Ahmadinejad’s birthday gift to us

Ahmadinejad's B-Day
Happy Birthday Mahmoud (created by Tim)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad celebrates his 55th birthday this week.  The State Department thinks he should celebrate by releasing the two imprisoned American hikers he is still holding in custody.  While that’s a nice thought, it’s hard to imagine him gifting the U.S. such a present.  Although, he may be inadvertently providing an even larger gift to our entire country—justification for war.

Why is provoking war a gift?  Primarily because it could be the thing that rescues the economy from what is widely expected to be a slump lasting for several more years.  After all, it was World War II that ultimately rocketed the U.S. out of the Great Depression.  Examined carefully though, it’s clear that it wasn’t war, per se, that ended the Depression.  Rather, it was what amounted to a massive government stimulus injected into the lagging economy to create the capability for war and then sustain the effort.

In this light, it’s possible that the U.S. doesn’t need to actually launch a war.  David Broder argues in the Washington Post that it would be sufficient to prepare for one.  However, the threat posed by Iran is not large enough to warrant any sort of Cold War style arms race.  Minimally we’d need a large overseas deployment.  This would mean  hiring lots additional soldiers as well as equipping them, and paying all the companies the modern military depends on for logistical support.  That might do the trick.

It could reasonably be argued that if the government was going to take on that much additional debt that it would be more prudent to invest in domestic infrastructure, research to create innovations to be the foundation of the next business boom, or educating our children to be prepared to compete in the global market.  While that may be true, the point is moot.  There is no political appetite for domestic stimulus. The only spending which might be capable of garnering any sort of bipartisan support would be toward a war effort.  If there’s one thing that could reunite the country in purpose, it would be war.

Maybe it’s time to drop the facade of the U.S. being the peaceable gentle giant.  Maybe we should forget all that “talking softly” stuff and just focus on the “big stick”.  Maybe it’s time to own up to what we really do well.

Unless, of course, that’s not who we are and who we want to be.  Maybe there’s something to be proud of beyond our capacity to kick butt.  But if that were true, then we could agree on something more productive than military deployments.  And it doesn’t seem we can.

Happy birthday Mahmoud… to us.

Tea Party may get what they want, but not what they need

TeaCup (by Wathriotu on Wikimedia)
Is this your cup of tea? (Photo by Wathriotu on Wikimedia)

The thing that frightens moderates the most about the Tea Party is not that they will achieve their goal of creating an efficient, low cost, streamlined government.  Nor is it that they will usher in a wave of economic prosperity where people are free to raise their families and pursue the American dream.  Rather… it’s that the Tea Party will get what they are voting for instead.

The Tea Party leaders emphasize that first and foremost, the Tea Party is a movement motivated by, and dedicated to, the flailing U.S. economy.  And the ideological economic goals of the Tea Party are not wrong.  Yet there is a misguided assumption that anyone who stands against the policies advocated by the Tea Party is inherently opposed to those ideologies.    The truth is that by and large the disagreement is over whether the Tea Party’s policy agenda will achieve those economic goals.  What many moderates see, and the Tea Party remains blind to, is that their justifiable anger and frustration has been co-opted to back policies that largely benefit corporations and the richest Americans, while worsening the plight of the grassroots working class people who are fighting to enable them.

Consider the major cost cutbacks proposed by Tea Party candidates.  These include reducing or eliminating Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, the Departments of Education and Energy, the EPA, and the Veterans Administration.  There are no proposed alternatives to these services, just the cost savings by eliminating them.

The Tea Party is also interested in protecting corporations by limiting their liabilities for environmental disasters, removing the minimum wage, eliminating unemployment insurance, limiting financial regulatory reform, opposing carbon regulation, opposing mine safety regulations, lowering corporate tax rates, eliminating requirements to provide workers health insurance, maintaining financial incentives to move jobs overseas, and making it more difficult for workers to form unions.

For the richest Americans, the Tea Party wants to eliminate the estate tax and preserve the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of tax payers.

The combined result of these proposed policies is a world where the burden of financing the military and what remains of the government falls predominantly to the working class.  A working class who will also be individually responsible for covering their own health care as well as providing their own retirement incomes and rainy day nest eggs to tide them over between jobs.  A working class whose children will not be guaranteed a standard of education, and who will grow-up in an increasingly polluted landscape.  A working class whose paychecks will dwindle as they are forced to compete with third world labor pools.

The Tea Party economic policies are based on a premise that what’s good for corporate profits and executive bonuses will ultimately be good for the working class as well.  Yet history repeatedly shows this to be untrue.  Whether we look at the rise of the robber barons of the early 20th century or at the income growth disparity of the last two decades, it’s clear that when the rich get richer, it doesn’t trickle down.  The only way the working class succeeds is if the rich and their corporations decide to share their prosperity for the betterment of the country as a whole.  In other words, we have to count on them acting outside their economic self-interest.  Talk about the audacity of hope!

The role of government is as a balance against unbridled capitalism—not that it has been playing that role well in the last 20 years.  It is supposed to be the collective will of the people.  An organization dedicated to raising the county’s tide to float all our boats, including the yachts.  But most of our current problems are a failure of government to do its job, not of government doing its job too aggressively.  The Democrats are not white knights here.  They bear significant responsibility for the corporitization of government as well.  But at least they are not running on a promise to make the situation worse.

The one upside of the Tea Party’s economic plans is that they will likely solve the illegal immigration problem.  This will no longer be a country anyone has a lot of desire to get into.

