Saturday, September 17, 2005

The two party system sucks…

Close your eyes and imagine if you will (metaphorically, don’t really close them or you won’t be able to read my sage words) an America with more than two major political parties. I know there are many other Parties in the U.S., but none of them are significant enough to make a substantive difference. Many would argue that Ross Perot’s Reform Party enabled Bill Clinton to unseat George H.W. Bush in 1992 and then 8 years later the strong showing of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in several key battleground states cost Al Gore the 2000 election. I concede that this is all true, but these are not viable opposition parties. The Greens do not have any nationally elected members of Congress and very few state elected officials. Likewise, the Reform Party is not viable as it has essentially imploded since the strong showings in 1992 and 1996. No credible liberal would argue that Ralph Nader was a viable candidate for the presidency of this country. I think we can all agree that his administration would be like Jimmy Carter to the eighth power.

I am sitting here on a chilly Danish afternoon reflecting from afar on the state of affairs of the country that I love so much. I find my musings on America are much more clear and enlightened when I am not actually in the States. Perhaps that is because it is easier to contrast the differences. Perhaps it is because when in Denmark I look back at America fondly and think about all the ways to make it better, make it the best it can be.

Let’s face it; the United States is not all that it can be to paraphrase the old U.S. Army slogan. Perhaps that is the magic of America, the always striving and never achieving. Ours is certainly an ambitious venture; Home of free and land of the brave, respecting all, valuing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are all very worthy and honorable goals. So why can’t we achieve them? It is because our political system makes that all but impossible. I am not saying that our constitutional democracy and congressional model are flawed. In fact, I think that they are quite adequate considering the low intellectual level of many of the officials elected to run it.

The problem is that our system accepts only two different possibilities. I have denigrated George W. Bush on this Blog many times for his inability to see the shades of grey inherent in all public policies. It is always easiest to see things as black and white, but that just isn’t how things work sometimes. What if it isn’t just George W. Bush? What if it is our entire system? Look at the facts. Throughout our history, with few exceptions, we have only ever had two options. Initially there were the Federalists (those who favored the supremacy of the federal government) and the Anti-Federalists (those who favored the supremacy of the states). To Europeans looking on, our party system must seem painfully inadequate. Talk to an Englishman about the difficulty with getting all of the party on board with a particular policy objective, and they will be shocked at how difficult that is. The whips in the House of Commons are much more adept at actually whipping the backbenchers into line when an important vote is scheduled. In the United States that is nearly impossible.

Imagine if instead of two parties we had four or even five. As it stands now the Democratic Party is far too diverse to mount much of an oppositional challenge to Bush and Co. When party unity is required there is simply too much diversity of opinion to make much of a show of unity. This is evidenced when there are primaries for presidential elections, the Democrats always field at least a half dozen candidates who could be potential Presidents. When the GOP has open primaries there are usually only one or two candidates, though 2008 may be different.

What if the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, people like Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold, split off and joined the Green Party. Then you would have middle of the road Democrats like John Kerry who would maintain the party. Those Democrats who are members of the infamously centrist Democratic Leadership Council, think Joe Lieberman or Hilary Clinton, could form a socially moderate, fiscally moderate party.

Likewise I think you would find the Republican Party would likely split. Though they make a good show of party unity, I think that is a much easier feat when you control both the Legislative and Executive branches of the government. You would have a religious conservative party on the right and a socially moderate, fiscally conservative party as well. Can you imagine if the long silent moderate Republicans awoke to the power that they actually hold but are convinced by neo-cons that they don’t? After shaving their long Rip Van Winkle beards, they would wield considerable power within our government. I talk to Democratic friends about the vulnerability of moderate Republicans like Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and as a liberal I must say that the prospect of adding Democrats is attractive, but as a political scientist I believe that the elimination of moderates in the GOP is probably not a good long term goal. Chafee and his fellow moderate colleagues play an important role in keeping the religious conservatives who run the Republican Party in check. (But then again, are they really?)

The stated strength of a two party system is that they are far more stable than multi-party ones because government composed of coalitions tend to collapse much more easily, but I don’t buy that argument. Just because our government is not collapsing regularly does not mean that the U.S. government is more stable then the government in Japan, Israel or Germany.

The fact is that there aren’t just two ways to think about policy issues, and just because someone is liberal on education issues does not mean they are liberal on defense issues. Simply taking anyone who is liberal on any one issue and throwing them into one party means that they will inherently disagree on many other issues, thereby making it difficult to build consensus on any number of issues which need to be addressed as urgently as the issue they agree on. Until we have viable candidates that are willing to run on a third party platform we will never achieve the kind of voter turn out that is enjoyed in other parts of the world. The success of our very republic depends on it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Death Tax Returns…

This week was supposed to be the week that Congress voted on the permanent repeal of the Estate Tax (also know as the Inheritance Tax or "Death Tax"). When Congress first enacted the Estate Tax in 1916 they asserted that it would help reduce concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of the few and promote equality of economic opportunity. In essence it would "break up the swollen fortunes of the rich."

