Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 31st

will always be a special day for me as this is my father's birthday. He would have been 92 today, and he is missed always.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How About a Corporate Gains Tax?

During his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, the President called for reducing the capital gains tax on small businesses to the delight of many Republicans in the audience who recognize that this is a baby step toward eliminating the capital gains tax on big business, too.

And, in light of last month's landmark Supreme Court decision granting First Amendment rights to corporations, why not also impose the kind of tax burden on corporations those earning $250,000 a year or more currently face.

Given the gargantuan, egregious profits of Goldman Sachs, AIG, and banks, why not inaugurate a similar program to the one in the UK here, and introduce a corporate gains tax? The U.K has been taxing corporate profits since about 1965, and given the President's announcement that reducing the deficit is as important as job creation, taxing corporate gains might be a way to accomplish both--reduce the deficit, and have capital to give the states for job expansion.

There is, of course, already a corporate income tax on the federal and state level that is somewhere between 15 - 39% on the federal level. Income tax does not take into account what part of that income is not used to cover expenses, or profit. Should the United States choose to tax profits, too, at the rate of 25% which is less than the U.K., but more than what is in place now, deficit-reduction might be well on its way.

One has only to look at the mind boggling bonuses financial institutions in this country have given to their chief executives to see that, while it's not perfect, the math is certainly better than a miniscule tax to recover some TARP money. Bonuses Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and others have paid their executives pale in comparison to the record profits oil companies have made since the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Reportedly, in 2002, worldwide profits of the five largest oil companies were $35 billion. But, in 2008 alone, Exxon Mobil posted the biggest annual profit in American history---$45 billion. The most profitable year for an oil company in Iraq produced $95 billion in revenue, according to Global Policy Forum and, over time, some estimates for oil profits in Iraq range anywhere from $600 billion to $9 trillion. A corporate gains tax of 15% on oil companies alone could make a substantial dent in the $1.4 trillion deficit.

But, the oil companies are a good place to start. Let's not end there. The idea is to reset the tax structure, not temporarily but permanently, so that the highest taxation falls upon the biggest shoulders, those of the major corporations, and the wealthiest Americans.

All this means is that now that the highest court in the land has decided to blur constitutional distinctions between personhood and banksterhood, why not extend that to the realm of taxation by holding corporations accountable for their profiteering in the same way we hold individuals responsible for the acquisition of assets?

And, what is recovered from the revenue generated by a corporate gains tax can go to subsidize affordable housing, end hunger, expand Medicaid and Medicare, and guarantee each and every American a living wage

Friday, January 29, 2010

An Immodest Proposal

An Obama administration insider told the Washington Post today that "New York is out" for the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

The decision, by feds, to try Mohammed and his other friends currently held at Gitmo in a federal court as opposed to a military commission is a good thing, and those who say that as long as he receives due process, the venue doesn't matter are right.

In fact, why bother with a venue altogether? Why not just put Khalid Sheik Mohammed in the next spaceship headed for Mars. Upon arrival, he can be ejected, dumped, and left to fend for himself on the red planet where he may find himself as breakfast, lunch, or dinner for hungry aliens.

And, if the mission goes well, it might even make sense to ship the other "enemy combatants" to Mars, too.

The notion of receiving a fair trial appears to be a rather antiquated one. Saddam Hussein would agree. It's not like Mohammed has claimed he's innocent. To the contrary, he flaunts his guilt.

Everybody knows how this movie is going to end, so why waste taxpayer money, why not imbue the phrase "extraordinary rendition" with a whole new meaning by sending avowed terrorists into outer space? To borrow a word the president seemed to enjoy during his first State of the Union speech, this gesture may even act as a deterrent, and enhance national security.

After all, if you knew the sentence for committing a terrorist act is being shipped off to another planet, and dumped, you might think twice before blowing yourself up. Hell, you might even think once before blowing yourself up.

Besides, nobody really expects to see a trial in a federal courthouse featuring the mastermind of 9/11 to be anything more than a malformed media circus that will achieve nothing other than boosting ratings on television news networks.

Of course, some Martians might complain that we're turning their planet into a dumping ground for earth's misfits, but then there will be proof positive that life on Mars does exist. Some environmentalists here on earth might also argue against polluting Mars with our moral carcinogens, and kamikaze criminals, but isn't this what Great Britain did when it emptied its jails onto the Mayflower, and we don't seem to be any worse for it, do we?

