongside and not leave this kind of obstructionism as a tool of solely the GOP and the renegade Dems. It would be interesting to see whether Obama will turn all the force of his strategic sense against the principled faction of the Senate, having not fought for the establishment of his own oath. I have seen this movie before, it seems. In UK, Gordon Brown joined with Tony Blair to eviscerate what used to be called the Labour Party, and this May many of those who have always voted Labour discovered that they had plenty to do rather than travel to the polls to vote for those that had betrayed them. The result was that they got an even worse captain for their Government, just as US did when they found that their only champion was Gore, and later Kerry. I predict that if Obama’s surrender stands, the horrors of US in the next few years will have him ejected from the WH even though standing by his pledge might have proven unpopular also. Many who neglected to vote for his ostensible cause this year would surely fail to run out to vote for the lesser evil and he would share in 2 years the fate of Gordon Brown, making us all the losers for his lack of integrity. I wonder whether he would fight fairly with Sen. Sanders or have the gall to attack him as a Red. The abandonment of decency makes strange bedfellows.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

STRATEGY - December 2, 2010

I have been wavering these past few weeks between the positions that Obama is a fool and the equally unpleasant conclusion is that he has deceived all of us who cheered for him in 08, taking us for the asses we might well be. There remains a third option, one that is hard to believe but at least offers a ray of hope. It is manifest to me that his best strategy for dealing with the GOP is to let the tax giveaway expire and then move the reduction for the working and middle classes before taking up anything for the millionaires who profited so thoroughly from the Bush-Cheney raid on the Treasury. If the GOP are so stupid as to take the bait, then he has the text for his counter-attack on their abuse of the general population. I don’t think he can count on the GOP doing that, but if they do not, he will have what he promised us in 08, and re-election to boot. On the other hand, if they fail to vote the middle-class tax relief, we will at least be free of their pretense to represent the little people. But he is showing every indication of preparing to extend the raid on the Treasury and sticking the vast public with the bill for his cowardice. He seems to want to yield on the issue of doing what the GOP demands, even though he has the upper hand strategically. Or else his dithering is merely further posturing to lure them into his trap. That seems too hard to believe, but he may be a better tactician than I have given him credit for. On the other hand, my left wing friends might be right when they declare that he is owned by the bankers who financed his presidential campaign and is merely stalling until he can manage to give them what they want. We all know he has given them more already than they seem to realize, and he might even believe in the Gospel according to Larry Sommers and the neoliberal financiers. I must admit that I cannot really believe he is fooling them, but maybe it is easier for him to fool me, which is not so hard to do.