GOP promises a return to the dark days of science

phrenology-head (by DoubleM2 on Flickr)
Phrenology Head (Photo by DoubleM2 on Flickr)

Next week, voters are widely expected to give the House back to Republicans.  There’s also a reasonable chance the Senate will change hands as well.  One of the areas that will suffer the most if and when this happens is science and technology.

It’s not just that science based programs and research funding will be cut. Those programs were slashed dramatically under the Bush Administration, and the weak economy has not allowed Obama to restore many of them.  Rather, it is the country as a whole that will suffer.

Under President Bush, science was repeatedly purged, censored, twisted, and manipulated to back politically motivated objectives.  Scientists were fired or defunded for not reaching conclusions that were ideologically aligned with the administration.  Science was not seen as a quest for objective understanding and technological progress, but at a means to a pre-defined end.  It’s no wonder scientists hailed the election of Barack Obama who promised that scientific thought and research would play a crucial role in his government.

Yet the going into the mid-term election, the GOP continues to promise that they will return the country to the dark days of science where profit and religious doctrine will hold sway and data can stay in the back room with the geeks.

This is seen most clearly in the denial of anthropogenic global warming.  While 92% of climate scientists find the data supporting man-made warming credible, exactly 0% of current or prospective Republican Senators or Congressmen do.  As a result, they’ve vowed to not only kill any sort of carbon based energy policy, but have promised to hog-tie the EPA so they will be unable to regulate carbon dioxide under existing laws despite the Supreme Court ruling that not only is it legal for them to do that, it is their obligation.  This position is not motivated by science, but rather by profit for the existing industries.

Republicans have promised to block any attempts at net neutrality regulations despite evidence that such policies would foster innovation and spur development of new technology based industries.  The reason being that such regulations might erode profits for existing business models.  Something the current corporate titans don’t want to have to deal with.

The GOP has more recently come out against funding development of rare earth minerals outside of China.  This despite the dependence of high tech devices and projects on such minerals.  The danger being that China currently produces 97% of the world’s supply of rare earths, and has strongly indicated that it will hold them hostage should countries such as ours demand currency adjustments or changes meant to create a fairer trade balance between China and the rest of the world.  In this case, the motive for stalling the initiative is purely political, as it thwarts a potential accomplishment the Democrats might claim.

In addition, the Republicans have their unfounded morality based opposition to stem cell research.  And further still, the desire to teach our children that science is only useful when it doesn’t lead you to uncomfortable conclusions like evolution or the big bang.

This is not a condemnation of conservatives.  By definition, conservatives are disposed to preserve the existing condition.  They are the natural political brake assuring that choices are made carefully and cautiously.  But the current GOP position is not really conservative at all.  They want to take us backwards.  Back to the dark ages of reason where superstition reigned.

Many on both sides of the aisle pine for the time when the economy ran strong, the middle class flourished, and the US was an unquestioned superpower on the world stage.  All those things are directly attributable to this country being the science and technology powerhouse on the planet. Those days are behind us… and the Republicans seem intent on keeping it that way.

Mission (only sorta) Accomplished: oil resurfaces in Gulf

Deepwater Horizon Response
Controlled burn of spilled oil in the Gulf (Photo by Deepwater Horizon Response on Flickr)

Remember all that oil in the Gulf from the Deepwater Horizon disaster that seemed to magically disappear in July?  It’s baaaack.

There was great suspicion that the missing oil would resurface at some point.  After all, 200 million barrels of oil just doesn’t get magically reabsorbed by nature. Yet only three days ago, the Coast Guard declared there was little recoverable oil left on the water and only trace amounts of dispersant detectable.  It’s then more than a little embarrassing that on Friday, Louisiana fishing boats spotted miles-long strings of weathered oil floating toward fragile marshes on the coast of Mississippi.  Perhaps ironically, the Coast Guard is being dispatched to evaluate the situation.

Still, the visible oil spill lull was enough to get the media spotlight off the cleanup effort.  It was also enough for President Obama to announce earlier this month that he was lifting the moratorium on deepwater drilling.

While new safety regulations are in place for companies seeking permits to drill, there is concern that the new rules amount to little more than a promise to actually enforce the rules that were already in place—this time for sure.  It’s hardly a coincidence this announcement comes just weeks before the mid-term elections, and Democrats will now be able to take credit for putting some 10,000 people back to work in the Gulf region.

It’s hard to imagine events unfolding this way if oil had been constantly washing up on pristine beaches and the media was continuing to relentlessly cover it.  But we live in a time a ridiculously short attention spans.  Nature conspired to allow the media to head to the next news cycle, so this happing is barely registering on the radar.  After all, Lindsay Lohan is back in rehab.

The Anti-Mikey

Mikey - Life Cereal's Poster Boy

For the second time in 24 hours, someone has offered me food from their freezer.  While perhaps a bit odd in its own right, it pales next to the common sales pitch offered for the edibles.  Both people were thinking that perhaps I’d eat it as no one who lived there would.  Yet they couldn’t see throwing perfectly good food away.

This says something about me.  But I’m thinking not something particularly good.  I’ve never really been a fussy eater, but somewhere along the line I became one notch up from the food disposal.  It seems there is a spectrum at which Life cereal’s Mikey is at one end, and I’m at the other.  He hates everything… me apparently… not so much.

I guess everybody needs to be known for something.  I just always imagined my legacy to be a wee bit more interesting.