From the garden

So the light
the storm clouds
We didn’t know
make of
at first,
and dared to
will it come back

By Jayne Lyn Stahl

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

January 29, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dereliction of Duty?

Why is it Pakistani journalists asked Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, whether the U.S. is trying to get control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, and American journalists didn't.

Instead, U.S. journalists reported on Pakistani journalists questioning Gates.

The obvious is often the most elusive, often deliberately. Just as the absence of responsible reporting will someday be given as a strong part of the buildup in Iraq, the same applies to what's now going on in Pakistan.

When are the news media planning to come back from lunch?

Mirandize Banks?

With last week's Supreme Court ruling, corporations have been granted the right to free speech just like private citizens. Indeed, according to Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alioto, and Thomas, corporations are now persons in the eyes of the law.

But, entitlement to constitutional rights, and elevation to the legal status of personhood, also implies accountability. So, by extension, if corporations are entitled to First Amendment protection, then why can't they be arrested?

Why can't banks, and other financial institutions, like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, AIG, that have defrauded consumers, taxpayers, and the federal government out of billions of dollars be mirandized?

Instead of giving them a little slap on the wrist as the President now proposes to do with his bank tax, why not mirandize them -- read them their rights, starting with "You have the right to remain silent... Anything you say will be used against you in a court of law...You have the right to an attorney during interrogation."

The Supreme Court may, inadvertently, have set an unexpected precedent. This administration may now have the right to arrest, and practice unlimited detention on CEOs of corporate entities recently promoted to personhood by the highest court in the land. And, one thing you can count on, should that ever happen, rest assured these banksters will receive better treatment than 99% of U.S. citizens in jails right now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Question for the Supreme Court

After last week's ruling granting First Amendment rights to corporations, I have one quick question for justices of the Supreme Court:

If corporations are people, why can't we arrest them?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Southern California School District to Ban Merriam Webster's Dictionary?

In a small town less than a hundred miles south of Los Angeles, a school district will soon meet to decide whether or not to ban Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as being "age in-appropriate."

According to an article in the Associated Press, the whole bruhaha started with a parent's complaint that his child came across the words "oral sex." The dictionaries were removed from classrooms last week, and a committee is being formed to determine whether a permanent ban on Merriam Webster dictionary is in order.

Menifee, which is in Riverside County, is a small town with under 100,000 residents. Their school district serves students from kindergarten through eight grade.

The decision to remove the dictionaries from the shelves of all classrooms in the school district, according to an assistant superintendant, wasn't only because the dictionary mentions "oral sex," but "a number of referenced words" school administrators found offensive. Clearly, Menifee elders are more concerned about insulating children than educating them.

Coming on the heels of a Supreme Court decision that imbues corporate entities with so-called free speech, one wonders what kind of lesson the city of Menifee has for its youngsters about the First Amendment.

If Menifee's school district decides to permanently ban Merriam Webster's Dictionary from their classrooms, they will be setting a deafening precedent not only by banning valuable resource books, but by yielding to parental pressure.

There can be no education without access to information.

And, moreover, should the school district's committee decide to make the egregious act of pulling dictionaries from school shelves school policy, no educator in Menifee will be able to teach seventh grade American history without also removing the Bill of Rights.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Teachable Moment

Okay, it's late, nearly midnight, on a Saturday night and probably not the best time to write about current events, but something has been plaguing me ever since Scott Brown pulled off what many describe as a major coup for the Republicans by winning Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts.

What I want to know is why it's impossible to get the centerfold image of Brown, the one where he poses nearly nude for "Cosmo," out of my mind? What next, will Sarah Palin join the ranks of those baring all, but their game plan and a clear political platform? And, if she did, would that make all your average garden variety meat eating neanderthals flood the polls on November 4, 2012 given, God forbid, that Ms. Palin does become her party's nominee.

But, by the looks of things, Palin has already been out trumped by Beefcake Charley Brown. By the way, apart from an incisive and right on the mark piece by David Corn, can anybody name three things that Brown stands for? He's quite clear about what's he's against: 1) health care reform, 2) big government, and 3) higher taxes, but what concrete plan does he have for solving the massive problems of his state? Or, does anyone care about his platform, in the end, or just the platform bed he's posing on?

