Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seventeen Solutions – reduce the military

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series. I’m aware that I left off this series just over two months ago. Since it is part of how we deal with the nasty guy I need to finish it off. I won’t promise I’ll do it quickly.

11. Reduce Our Bloated Military Budget

In 2012, the year this book was written, the federal budget allocated $806 billion for the military. That paid for general military readiness as well as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It did not cover the military parts of the National Security Agency or the CIA. It also didn’t cover disability payments to veterans. Overall the military gets 56% of the federal discretionary spending (which excludes Medicare and Medicaid).

We start with President Dwight Eisenhower, not with his famous railing against the military industrial complex in his farewell address, but with a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953 at a time Sen. McCarthy was whipping up anti-communist frenzy (which meant Eisenhower was ignored).
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Congress is able to maintain this bloated military spending in a particular way. Because the military budget is so large the military is the nation’s largest jobs program both directly through the military and through its many contractors. And Congress has made sure some of those jobs are in every one of the 435 House districts. Talk of cutting military spending means cutting jobs – and every single House member is going to hear about it. That has effectively defeated any cuts.

Nader says that in the 1950s the concentration of effort in the military meant consumer products of the time were shoddy. And that gave the Japanese and Germans the opening to dominate our auto markets for a couple decades.

Our emphasis on military spending of course means we turn to the military for solutions, rather than looking for “preventive, diplomatic, and assistance missions.” Andrew Bacevich, professor and retired Army Colonel, wrote:
Americans in our own time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in United States history, Americans have come to define the nation’s strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of (or nostalgia for) military ideals.

We may not want to conquer territory, but we do want to occupy and control it. That only works when there is an absence of dissent by those occupied and controlled. To get that absence out troops engage in brutality.

Some (like the nasty guy) will say that we need all that military power and more to keep us safe. Nader compares the lopsided capabilities of the US military to that of the Taliban. Which makes me think that the solution to the longest war in US history isn’t the military.

Another problem is the Department of Defense budget is, according to the Government Accountability Office, un-auditable and has been for years.
An un-audtiable budget is, by definition, a budget no one can control for waste, redundancy, corruption, cost overruns, complex billing frauds, or poor quality control.

Two things leap out about this one report of Pentagon expenditure, exposed by a GAO that produces reams of reports about waste across the spectrum of the military budget. One is that no matter how many investigations the GAO does, the results fall on deaf ears among both the Pentagon leaders and their patron – Congress. The other is that almost no one ever gets fired or otherwise punished for such irresponsibility or dereliction of duty.
Which means Congress wants a DoD budget that can’t be audited. Want your hand in the gov’t pocket? Do it through the military. Congress is inviting your sticky fingers. And they’ve covered our eyes.

The DoD and its corporate masters love high-tech solutions. An example is the infamous F-22 plane that the military doesn’t need, yet has suppliers in every Congressional district. The thing is dangerous to pilots and the unit cost has soared to $410 million. Back in 1980 Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney reported:
Our strategy of pursuing ever-increasing technical complexity and sophistication has made high-technology solutions and combat readiness mutually exclusive.
To which Nader adds:
He did not mention the corollary – that the real beneficiaries of such complexity are not the American people but the weapons manufacturers, which are only too happy to rise to each profitable new challenge.
As I write this the nasty guy has called for both bombing the heck out of ISIS and a massive increase and modernization of the military. Which makes the average citizen wonder what can be done to stop all this reckless spending for something that will make humanity’s situation worse.

Thousands of people – citizens, retired officials from the military, diplomatic, and national security service, taxpayer groups, labor leaders, scientists, technologists, current and former politicians – including mayors, humanitarian assistance leaders, business people for sensible priorities, religious leaders, professors, war veterans, peace advocates, philanthropists, neighborhood organizers, documentary filmmakers, and specialists in foreign culture – have spoken out against the ravenous military. And they’ve gotten little media coverage. What they haven’t done, says Nader, is to make their case as a unified whole.

Nader proposes a series of workshops to create this unified whole. These are:

* Itemize the lists of proposed Pentagon reforms that haven’t happened to put some spine in the GAO report.

* Make a list of projects to cut, going weapon-by-weapon and service-by-service. This is to force justification of each according to its military usefulness, not according to the jobs it creates.

* Study and report on the big picture of the overall security budget and the balance between military forces, homeland security, and prevention through nonmilitary international engagement.

