The Political Forms of Death

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Death and fear come in many forms. America has a narrow bandwidth of favorites; mass shootings, spree killings, terrorist attacks, the cruel slaughter of children, domestic disputes–killings that spring from cops’ imaginations. . . . → Read More: The Political Forms of Death

The Creepy Things

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The creepy things are starting to creep into the Republican campaigns; the things so ugly and wrong they shut us down and leave us dispirited. How can Democrats find a path to victory through . . . → Read More: The Creepy Things

Race As National Policy Potpourri

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DDIn philosophy, where the ideas and logic that are mental models for appropriate acts and policy reside, a single person and a single idea have driven American elections since 2008—President Barack Obama and race. These two factors have influenced policy, changed political ethics, and revealed a new American challenge: a fight for truth and a new future opposed by bedfellows of special interests, wealth and hate. Conservative voters and candidates speak of freedom but really fight for power: to weaken the Presidency, the executive agenda, and seek to affirm the wrong and rich as the strong.

Votes are justified and driven by anger and fear. Every GOP official trumpets or complains the President’s agenda is driven by race, expense and incompetence. At state and national levels, elected officials claim every idea President Obama proposes is a threat to America and American lives (whether death panels, debt, immigration, Ebola, ISIL, food stamps). Every judgment and pronouncement is distorted by a lens colored with racial prejudice (labels of “buckwheat-in-chief,” posters of bones through Obama’s nose, nasty “nigger” jokes, lynched chairs swinging from nooses strung over tree limbs). The Democratic rearguard retreat in the last election reinforced these jaded reasons by not revealing their ridiculousness.

So political stupidity grew exponentially. In South Carolina, a retired school teacher loudly, publicly accused—in fact was assured and certain—the President attempted to explode Charleston with a nuclear strike during a military training exercise. Because of Obama’s orders, she claimed two generals retired. Rick Santorum stood stoically, listening, when he knew it was all a lie.

The oppositional conditioning is so pervasive that the opposition no longer cites the kinds of examples of myths and mistakes that Ronald Reagan famously employed. Now, officials declare the power of winning as the power to turn back, turn over, turn in, turn out, citing the actions and examples of progress that their change seeks to reverse.

Gay marriage. Out. Affirmative action. Ended. Rape. Harder to persecute. Taxes. Lower (for the rich!). Higher education. Cut. Education, K-12. Privatized, underfunded. Government services payments. Billions given away (ask Rahm about Chicago’s parking meters). Abortion. Denied. War. Endorsed. Air and water. Unregulated. Income. Stifled. Immigration. Unaddressed. Safety nets. Cuts lurking. Healthcare. Barack Obama. The source of all evil. Race. The source of all waste. Denial: “I am innocent of all blame.”

I recently realized a valuable lesson watching Jimmy Stewart westerns. The more the Native Americans defeated the cavalry and settlers who precipitated the attacks against them, the more they were hated, mistreated and dehumanized. With each victory, the natives were condemned for lacking honor and virtue, even when their efforts were in self-defense or intended to promote peace. As the Indians won, hate reached a fever pace and objectivity and morality were abandoned. Think: the Iran agreement being negotiated to halt its development of nuclear arms, hasn’t it attracted a rising swell of voices whose accusing judgment is based on a desire for power rather than justice?

Haven’t those same voices, in the name of security, created the outlines for a global and local alliance, well funded internationally by Sheldon Adelson, the modern counterpart of Augsburg’s Jakob Fugger or England’s Baring brothers for funding geocentric, xenophobic ruling alliances. Adelson’s work in building a supra-alliance that tacitly benefits the Chinese and that is a loose but well connected ideological cult of eugenics is deeply (and darkly!) rooted, a part of the history and world view of the family policies of the Koch brothers and their father, who marginalized and expressed stereotypes for global ethnic groups, and propped up ideas of ethnic superiority for European genes by pointing to individual gaps and the failures of social programs fighting sophisticated neo-colonial structures and directed wealth flow.