Sarah Palin and Scott Brown are not anomalies. They are the logical extension of what happens when the media becomes an instrument of seduction instead of exposition. The genie was out of the bottle during the Kennedy/Nixon debates, and now the genie is definitely in the centerfold.

If the special election in Massachusetts happened to teach the Democrats something about what they must do, as a party, to recapture that populist spark that gave Barack Obama a 28 point lead over John McCain in November, 2008, it is that charisma rules at the expense of substance, and that the boundaries between Republican and Democrat have been sufficiently blurred as to make independents jump from one party to the next like a couple of frogs in a frozen lake.

Any ship that has too much weight in the center will sink. If he really wants to get the upper hand with the banks and Wall Street, Obama better start his spring cleaning early. Goldman Sachs, AIG, JP Morgan Chase, XE, Halliburton, and the Fortune 500s have been running this country for generations, and running it into the ground.

The best antidote to Scott Brown is to not to give undue weight to his candidacy. He tips the balance, in the Senate, but it was a precarious balance at that. So-called "blue dog" Democrats have seen to that.

Oh, and by the way, must one become a corporation to be granted constitutional protection in this country now?

No one ever got very far in neutral. It's time to put the "pro" back in progressive, or suffer the consequences when reactionaries prevail

Friday, January 22, 2010

From Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Progressives: Don't Mourn, Organize

By Michael Winship

Tragic events continuing out of Haiti make all the bad news for progressives this week wither in comparison. Nonetheless, over these last few days, for liberals in particular, there has been no joy in Mudville - aka American politics.

Just for starters: Thursday's Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates for corporate dollars dominating campaign advertising; the election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate, ending the Democrats so-called supermajority of 60 votes; and the subsequent collapse of health care reform as Democratic members of Congress scurried for the fire exits.

For a moment at least President Obama must have felt like he was in one of those animated cartoons where the hero tries to rally his troops shouting, "What are we, men or mice?" and the response is a chorus of rodent-like squeaks.

Add to this John Edwards confessing - finally - to paternity, and the withdrawal of Erroll Southers' name as Obama's choice to run the Transportation Security Administration after weeks of harassment by conservative Senator Jim DeMint (and the revelation that Southers had dissembled about incidents 20 years ago when he accessed a Federal database to investigate his estranged wife's new boyfriend). Yikes.

Then, just to ice this cookie full of arsenic, comes news of the demise of the progressive radio network Air America. It was a misbegotten enterprise from the onset, intentions noble but its finances always in a state of jangling uncertainty (in the interest of full disclosure, I made regular appearances for a short while on their morning show, "Unfiltered," hosted by Lizz Winstead, Chuck D and Rachel Maddow - Rachel being the best and smartest on-air personage to have emerged from
the entire Air America enterprise).

Why progressive talk radio has been unable to counter the right-wing, talk radio juggernaut seems no great mystery. The nuance and diffuse nature of much liberal debate is unlike the bombast and accusation that sells beverages and shock absorbers. "Yes, but on the other hand" works great for NPR, God bless them, but not in the loud and confrontational world of commercial talk radio, where gladiatorial skills are more valued than dialectical ones.

More important, Air America was never able to attract the big corporate dollars, its audience too small and, one presumes, because its politics did not gibe with the free market agenda of many large sponsors and their associates, the ones with the deepest pockets.

Just look, for example, at the wallet of the conservative United States Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as "the world's largest business federation representing 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions." The Chamber bragged about the cash they poured into TV ads supporting Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race - more than half a million dollars' worth by last count - and said his victory "could pay immediate dividends by throwing into question the
future of health care reform legislation pending in Congress." Check and double check.

It's the opening salvo in their campaign to block just about any kind of reform by backing pro-business candidates in this fall's midterm elections - in all, the Chamber plans to spend a whopping $100 million dollars. Not that they have to buy any more members of Congress - as we've seen this past year, and especially this week, the Democrats and Republicans they've already helped pay for are perfectly capable of bringing the House and Senate to a compete standstill - witness health
care, the cap-and-trade climate bill and the disinclination to truly step up to the plate on financial reform. All thanks in part to the lobbying efforts and campaign cash of big business, which, with this week's Supreme Court decision, will be all the more able to deluge the airwaves and Internet with an unending barrage of ads in favor or against the candidates and issues of their choice..