* Seek new ways for America to become a humanitarian superpower, to help alleviate the conditions of poverty, destitution, and hopelessness. Humanitarian efforts cost much less than military deployment. The military already knows how to do rescues during natural catastrophes. This could harness the idealism of American youth.

* Figure out how to mobilize the rest of us to call for reform.

* Use veterans, including the high-ranking ones, to state their opposition to any use of the military, to remind us of the human cost of war, and to advocate for proper veteran services.

* Use mayors to list the ways to use the money redirected from the military. This could fund our infrastructure needs and various jobs programs – the jobs the current system protects.

All of these workshops sound like fine ideas. Nader says there are philanthropists ready to step in and fund the effort. Let’s go for it!

But I have a question for Nader. Actually, a complaint. Yes, Nader has written this helpful book. But if the voices are out there and the money is available and the big thing we need is a unity of voice, why hasn’t Nader used his influence to make it happen?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Look for the money

Ronald Reagan perfected the use of the “welfare queen” – a black woman on welfare who manages to drive around in a Caddy while decked in furs and going home for a steak supper while the rest of us are working our butts off. Variations of this story were used in the 1990s as reasons for ending welfare and forcing people back to work.

Conservatives like a related story, one the nasty guy uses a lot: You don’t have a job because all those illegal immigrants took it away from you.

David Akadjian has an answer to these stories. When a bank is robbed look for the guy with the money.

Hint: It isn’t the welfare queen (I suspect that person never existed). It also isn’t the undocumented immigrant who is probably struggling more than we are.

Akadjian goes into the usual inequality talking points: The productivity gains over the last 40 years going to the 1% or .1% and not to the workers who made those gains happen. Tax cuts for the wealthy don’t create jobs and only help Wall Street.

He closes with an important point. Want a more equitable country? Want to fix infrastructure? Want new public transit? Want good schools? Then we need to get the story straight about where the money is going – and who is doing the robbing.

Calling out hate speech

When last I posted I wrote about free speech, including that Jason Michael is done with dialog and will make sure hate speech has economic consequences. During that post I referred to my friend and debate partner’s usual line: the response to offensive free speech is more free speech. As expected my friend responded and did so rather quickly. I’m the source of the delay in sharing it with you.
Oh, no apology needed. I have no objection to the use of power to move us forward. Disinviting Burrell from the show was an exhibition of power -- the program staff's right to edit the show and its direction. "consequences to hate speech" That action is a statement -- is free speech from the show's point of view.

I also have no objections to anyone calling out speech as hate speech on a rational basis explained for all to understand. That is free speech provided in the interests of community. I see no responsibility to broadcast or distribute hate speech.

But I also bring a caution: We see efforts today to exclude speech that may create discomfort (even pain) for some listeners, especially in places (such as college classrooms) with a "captive" audience. Listeners may benefit from speech that makes us uncomfortable... and should evaluate incoming speech to see whether the challenges presented are worthwhile or growthful.

Hate speech? Throw that away!

Ideas for bridging our divides with people whom we see as enemies? That's the road to peace making and progress.

Swiped jobs

There was a big event today. I carefully ignored it, even turning off hourly Canadian news reports (a perk of living in Detroit is we can get the national Canadian radio system). This afternoon I went off to a movie – Moana, quite enjoyable. The only news of the event that I heard was at 6:30 this evening during the beginning of NPR’ s economic news program Marketplace. And that was plenty.

In the bit I heard the nasty guy talked about how all the jobs have fled overseas and he was going to bring them back. That made it sound like China came here and swiped jobs. While China’s labor costs were indeed a factor, it was American corporate leaders – such as the fat cats in the nasty guy’s cabinet – who actually terminated jobs here and created them there. And they did it for their own pockets.

Another little segment on the show was a small business owner saying the cost of health insurance has recently been larger than his profits. He’s looking for relief from the Affordable Care Act. To me this sounds like a great reason to question why health insurance is coupled to employment. It is time for universal health insurance, otherwise known as Medicare for all.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A progressive exchange

For more than a couple decades we’ve had to deal with the success of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes model legislation to implement hard conservative ideas, then sends them out to GOP controlled state legislatures for enacting. An example (that I’m thinking about because I just read about it in one of Dad’s old issues of Mother Jones) is the Stand Your Ground laws that shield citizen shooters if there is even the slightest hint of firing in self-defense. Many anti-LGBT bills have also come out of ALEC, such as the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that are essentially a license to discriminate. Both corporations and legislators buy membership in ALEC, though the recent round of RFRAs prompted several corporations to withdraw.

