21 June 2010

Reducing Corporate Influence on Politics

Well, this is embarrassing. I wrote this comment on the implications of corporate control of elections, based on reports last night that showed Prop 16 and 17 had passed; but I now see that late returns, many from Northern California, have tipped the balance and both propositions lost. So, chalk one up for you can't fool all the people all the time. Much of what I had to say here is applicable anyway.

No time just now for a lengthy comment, but I just wanted to say a few things about yesterday's election, especially to Californians, but also to folks living beyond our Golden Border. This isn't a left/right issue; it's a question of whether the people will rule or whether elections will be simply bought and sold. Representative Democracy or Elite Plutocracy •• the choice is that stark.

The passage yesterday of two wish-list bought-and-paid-for corporate initiatives here (one to ensure the perpetuation of the iron grip of monopoly by the State's largest investor-owned utility, PG&E, and the other a carefully crafted rate hike scheme by one of the state's largest auto insurers, Mercury Ins. Gp.) serve to illustrate two things, in my mind:

1.  The unfettered access to political influence now granted corporations in our political system nationwide, particularly in the wake of Citizens United v. F.E.C., is a catastrophe. We need to amend the constitution or get judges on the Supreme Court who will reverse this. We need to pass public campaign financing, and, as soon as the court's rulings will permit, severely limit if not eliminate the power of corporations to influence electoral politics.

2.  Unless No. 1 can be accomplished pretty neatly and quickly, the initiative process in California, hallowed progressive reform though it was, is now doing more harm than good and we need to consider amending the State Constitution to eliminate it... how about conditionally eliminating it, until such time as prohibitions on corporate financing of elections can be enforced?

Both of these propositions passed due to incredibly deceptive and mendacious corporate advertising blanketing the airwaves for weeks and weeks. PG&E, for example, outspent opponents to Prop. 16 by 511 to 1. In the face of this kind of power of money, rational discussion of the issues is completely lost in the cloud of misinformation and mendacious propaganda.

As another kind of example, the wonderfully simple initiative proposal put forth by George Lakoff, to eliminate 2/3 public and legislative supermajority vote requirements for budget and tax matters (which is quite literally crippling governance in this state), has likely failed (for the November ballot), for lack of corporate and party establishment support.

Not entirely relevant to the above, except that the PG&E ballot initiative (Prop 16) was falsely advertised as a "power to the people" law when in fact it requires one of these 2/3 supermajorities whenever a local jurisdiction wants to challenge its monopoly, here's my utopian proposal for an Initiative Constitutional Amendment:

Sec. 1.  No election, and no vote of the legislature, or of any other legislative body in this state, shall require more than a simple majority vote for passage. All provisions of the constitution and laws of this state to the contrary are repealed by this provision with immediate effect, with simple majority voting requirements deemed substituted for the supermajority votes specified in such provisions. Neither the legislature nor the electorate shall make any law which shall require more than a simple majority vote for passage in any election or vote of the legislature or other legislative body in this state.

Sec. 2.  [Definition of "legislative body"]

Call it the "Restore Majority Rule Initiative." Of course, my expansion of Lakoff's idea to all laws governing all lawmaking bodies stands no chance of ever passing, because the vast power of corporate wealth would and will stand in opposition. The status quo benefits them, so why would they cede power back to the electorate?

Republican Logic: bailout and apologize to BP, but nothing for real people

The sheer lack of logical consistency in Republican policy positions is just unbelievable. They oppose Stimulus, because it "costs too much" (having spent trillions on their President's unnecessary wars and bailing out Wall Street as a result of idiotic deregulation they supported and their gurus like Greenspan and Friedman provided intellectual underpinnings for; and ignoring the well-known process, well-nigh inevitable after the crash, that if you don't get the economy working again it spirals downward; and ignoring the fact that thanks to their voodoo economics tax cuts for the rich, a trillion dollar surplus was turned into a 2 trillion dollar deficit under their president's watch).

But now, rather than hold BP, a foreign corporation, accountable for the promises it made in obtaining a permit to perform deepwater drilling it now appears it had no real ability to perform safely, they want the American taxpayers to pay the bill.

This makes no sense, even according to their own mean-spirited and proven-unworkable policy theories. It only makes sense if you disregard their fibs and look to their real policy: support crony capitalism at all costs, no matter how much it harms the interests of the nation and the people.

And yet, about half the electorate buys this crap.

I just don't get it.  

Since I wrote this, we've had even more ridiculous comments from Congresspersons Bachmann and Barton. Sheesh

Comments to White House on President's Speech

I sent the following to the White House in response to the President's speech last week:

There seems to be a widespread view that the part of the President’s speech relating to “accelerating” the changeover to nonfossil fuels and renewable energy was short on specifics. One could imagine the President, echoing John F. Kennedy, having said something like “before this decade is out, I am committed to ensuring that at least half of America’s electric power will be generated from renewable sources, and at least 25% of the motor fuels used in this country will come from biomass, not oil.” (That would be extremely ambitious… but that’s what the people are yearning for… real commitment to something that will be a mission to make our country secure from foreign oil, and reduce the detrimental impact of fossil fuel use, with the added benefit of creating millions of Green Jobs).