But this is no time to run and hide. As the historian Simon Schama wrote in the January 19 edition of the Financial Times, the President "may actually need to respond to the unrelenting pressure from zombie conservatism, ravenously flesh-eating and never quite dead, not by turning on more consensual charm, but by taking the gloves off. With his bank levy
=25fb01b4-397e-11de-b82d-00144feabdc0.html> -

'We want our money back,' he said - Mr Obama has belatedly begun to fight. Whether he can trade enough punches with the right before the November mid-term elections remains to be seen, but my hunch is that President Composure is up for a brawl."

To do so, he will have to speak out forcefully and counter the bulldozing effect of megabucks with solid community support. A report last week by David Corn on the Mother Jones Web site was not encouraging, suggesting that the volunteer army of more than 13 million activists and donors that sparkplugged Obama's presidential campaign has been too often ignored or misused by the White House.

An investigation commissioned by the crosspartisan group blog found that as far as advancing a progressive agenda goes, the effort that arose from the Obama campaign, Organizing for America (OFA), "focused more on supporting and thanking allied Members than pressuring resistant Democrats or Republicans." In other words, toomany e-mail offers of OFA tee-shirts and wool hats and not enough boots on the ground canvassing and lobbying.

This is no time to go wobbly, as Margaret Thatcher famously told George Bush the First. But given the events of this week, perhaps even more appropriate are the pre-firing squad words of that most famous Wobbly, radical and labor activist Joe Hill: Don't mourn, organize

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Global Cooling? Tell It to the Jellyfish" by Michael Winship

"Global Cooling? Tell It to the Jellyfish"

By Michael Winship

There are certain newspaper headlines that catch your eye and stop you in your tracks. Like the New York Post's famous "Headless Body in Topless Bar." Or such tabloid greats as "Evil Cows Ate My Garden," "Double Decker Bus Found on Moon," and my personal favorite, "Proof of Reincarnation: Baby Born with Wooden Leg."

Along similar lines, I was startled this week when London's Daily Mail published an article headlined, "Could we be in for 30 years of global COOLING?" Triggered by the unusual cold and snow in the United Kingdom over the last few weeks, the article began, "Britain's big freeze is the start of a worldwide trend towards colder weather that seriously challenges global warming theories, eminent scientists claimed yesterday."

The story went on to reference various researchers and their institutions, including the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, which reported, according to the Mail, that, "the warming of the Earth since 1900 is due to natural oceanic cycles, and not man-made greenhouse gases."

This was followed by an article on the Fox News Web site with the headline, "30 Years of Global Cooling Are Coming, Leading Scientist Says."

There are only two small problems, as was pointed out by Steve Benen on Washington Monthly magazine's "Political Animal" blog: "First, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said no such thing. The director of the NSIDC said, 'This is completely false. NSIDC has never made such a statement and we were never contacted by anyone from the Daily Mail.'" (Subsequently, both Fox and the Mail removed the reference to the NSIDC in their articles.)

Second, as proof of global cooling, both stories cited research conducted by Mojib Latif, a prominent climate modeler with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Latif's response to their reporting? "I don't know what to do," he said. "They just make these things up."

Latif's work on climatology is complex and often difficult to understand, which is why the Fox and Daily Mail reporters may have his story mixed up - it wouldn't be the first time journalists have been confused by his findings. But as cogently interpreted by the physicist and climate expert Dr. Joseph Romm of the liberal Center for American Progress, "Latif has NOT predicted a cooling trend - or a 'decades-long deep freeze' - but rather a short-time span where human-caused warming might be partly offset by ocean cycles, staying at current record levels, but then followed by 'accelerated' warming where you catch up to the long-term human-caused trend. He does NOT forecast 2 or 3 decades of cooling."

In fact, as Latif told the British newspaper the Guardian, "I believe in manmade global warming... There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."

And if you don't believe him, ask the jellyfish.

Jellyfish don't lie. Well, sometimes they lie - deceased and desiccated along the beach, which from strolling along various Eastern Seaboard shores is about the extent of my knowledge of them. That, and that Ogden Nash couplet, the one that goes, "Who wants my jellyfish? I am not sellyfish!"