This sentiment is not an attractive one to Americans. We as a people are in principle against any kind of transfer of wealth and especially when it is the greedy hands of our government reaching in to transfer wealth from hard working rich people to lazy poor people. That’s how the argument goes, isn’t it?

According to the Center for Tax Justice the Estate Tax raises revenue from wealthiest 1.4% of Americans. In fact as much as two-thirds of it comes from the top 0.2% of Americans. Is there any credence to the assertion that we are punishing hard work and rewarding laziness? In fact, there is not. I agree, people who work hard and amass a fortune through toil and tribulation are what makes America special. I do not think that kids who inherit their parent’s fortunes are in any way, shape, or form special. Think Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie! In fact, it is not only poor liberals who feel this way. Over a century ago, steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie said: "The parent who leaves his son enormous wealth generally deadens the talents and energies of the son, and leads him to lead a less useful and less worthy life than he otherwise would."

Conservatives and Libertarians alike line up and chant the mantra that the Estate Tax punishes non-farm family business owners and family farmers and makes it difficult for family owned businesses to be passed on to the next generation. This should be seen for what it is; all smoke and mirrors. I would refer you back to the 1.4% and 0.2% data I listed above. But if that hasn’t got you convinced, consider this; only 1 out of every 20 family farmers leaves a taxable estate. Even those farmers that do inherit taxable estates only pay an average of $5000 in taxes on it. Of the total revenue raised by the Estate Tax, only 0.5% of is attributable to farm assets. Today AG Weekly, a news source for farmers, published an editorial saying that a permanent repeal of the Estate Tax would be bad for rural America.

Non-farm family businesses are also only a small part of the Estate Tax. They amount to less than 3% of total assets for estates worth less than $2.5 million. The fact is that the Estate Tax code offers many incentives to heirs that want to keep family businesses going, but they don't help wealthy heirs that want to sell the family business. And why should they? If anything, the Estate Tax actually encourages heirs to keep businesses in the family rather than selling.

Opponents of the Death Tax will push forward with their attempts to ensure that large estates are not “double taxed”. In the end the perceptions will remain. Those in favor of the tax believe in the original rational as explained by Congress in 1916. They will continue to point out that the amassing of a majority of the wealth in this country into the hands of the few is bad for society. Those who oppose the Death Tax will assert that they should not have to subsidize society through the redistribution of resources from the mega-wealthy to the mega-poor. In fact, the resources aren’t even going to the poor; they are going to pay for a war in Iraq that will benefit the rich. The poor are already paying for the war with the blood of their children. It is time the rich paid their fair share too.

Jules from Pulp Fiction says...

Ezekiel 25:17.

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

Click this link for fun!

Dubya is a biblical scholar. Do you think he read this one? Seems to be all about him doesn't it? Is he the tyranny of evil men? Or is the those that attempt to poison and destroy my brothers?

What do you think?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Handout or Hand-up?

The Bush administration bristles at the very mention of race playing a factor in the slow response to the disaster on the Gulf Coast of the United States. They find it simply unfathomable that anyone would even mention it. The American people are deeply divided on this subject. Two thirds of African-Americans believe that had this occurred in a predominantly white neighborhood the response would have been faster. On the other side of the coin, two-thirds of white Americans believe that race was not a factor in the slow response. Why the disconnect?

I have to agree that the Bush administration didn’t fall asleep at the switch because a majority of the people stranded were black. I also agree with rapper Kanye West when he says that President Bush doesn’t care about black people. How, you may be asking, do I reconcile those two statements? Simple! Bush didn’t neglect the stranded people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama because they were black; he neglected them because they were poor (and black).

How do I know Bush doesn’t care about black people? How do I know the sun is going to rise tomorrow? I just know. If Bush cared about the African-American community he would recognize that a staggering percentage of the poor people in the south are black. If he cared about this he might consider rolling back his tax cut for the richest 1% of Americans (or as he calls them; his base) and using that extra money to launch a massive anti-poverty initiative, kind of like the one he is funding in Iraq.

This initiative would not have to be the government handouts that Republicans so often rail against (unless it is a handout designed to bail out one of their rich friends, think tax cuts here!). The effort could be designed instead as a “hand-up”. Invest in urban and rural poor communities to improve the educational systems and provide grants and interest free loans to people who want to focus on economic redevelopment in these communities.

Poverty and all of its side effects cannot be alleviated until we get serious about sharing the American Dream with all people in this country. Poverty is not a race issue. There are many, many poor people of all races, but we do need to stop and ask why so many of the people stuck in New Orleans were black. We do need to ask if the situation would have been bungled as badly if the people in New Orleans had been white. Would the genocide in Rwanda have been tolerated if the people had been white? Would the genocide in Bosnia have been tolerated if the people being executed and buried in mass graves had been Christian and not Muslim? These questions are important to reflect upon.

I believe the best way to eliminate poverty is to enable people. Everyone has heard the cliché about giving a man a fish and he eats for a day and teaching a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Community empowerment and redevelopment sends a compelling message to poor neighborhoods that we are committed to helping them help themselves. Give them pride of ownership and you will find that the crime, vandalism and gang violence that blight poor neighborhoods will decrease. But government investment in communities cannot simply be on beautifying neighborhoods and creating new jobs. We cannot continue to simply slap on a new coat of paint and pretend like the problems have gone off down the yellow brick road.