It’s not too late… the President needs to follow up on this speech… and soon… with ambitious and concrete proposals, for R&D into biomass, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, wind, Ocean Thermal, local energy generation, biofuels, synfuels, and putting the electric grid in place to where the new power sources are… all of which will be a huge commitment. Emphasis: not just research, but we will build what works, and quickly, because our nation’s future depends on it. It needs to be a teaching moment, where the President informs the American people about what is possible, and what he intends that we will do.

Then, speak directly to the American people and ASK for their support. Most people WANT to support the President, but they need to have something real and concrete to latch on to.

This will work, but the President has to be very determined and really mean it, and he needs to say it soon, forcefully, and repeatedly.

Rachel Maddow for President

I gotta say, I wish Rachel Maddow were President. Or at least that he would hire her as chief speechwriter, and follow her advice. (And mean it).

Here's her version of what the President should have said the other night.

06 June 2010

Californians: N O on 16, 17

I've been a bit preoccupied lately, and haven't had a chance to comment on some of the very anti-democratic and destructive initiatives on the California primary ballot. PLEASE look into, especially, Prop. 16 and Prop. 17, both of which are corporate power-grabs.

NO on 16. Requires undemocratic 2/3 vote for decentralization of power sources in California... a naked power grab by P G & E and Southern California Edison to hold on to their monopolies by creating yet another supermajority provision to prevent majority rule in California. VOTE NO.

NO on 17. Interferes with rational regulation of insurance to increase profits... virtually singlehandedly bought and paid for by Mercury Insurance. VOTE NO.

Please see Courage Campaign's Progressive Voter Guide here.

O'Reilly compares gays to terrorists...well, not exactly

There's a bit of an uproar in the LGBT activist community about Dumbo O'Reilly's offensive comments [link] about a French McDonald's gay-friendly ad, which his show aired along with his dumb (and a little offensive) remarks. Supposedly equating gay people with terrorists. Well, not really. It was his lame attempt at humor, combined with his general contempt for everyone not like him. But that's nothing new and hardly surprising.

But to me, the real story is how sweet and positive the ad itself is. O'Reilly says they'll never run one like it here... gotta wonder why not? It would go a long way towards fostering a positive image of tolerance and welcoming.

Their message: venez comme vous êtes....applies even if vous êtes homosexuel. In France, this doesn't even raise an eyebrow, as it shouldn't.

Shame on you, Bill Clinton

The very idea that Bill Clinton is attacking unions in an ad supporting DINO ("Democrat in Name Only") Blanche Lincoln makes me want to retch. Link.

Generally, national politicians should stay out of local and state primary races (and Bill doesn't live in Arkansas)...after all, the people of the jurisdiction should be the ones who decide who their representatives will be. The big exception to this I would propose is where a candidate is a fraud or traitor to the principles of the majority of the party. In this case, that's Lincoln, who
is in the pocket of Wall Street, was instrumental in killing the public option, has consistently voted against Democratic principles and has misrepresented her positions. It isn't her opponent Halter, who is a pretty straight line Centrist Democrat. So there's no plausible excuse for Clinton to be attacking unions in support of Lincoln in a primary. National leaders should support Halter, a real Democrat, not Lincoln, who isn't one. The fact that unions, who are a bulwark of progressive politics in this country, have taken this stance should tell Clinton something: Real Democrats are supporting Halter.

03 June 2010

Dialog on the "flotilla" incident and implications in region

I had the following exchange with a colleague who is more inclined to see Israel's side in various affairs than I am. I post this because I think it shows an interesting dialog on policy, where both sides have goodwill but just don't see the same reality in the news reports.

You and I see Israel/Palestine issues and US/Israel issues rather differently, but I appreciate that we can discuss these issues with mutual respect.

Anyway, I haven't had time to immerse myself in the whole Turkish blockade-running ship boarding incident (a better description that "flotilla" I think), but the International consensus seems to be that the video you referred to was, at minimum, "decontextualized" by the IDF. The ship was, after all, boarded in international waters, so I think it's fair to say, at least, that the breakout of violence can't just be blamed on those on board based on an edited video without investigation.

I'm sure there's questionable conduct on both sides, as usual. Yigal Arens, who, unlike his father Moshe, believes that the siege of Gaza is wrong, and is in favor of an aggressive pursuit of a territorial settlement, had some very interesting comments on Ian Masters' The Daily Briefiing yesterday.

Whatever your view of what happened, and who's right and who's wrong, I think it's pretty clear this was not a foreign policy win for Israel.