But according to the Associated Press, the jellyfish population is rising. The news service reports, "Scientists believe climate change - the warming of oceans - has allowed some of the almost 2,000 jellyfish species to expand their ranges, appear earlier in the year and increase overall numbers, much as warming has helped ticks, bark beetles and other pests to spread to new latitudes."

This has led to all manner of consequences, some you would expect, others not. A 2008 National Science Foundation study found populations growing along the East Coast - in the Chesapeake Bay area, people are stung about half a million times a year. In the Middle East and Africa, swarms have jammed hydroelectric and desalination plants, forcing them to shut down. In Japan, the fishing industry is losing up to $332 million a year because jellyfish swarms fill the nets, crowding out mackerel, sea bass and other fish.

The AP reports that in October, off the eastern coast of Japan, "Jelly-filled nets capsized a 10-ton trawler as its crew tried to pull them up. The three fishermen were rescued." I know this all sounds like something out of a Godzilla movie, but it's serious stuff.

And speaking of jellyfish, here's a headline you may not see anytime soon: "Senate Passes Sweeping Climate Bill."

Although in a January 14 speech to the Energy Finance Forum, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "Taking on the clean-energy challenge... may be the most important policy we will ever pass. And we cannot afford to wait any longer to act," the cap-and-trade climate bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives back in June malingers in the purgatory of the Senate.

And next week, Senator Reid will allow a vote on an amendment to the legislation lifting the Federal debt ceiling. Proposed by Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, it would block the enforcement funding of the Environmental Protection Agency, giving free rein to the coal industry and other big polluters to ignore the Clean Air Act.

The activist group Credo Action, part of the company Working Assets, notes "You would think this would be easy to stop, but the vote is predicted to be close with many Democrats considering voting for the bill... The coal industry has been working furiously to close deals with senators across the political spectrum, including those who say they want to protect the environment."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Happy Birthday...

to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who would have been 81 years old today. The dream is still alive even if it is on life support.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Too Soon to Fail?

There's been a lot of talk about banks being "too big to fail" lately. And, as the one year anniversary of Obama's inauguration approaches, there's been lots of controversy about what he has, and has not, accomplished.

Many would prefer to focus on the bad news, and fairly. After all, health care reform that was promised during the 2008 campaign should it pass would itself require reform. As it stands now, the so-called public option has vanished, and was replaced, essentially,with taxpayer subsidies for the insurance industry. The idea of so-called "universal health coverage" has morphed into a mandate with a Cadillac tax clause that, as it stands, will wind up taxing everybody who has insurance, not just those who can afford Cadillacs.

Since he took his oath of office, last January, the idea of cloning has grown to include members of Congress as the American people daily watch how, despite having a plurality in both the House and the Senate, the Democrats have effectively become their conservative Republican counterparts when asking for things like assurance that federal funds won't go to subsidize legal abortion.

And, of course, there is the matter of those egregious bonuses big banks have paid to their chief executives, as well as what the president rightly terms their "obscene" profits. Obama announced his proposal for a "financial crisis responsiblity fee" intended for the largest banks, the ones that are "too big to fail."

More than $100 billion of taxpayer money was spent to save the banks from their toxic assets. One can hardly expect that, altogether, the amount that accrues from the so-called "responsibility fee" will come anywhere near the amount banks now collect for bounced checks. But, it is, as they say, the thought that counts.

How can one celebrate the recovery of stolen funds without first addressing how it is they came to be stolen in the first place.

As if that weren't enough, there is the clamor, from both the left and the right, to address the transgressions of Wall Street that have managed to creep like raw sewage into this administration's own cabinet combined with the fact that Obama will reportedly ask Congress for an additional $33 billion for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on top of the record $708 billion already allocated for the Defense Department next year, and this on top of grim retail and unemployment figures. And, that $33 billion doesn't even include a covert war being waged in Pakistan, by remote control death machines called drones, that have claimed the lives of 700 Pakistani citizens in 2009 alone.

No one has noticed seismic movement from the Bush/Cheney years when it comes to issues like electronic eavesdropping, the USA Patriot Act, allowing the divulging of millions of White House e-mails "disappeared" under the Bush administration, the state secrets defense, vows to seek revenge against a deliberately amorphous enemy, at least not yet.