Barack Obama is their evidence of what happens when one slips through the cracks and refuses their bidding, and wins despite their sustained plans for his defeat and collapse, their desire for his being driven out of office and humiliated, his character and intellectual virtues destroyed, his humanity stripped without apology or defense. Continue reading Race As National Policy Potpourri

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Eleven Tools for Policy Review

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If you listen to African music, especially drumming, there’s a moment where the placement of the beat colors the sound and shapes the pattern to become the driving force within the larger sound. Those of use who study culture look for these moments. Some come from inside, others from outside, but the impact of these moments calls to order a unity of purpose. Is that unity progressive?

Richard Martin, Age 8. Killed By An Explosion in Boston, April 15, 2013.

Today we see it as entertainment, but African drumming was about trust and collective action.  Newtown, Boston call us to a new trust. But in our politics, these moments of special attention are increasingly becoming an opportunity for blame. But blame kills the propelling and healing force, breaks up the shared spirit of the larger whole, makes us lose the rhythm of our common courage and creativity.

O Brave New World! Those among us who complain, seldom rethink!

As a helpful guide, here are eleven themes to use in reviewing and vetting ideas and policy. Together or separately, they offer a viewing tool of the strengths and weaknesses of the multiple sides of policy and political strategy. (A single issue or example follows each one, as an illustration of how the theme can be applied.)

  1. Proportionality.
    Is a single example or multiple ones in evidence? Is its frequency too large or too small–or exaggerated?
    (Under the ACA, will the country will run out of doctors? Close emergency rooms?)
  2. Importance.
    What is the impact? How is it measured? What measures are ignored?
    (The XL pipeline has a 30 inch diameter. Will it create thousands of jobs, or potentially endanger the environment?)
  3. Direction.
    Will the policy make things worse or better? How is change facilitated?
    (Congress repealed its staff transparency provision to prevent trading on inside information. Is it a matter of national security?)
  4. Reality-based.
    Are the claims and cautions realistic? Are the arguments a closed spiral?
    (Should a fertilized human egg have full constitutional privileges?)
  5. Language.
    Policy discussions should cite at least three levels of support and critique, in plain language, without bias or labels.
    (Are arguments for political austerity supported by economic results? Will a nuclear disarmament treaty lead to a UN takeover of the US under Agenda 21?)
  6. History.
    What happened the last time these conditions occurred? What are the differences in conditions now?
    (What was the state of abortions before Roe vs. Wade?) Continue reading Eleven Tools for Policy Review
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Style Points For Lies

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It was a stunning performance! No candidate ever boldly told so many cheery, rapid-fire lies in 90 minutes, pushing aggressively to bullet point the base. Romney offered not policies but pledges.

His first pledge stunned America, caught off guard by the bold detail expressed when Romney overlooked Obamacare and leaped forward to announce the first detailed cut included in his budget and tax plan. Kept tightly secret; no leaks, no rumors or predictions; no one was suspicious that something big was about to break.

The self-styled jobs creator’s first announced act, in line with his budget criteria, was to cut Big Bird. Old habits die hard. Always the venture (many say vulture) capitalist, Romney knows how to target and dismantle valuable enterprises to extract value and create outsized capital returns that others miss. He casts a hard eye. With government funds, cuts can reduce the deficit, be used as subsidies, consultant fees, put into private contracts, be given away as tax breaks, or lower debt.

The problem is Big Bird’s annual federal share is less than 1/10th what the Justice Department prosecuted in 2012 federal health care fraud cases against private and corporate doctors and service providers who stole $4 billion in taxpayers’ money. United Technology was fined $75 million early this year for violating US trade laws in selling highly classified, prohibited military materials to China that, if trafficked outside of the company, would have amounted to espionage of state secrets; its fine was 1/6th of Big Bird’s and his whole crew’s annual budget. Big Bird is small potatoes when it comes to federal funding.

As the shock died and recovery began, Romney later emphatically stated his goal to strengthen education. That bullet point offered evidence of the Romney fissure, the old disconnect of his warring, divided vision, the way he separates rather than combines things. He can point out valued pieces, but he can’t put them in combination. Synergy is less his strength than demolition; salvaging, extracting value.

He had just pledged to use the power of government to cut the best the government had to offer in early educationa program in the most crucial timean innovation so original it stimulated learning, reduced childcare costs for working families, taught life lessons, and moved an eight-year-old after the debate to write a powerful letter pointing out what should have been obvious even by Romney’s blind criteria.