If anything good may come of it, it's at least conceivable that it could cause a shift in the complete bogdown of the so-called "peace process," whatever that's supposed to mean (more like "stalemate process").

Your view that Hamas and Hezb'ollah are going to launch a two front war this year is definitely not on most commenters' radar screens. I'd be curious what you're reading that makes you think this. If it's true, it shows that the leadership of both organizations are among the stupidest political leaders on the face of the Earth. (Not an ideological judgment, but a strategic one. There's just no way such action could benefit them in even the medium-range future). Still, without more information, I just don't see it. 


Dave, check out the actual video.  Activists? Upon arrival with clearly visualized paint ball guns the mob attacks to kill. We stop ships in int waters all the time.  If it was an aide mission, boats could have docked as asked so cargo could be inspected first as is done all the time.  Israel is at war.  Blockade has legitimate purpose.  I see no issue there.  Organizng turkish group has tie with muslim brotherhood.  After 6k rockets fired at them since gaza withdrawal, I can imagine suspicion of boats unchecked making deliveries. Reality is that This was a pr war event that israel blindly walked in to.  The people on that boat were clearly and expressly determined to deliver as planned or succeed in martydom.  Very clever as   paving way for hostilities I forsee soon. The pr war is just as important as fighting war.  I'm sure the lebanese christian community beleagured as it is, is not fooled by any of this.  classic hezbo. Tactic.

Here is the real issue.  Whether the us is engaged in ME peace process or not, I don't think it makes any difference.  What israel does or not does not make a diff. Either.  We are dealing with proxy forces. Period.  So long as political ambitions of syria and iran dictate otherwise, the palistinian will continue to be used as cards by their arab brethren who only stand to loose leverage should peace break out.

God forbid there should be peace.  To what external enemy would these barbaric regimes look to in order to keep their own people confortably distracted and preoccupied?  Would the masses with free time to consider their own "civil" institutions soon question the religio-political yoke of islam that has trapped 50% of their population under burkas, out of classrooms, and socially retarded. Oh no.  This civilization is 50-75 years from being ready for peace.  Everything else is a side show and let the reality of demographics plod on.

Apparently we'll have to agree to disagree. I just don't see it this way, and I am only concerned about US interests, which I don't see as congruent with Israel's. It's in our interests to disengage from this regional conflict, and the best way to do that is to try to foster (broker is too strong a term), a 2 state negotiated settlement. There is precedent. The peace with Egypt has lasted 30 years, and Jimmy Carter is the only US president to have ever actually brokered a peace deal in the Middle East.

If Israel is at war, it's her war, not ours, and in my view if that's the case, it's to a large extent Israel's choice in the matter. You can interpret history differently, but I reject the Neocon analysis outright, and believe that continued occupation and population transfers into occupied territories are illegal. (It's the world consensus view, although of course some don't agree). Israel is in a difficult position. It wants to be a first world country in a region that just isn't; but if you want to be a first world country you have to sign on to the norms of International Law. Sure, the other powers didn't get where they are in that regime, but that's the way it is.

I pretty much favor walking away from continued US involvement Middle East if a settlement can't be induced through diplomacy. The risks outweigh the potential benefits, to this country.
I think our differing views are in part based  on a different analysis of whose interests are important. To me, the risks in the region outweigh the benefits, and the US would be better off trying to pressure a negotiated settlement, then disengaging from the entire region as much as possible, including economically (by developing alternative energy resources). Not least because those of us in this country who want to defuse the Forever-War party and reduce the military sector of the economy have to think longterm about changing the entire dynamic in that part of the world vis-a-vis the US. What happens between Israel and the other regional powers is their problem, unless nuclear weapons are used, in which case all bets are off and whoever is dumb enough to have used them will be responsible for destabilizing the world totally at the worst possible moment in history; very possibly a fatal outcome for the human race. But I can't see current US policy as making that less likely.

I still don't see where you conclude that a two front war is likely. (I don't see where it's in Iran's or Syria's (which are pretty much identical) interests anyway; the status quo is to their benefit).

Tough Times for Israeli People

Unfortunately for Israel's people (as opposed to their government, which I pretty much deplore), perception is reality, at least in terms of the fact that perception influences real world circumstances. I readily acknowledge that there are two sides to the argument over whether Israel's actions in the so-called Flotilla incident were rational or justifiable; certainly they were badly executed. (I also deplore the Siege of Gaza as a completely unjustifiable policy, but that's a separate issue). In any case, the fact is, Israel is losing the last remnants of goodwill and cooperation in the region, and even the relationship with the United States is probably more strained than at any time in quite a few years.

Here's the Jerusalem Post piece noting that Israel is losing its prime regional ally, Turkey:

And a comment by Josh Marshall:

(follow the link to Gideon Levy's column in Ha'aretz as well)