If there are no educated and skilled workers in these communities then the businesses will either fail or move away. This effort needs to be accompanied massive infusions of capital into education and worker training programs. We need to build more and better schools, and yes I agree with George Bush, we need to hold teachers accountable. But if they are to be held accountable, then we need to equip them with the tools they need to succeed. There is nothing worse then an unfunded mandate coming out of Washington, especially when states and local communities (particularly those that are struggling the most) have no hope of funding these programs themselves.

We need to pony up to the bar and pay the tab. If a couple of rich spoiled Laguna Beach brats have to pay double tax on their inheritance, so be it. More on that soon…

911 Is A Joke!

The Bush administration thinks that it is preposterous to assert that emergency services are slower in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods! It is not a new theory. The very sage, very wise philosophers Flavor Flav and Chuck D mentioned this hypothesis in the early 1990s. Let me refresh your memory.

Hit me
Going, going, gone
Now I dialed 911 a long time ago
Don’t you see how late they’re reactin’
They only come and they come when they wanna
So get the morgue truck and embalm the goner
They don’t care ’cause they stay paid anyway
They teach ya like an ace they can’t be betrayed
I know you stumble with no use people
If your life is on the line then you’re dead today
Late comings with the late comin’ stretcher
That’s a body bag in disguise y’all betcha
I call ’em body snatchers quick they come to fetch ya?
With an autopsy ambulance just to dissect ya
They are the kings ’cause they swing amputation
Lose your arms, your legs to them it’s compilation
I can prove it to you watch the rotation
It all adds up to a funky situation

So get up get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

911 is a joke

Everyday they don’t never come correct
You can ask my man right here with the broken neck
He’s a witness to the job never bein’ done
He would’ve been in full in 8 9-11
Was a joke ’cause they always jokin’
They the token to your life when it’s croakin’
They need to be in a pawn shop on a
911 is a joke we don’t want ’em
I call a cab ’cause a cab will come quicker
The doctors huddle up and call a flea flicker
The reason that I say that ’cause they Flick you off like fleas
They be laughin’ at ya while you’re crawlin’ on your knees
And to the strength so go the length
Thinkin’ you are first when you really are tenth
You better wake up and smell the real flavor
Cause 911 is a fake life saver

So get up, get, get get down
911 is a joke in yo town
Get up, get, get, get down
Late 911 wears the late crown

Ow, ow 911 is a joke

Does this sound timely to anyone? I hope President Bush enjoys that lemonade on Trent Lott’s porch!

Showing Michael Brown the door…

So, its official, the Bush administration has officially set the horse judge out to pasture. It was revealed today that Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown has resigned for reasons that he described as "in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president." This blogger wonders whether Karl Rove personally delivered the wakizashi. Three days after being yanked by the administration from his onsite command of the hurricane relief effort Brown told the Associated Press that "the focus has got to be on FEMA, what the people are trying to do down there."

My question is; how did this guy get this job in the first place? Before receiving his appointment as Executive Director of FEMA, Brown was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, (IAHA), from 1989-2001. After numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization over disciplinary actions Brown was forced to resign. So it appears that our President has no trouble putting an ethical question mark in charge of disaster readiness and response. I guess that is not surprising since Dubya has failed at every venture that he has attempted with the possible exception of politics. I say politics and not being President because by any objective analysis George W. Bush has been a failure as a President as well, but he and his political team have been able to spin a perception of success.

This hurricane has brought to the fore an unspinnable situation which shows the cronism that exists in this administration. We were unprepared! We revamped FEMA and put it inside the Department of Homeland Security to increase inter-agency communications and improve readiness response. Nothing that anyone could have done would have stopped the levies from breaking, but one would expect competent and capable leadership from the administration. They would have you believe that this is a failure of local leadership. Don’t believe the hype!

I am not here to defend any local officials, but this was a multi-state disaster and none could be expect to mobilize the resources needed to respond adequately. This was and is a federal issue and a failure on their part to: A be adequately prepared, and B. respond appropriately to the scope of the disaster.

The failure of leadership was our President continuing his never-ending summer vacation while the hurricane gained strength over the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of rushing back to Washington to oversee efforts he flew to California to hype up his Medicare reforms. (political lesson, never miss a chance to hype up your policies, even when evacuation efforts are languishing)

In the end, the words you hear most out of the Bush administration is that they don’t want to play the “Blame Game”. It seems to me that the only people who consistantly don’t want to assign blame and learn from the failures are the people who are at fault. What is the Bush administration afraid of? They don’t have to run for re-election and they don’t care what naysayers think. They never have and they never will.

In the mean time, Brown is out the door. He insists this is his idea, for the good of the country and the President, so the focus stays on the relief and rebuilding efforts. I hope people will see that for what it is. Brown has been handed the sword, he is expected to fall on it and take one for the team. How long til he lands his next seven figures job that seem to float around for persistent neo-con failure half-wits?