According to Romney, the costumed character and legendary early childhood educatorone of the nation’s best and most cost-effective, the wildly successfully Big Birdis bad, wasteful, off-target government; Romney implies only private education, offered as public subsidy, is able and effectiveand can be strengthened with your taxes. To Romney, their overwhelming broadcast success confirms Big Bird and Sesame Street belong in the private sector; he ignores the suitability and match of the content and purpose of their goals to public and non-profit markets, and the unique protection these markets offer to Sesame Street’s creative ways and means.

Big Bird is a big entrepreneur, but he took a different path than Romney’s. In 40 years, Big Bird has grown. Along the way, he created jobs. Sesame Street, his home place, is exported for broadcast to 140 countries, adapted to each country’s culture; Nigeria, for example, offers Zobi the Cookie Monster. Early countries included New Zealand, Norway, Germany; it was the top children’s program in Kuwait for 15 straight years. Big Bird’s home territory created hundreds of different products, generates income, excise, and sales taxes, meets a high wage payroll, supports ancillary jobs in a wide variety of industries.It has no offices outside of America. It is a universal early foundation of later workforce training.

By exporting broadcast and other products, Sesame Street helps lowers the US trade imbalance. It now offers leading edge, new media products and a full catalogue of traditional fare: games, toys, clothes, and a publishing division that publishes books and magazines, along with DVDs and other media. Approximately 60% of its annual revenues are license-generated.

But one of its broadcast licensing demands directly contradicts the demands of the private market: all of its broadcast materials must be commercial-free. This reinforces the strong social impact of its mission in countries like Israel and South Africa. China wants inwith Big Bird. Frankly, Sesame Street brings a lot to the table for the government. I would be trying to embrace the program the world loves; it’s peanuts in the national PR budget, its good will is inviolate, and I wouldn’t want word to get out around the world that my first act was to put Big Bird on the chopping block, killing the $1.25 a year per capita the program indirectly receives from station fees.

Its low debt and strong annual cash flow makes Sesame Street the perfect takeover target were it not protected as a non-profit.

But most importantly, Sesame Street sets the global standard for media-crafted early childhood education in every region and language. It has won 143 Emmy and 8 Grammy awards. Although the show continually innovates in its markets, it is a lower-cost producer than the private sector.

It began by capitalizing on a vision outside of its highly successful, positive balance sheet, a big idea best suited and pursued in the non-profit marketplace. With large grants from the Carnegie Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation, Sesame Street also established an endowment rather than leveraging its assets through borrowing, a high risk, capital reward and extraction strategy Romney repeatedly employed at Bain. It wisely did not put itself in danger by borrowing against assetsas did Lehman Brothers, JPMorganChase, and others that racked billions in losses and required government bailouts.

In large part, the show’s 40-year stability is because it is outside of the capital markets and does not serve its masters. But Romney doesn’t understand markets focused on value, not profits. He wants to eliminate those markets. He’s okay if the government transfers money through services or contracts, but values mean, for him, picking “winners and losers.” He picks against values. That why Romney wants to punish the Bird’s neighborhood (it can’t be sold or outsourced!) and make it an example of waste rather than an example of huge value and global good will, an amazing American brand reaped from a minor investment of government aid, at a current per capita cost of less than a $1.25 a year.

But Romney sees success as the province of only the private sector balance sheet, claiming in another bullet point that the private sector always lowers costs, increases innovation, and grows jobs, telling Barack he didn’t know of any examples that differedignoring the contradictory example he cited in his opening detail of items to cut. Romney, unlike Warren Buffet, was never a buy-and-hold investor. He’s only put nominal money into his own candidacy this time; he’s inclined toward leveraging and short sales, turnovers.

The program is slated for Romney’s ax or red pen, he says, because it does not meet his “one” criterion: being worth the sale of US debt to China at an average rate of 2.1 %. China’s US debt share is 13%, less than the combined 17% shares of Great Britain and Japan, the second and third largest international purchasers of US debt. Number one are the American people and domestic institutions. Apparently selling debt to China to fund battleships and rejected weaponry for the Pentagon to defend against an unforeseen military threat from China is okay. But Big Bird, used to teach China’s children, doesn’t meet that threshold. Continue reading Style Points For Lies

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