And on the progressive side? Similar organizations to ALEC have sprung up, but usually fail to gain traction. Maybe not as many corporate members?

Many progressives have hopes for SIX, the State Innovation Exchange. It is now a couple years old. Though it doesn’t write model legislation it did inherit from a predecessor group a library of 2000 progressive bills enacted in various states. SIX has developed a blueprint, what it calls a 100-day project. It calls for: clean energy, equal pay for women, raising state minimum wages, crack down on wage theft, make tax systems more progressive, and more.

Cling to guns, religion, and tribe

Since the election I have withdrawn from reading most news (including gay news) blogs. I do listen to NPR, but I’m quick to turn it off when they let a Republican talk. A great deal of that withdrawal is because so much of the political news is so discouraging. A part of me wants to say you voted for him, you reap the consequences. Perhaps next time you’ll listen to what the Dems have to offer, even if it is a woman.

Blogger Dallas Taylor wants to knock that idea out of my head. In a post written just before the election (you should know by now that some things can stick in my browser tabs for a long time) he wrote (and I didn’t edit for purple language):
The problem, aside from the damage done and the many, many steps backward that will entail, is that human nature doesn’t work that way. A progressive society is contingent on prosperity. When people ain’t got shit, they start looking out for them and theirs, and fuck everybody else. They cling to their guns and their religion and their tribe harder than ever, because if there ain’t enough to go around then they’ll make damn sure they and theirs get what they need first, and the rest can go hang.

You know why shit’s so dysfunctional? Because the goddamned Republicans put party before country, and have sabotaged and vandalized and obstructed every fucking thing that might make things better. They have to, because their whole thing is that government can’t work and is never the solution and if you elect them they’ll prove it to you, as they fucking have for decades now.

More free speech

My friend and debate partner has said many times that the answer to free speech that is offensive is more free speech, presumably by offering arguments and stories from the opposing (community building) view. An example of this idea is to keep Confederate memorials and add to them counter-memorials that tell the stories of those hurt by the racism of the Confederacy.

More than a year ago I wrote a post commenting on what Melissa McEwen of Shakesville said. Because she is promoting progressive views (and is a woman) messages attacking her are pervasive. A legitimate response is to refuse to engage. She says by extension it is legitimate to ask an institution to refuse to host a speaker known to be offensive. Her reasoning is something like this: I know I’ll be attacked. I know people I care about will be attacked and will be hurt. I know whatever I say will not stop the attacks, will not change the mind of the speaker. More free speech won’t do any good. I refuse to put myself and those I love through the pain.

My debate partner replied with the expected defense of “more free speech.” I didn’t post his reply because at the time I was preparing for my father’s memorial service.

Recently, Kim Burrell did a homophobic rant. Jason Michael, writing a viewpoint article for Between the Lines, described how he was instrumental in getting Burrell uninvited from the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

There was the usual commentary about the “missed opportunity to talk” to do the more free speech thing. DeGeneres could have offered a safe space for that discussion. Michael replies:
But I see things differently. I believe the time for talking is done. You simply cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who calls gays and lesbians "perverted." Those are not the words of someone wishing to have a positive exchange on the topic and possibly be enlightened. Those words amount to only one thing: hate speech. And it should not be tolerated. Not on Ellen's show. Not on any television program. Not anywhere in the country.

The time for that kind of talking is over. If you cannot speak to me respectfully then you cannot speak to me at all. You don't get that privilege. If you're going to call me names, you'd be better off keeping that nonsense to yourself.
Michael concludes:
If you attack us, we will attack back. If you dare denounce our moral turpitude, we will come after your livelihood. We will no longer be your patsies. Preaching our demise will no longer fill your collection plates. There are too many of us now. Too many who've come too far to turn back.

This is 2017, and we will no longer debate our equality. Instead we will demand you recognize it. That,to me, is the message Ellen sent by disinviting Burrell to her show.
Sorry, friend, I’m with Michael on this one. Does Kim Burrell have the right to say what she thinks? Yes. Does she have a right to say it on Ellen’s show? No. There are consequences to hate speech.