Yes, Blackwater has changed--it's now XE, and Iraqis have formed a class action lawsuit to go after the five contractors who senselessly slaughtered more than a dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians because they could.

Well, they can't get away with that anymore, can they? Not with the whole world watching.

There's a lot that needs fixing. Rest assured, this president knows that. So, instead of focusing on what hasn't been done, or what went wrong in the past year, let's focus instead on the three years ahead.

Citizenship comes with certain duties, too, one of which is speaking up when a government appears to be veering off course. Governance is a collaborative effort.

One may see the glass as half empty, or half full. The first year is gone, but another three years remain. America has lost its legitimacy as a world leader, and even Houdini couldn't restore that with the stroke of a pen, or in a matter of a dozen months. The only thing more audacious than hope, right now, is faith and, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

The corruption that has surfaced since the Nixon years isn't about insider trading, or usury. It's political, and moral corruption.

We're not even close to seeing the whole staircase yet, and in the next 36 months, we have a right to demand a government that uses its resources, and energy to rebuild our inner cities, to house our homeless, to feed our hungry, to provide every working age man and woman with a job and a decent living wage, to make higher education a right and not a privilege for all our youngsters.

In the next three years, it is right to require of this president that he keep his promise to work for nuclear non-proliferation, and to realize the vision of another young president, John F. Kennedy, for "complete and total disarmament." It starts with a vision, but it doesn't end there, and it's up to each and every one of us to climb that staircase with this president.

If it may be said that a bank is "too big to fail," then it follows that it may be too soon to declare game over for a presidency that is in its first inning. For those who are still intent on looking for that silver lining, the next few years may yet hold a surprise or two.

Friday, January 08, 2010

By Michael Winship

"California, Here We Come"

By Michael Winship

A number of years ago, when I would travel to California on business with my friend the late journalist and comedy writer Eliot Wald, we always carved out time to visit a couple of those massive Los Angeles grocery chains, like Ralph's or Vons.

It wasn't because we had a lust for retail or a massive munchie attack. Rather, we geekily would explore the aisles looking for the odd new products that had started in California, stuff we figured might soon migrate East. Like those big cardboard shades people prop up against the front windows of their parked cars to keep the interior from getting overheated. One of many brilliant California inventions descended from a long line of greats: the Hula Hoop and Frisbee, the Popsicle and Zamboni ice cleaning machine.

Eventually, Eliot moved to LA, where he could continue the pursuit full time. I still feel it's a nice place to visit, but why risk earthquakes or earning millions in the movie business?

Nonetheless, I continue to watch out for California innovations and keep an eye on the store shelves when I'm there. The state remains a harbinger of things to come. These days, though, what California's exporting - besides Chihuahuas to needy families east of the Rockies - is more disturbing.

On second thought, those Chihuahuas are pretty unsettling, too. You probably heard the story - the tiny dogs became big in California after such movies as Legally Blond and Beverly Hills Chihuahua and because Paris Hilton frequently was seen toting one around. Now they've gone into turnaround; their popularity has plummeted and there's a plethora of the diminutive pooches, seduced and abandoned. So they're being airlifted away from California animal shelters and euthanasia to
welcoming homes elsewhere, as long as they're not on Homeland Security's new and improved "no fly" list.

But I digress. This week, term-limited Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered his last State of the State address as governor of California and the prospects he outlined were not pleasing.

Despite his calls for an overhaul of the tax system and a proposed constitutional amendment to reverse the amounts of money California spends on education and its penal system, the state still has a $20 billion deficit with which to deal, and as Michael Rothfeld of the Los Angeles Times noted, "Legislators have already begun sensing that as a lame duck [Schwarzenegger] is easy prey and openly disregard some of his wishes. Members of his staff have already been quitting, and replacements are hard to come by."

Sadly, this time what California has gotten hold of ahead of the rest of the country is total political dysfunction. In part it's spurred by the requirement that anything having to do with taxes or the budget has to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature. But it has been exacerbated by increased polarization and backbiting.

As Washington Post columnist and blogger Ezra Klein - a Californian - wrote last Sunday, "The state let its political dysfunctions go unaddressed. Most assumed that the legislature's bickering would be cast aside in the face of an emergency. But the intransigence of California's legislators has not softened despite the spiraling unemployment, massive deficits and absence of buoyant growth on the horizon. Quite the opposite, in fact. The minority party spied opportunity in fiscal collapse. If the majority failed to govern the state, then the voters would turn on them, or so the theory went.

"That raises a troubling question: What happens when one of the two major parties does not see a political upside in solving problems and has the power to keep those problems from being solved?"

We've seen the answer in the first year of the current Congress, and if early prognostications for the midterm elections are remotely accurate, it's only going to get worse. Klein writes, "Congress has been virtually incapable of doing anything difficult because the minority party will either block it or run against it, or both. And make no mistake: Congress will need to do hard things, and soon... "No one who watched the health-care bill wind its way through the legislative process believes Congress is ready for the much harder and more controversial cost-cutting that will be necessary in the future...The lesson of California is that a political system too dysfunctional to avert crisis is also too dysfunctional to respond to

Once again, it's time to climb to the battlements for comprehensive campaign finance reform, as money is fueling much of the lunatic partisan rancor that has us at impasse. What's more, this idea of a Supermajority in the Senate - the abuse of the rule that 60 votes are necessary to end debate or nothing gets done, a notion that's not in the Constitution (it calls for simple majority rule, except in limited cases
such as an impeachment trial, expulsion of a member, treaty ratification or overriding a presidential veto) - has to go.

Otherwise, nothing gets done. We may as well take our Chihuahuas and go home.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Decade, and Time for a Peace Budget

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions maybe because they usually end on New Year's Eve, but last night under the electric blue moon it occurred to me that a nation can have resolutions, too. So, for this new year, America's resolution might be to take some of the egregious money now spent on making war, and mark it for peaceful enterprises instead.

When you consider that, just last month, Congress approved more than $636 billion for the Defense budget, with nearly $130 billion alone going to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is nothing short of obscene that not a dime was spent to incentivize manufacturers, and private industry, to see profit in that which is good for humankind instead of that which is destructive.

The spending plan Congress passed along to the president, according to Bloomberg News, contains nearly $3 billion for the acquisition of another 10 Boeing Co. C-17 transports despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggestion, early last spring, that the C-17 program end.

The budget also includes nearly $500 million for F-35 fighters built by General Electric Company, as well as a few dozen additional aircraft built by Lockheed Martin.

War is quite a lucrative industry which got me to thinking...what if we wait until July, 2011, and take the president at his word that the deescalation in Iraq, and Afghanistan will be complete, and what if there were to be no surging into Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, or North Korea, you think maybe, just maybe, the 2012 budget Congress sends off to the president might include a peace budget?

Say, for instance, Congress were to appropriate even 10% of what it endows to Defense for peaceful activities instead of combat operations that would mean more than $6.36 billion. But, better still, why not propose that 20% of the federal budget, or about $13 billion, for 2012 which could go instead for:

developing an infrastructure of peace, and encourage corporate investment in environmentally-friendly apparatus like electric cars, solar power, innovative farming methods, and clean air

subsidizing green jobs, and business that protect, instead of plunder, the environment

reconstructing those parts of the earth ravaged by war, and not just those we decimated for the sake of getting those reconstruction contracts

ending poverty, hunger, and global economic inequity which is at the root of global warfare. A hybrid economy must emerge, and one that combines the best of the free market while, at the same time, protecting and preserving the social good.

stopping rape, and genocide, in Darfur, and throughout Africa

combatting religious and racial intolerance

demilitarizing the planet, and setting a deadline for global nuclear proliferation

establishing an international venue where enemy nations can meet regularly to resolve their disputes through dialogue and negotiation instead of armed combat. Yes, this is what the United Nations was supposed to do, but it's not working, is it? The U.N. isn't the last stop on the train, just as it replaced the League of Nations, another organization must be formed that will do more than threaten economic sanctions, or be the bully pulpit of warring factions.

Okay, so this is a lot to ask for, and clearly not something that can happen in a year or two, or even in a decade, but given that the U.S. has already spent somewhere around $3 trillion on war in Iraq alone, $13 billion seems like a mere drop in the bucket, but it sure as hell is a good place to start.