Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Russ Feingold for President

When I backpack out west, high in the mountains, every once in a while I arrive at a terrifying moment. A foot path, on a steep slope, is normally exhilarating but safe. But when the slope and ten feet of trail are covered with ice you either turn back for a long journey to your point of origin or you take your chances. Each time I have gone forward, heart pounding and head dizzy, step by step, because with one slip I could slide down hundreds of feet of rocky mountainside and possibly die. I’ve always made it, but it’s been sheer luck that my boots gripped.

America is at such a dangerous point today, one of only a few in all of U.S. history. We have a president who invaded and occupies another country on completely false pretenses, and we let him get away with it. We have a president who has patently violated multiple provisions of the Constitution and Law, and we let him get away with it. We have a president whose phony war on a military tactic, terror, is generating more terror, and he’s getting away with it. We have a president who dared the Iraqi insurgency to “bring it on, “ and they obliged him. And his actions dare his foreign victims and adversaries to hit America in the only place it will really hurt. Here. And he’s getting away with it. Too many Democrats are letting him get away with it. And now most leaders of both the parties are laying the premises for attacks on Iranian territory, which could lead to a general war in the Middle East involving Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. And eventually, New York City, Washington, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and our own Disney World. If “they” get the chance. And when that happens America will shift even farther to the right, the Republican Party will be resurgent, our freedoms will be further curtailed and we will waste hundred of billions more dollars on ever more pervasive security to protect us from …..what we ourselves have created with our foreign policies of aggression, arrogance and double standards selectively applied to “enemies” of the moment which create endless war.

And so with the above in mind, I have sifted through all the evasive language, signals and clues of the presidential candidates looking for one who fully understands this moment in U.S. history, someone whose values, intellect, personality and character have combined to create clearness of thought and wisdom about what needs to be done to turn us back from this disaster. We know the Republican Party is hell bent on charging down the same road, albeit in smarter fashion perhaps. But too many of the Democratic candidates are equivocal. And equivocation leaves too much to chance and it certainly doesn‘t provide the strong leadership that is essential to persuade the American public to seriously change course. There is a great danger that they will stumble accidentally perhaps down the same path the Republicans are taking us. They are certainly not offering a clear, strong alternative to it.

Cleary Hillary Clinton is not this person. Her support, alone among the Democratic candidates, for the Senate resolution designating the Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization and authorizing military action against Iran is just her latest in a long string of offenses, the most egregious of which is probably voting to allow the export of cluster bombs to Israel even after it had dropped four million of them, many many of them indiscriminately in civilian areas of southern Lebanon.

Other candidates haven’t grabbed my imagination. Al Gore clearly needs to be restored to the presidency he won in 2000, but unless the nomination contest deadlocks he’s not going to run. In addition, I’m still not convinced he has the clearness of thought to get us across the ice patch without slipping, though he might. I just read his 2002 speech on “Iraq and the War on Terror.” He was right about Iraq of course, but his speech was full of references to “avenging” 911, of waging the “war on terror” without any discussion of its causes or non-military ways of dealing with it, and of hunting down and killing the co-conspirators of 911, as if it took more than a dozen people to provide logistical support for 20 hijackers most of who certainly did not know the real purpose of the mission given the compartmentalization of all covert actions. He too was buying the neo-con premises that are fueling terror. Maybe he has become enlightened on this count in the past five years, but my quick look at his major speeches and press coverage contained no new comments on the “war on terror” or the emerging war on Iran.

Barack Obama certainly shows promise as one who might lead us back from this abyss. But as I researched his record I kept turning up mixed clues and signals. Many very good things, such as his fiery denunciation almost alone with Al Gore in 2002, of the invasion of Iraq, his subtle signals asserting independence from the right wing warmonger elements of the Israel lobby, if that’s what we call it, his opposition to the Iran Resolution, although he was the only Senator to skip the critical vote, and his recent call for global abolition of nuclear weapons. But amidst all these positive cues I kept coming across “clues of concern”. The essay he wrote this summer for Foreign Affairs was full of mixed cues but its overall tone was one of tough talk and a troubling reference to how we “won” the Cold War, a gross historical falsehood. He’s endorsed by Zbiegniew Brezinkski, Jimmy Carter’s destructive Cold War Warrior. He reminds me a lot of JFK, for good and bad. The Cold War warrior JFK who winked at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which lead to the Missile crisis that nearly killed all of us a year later. The JFK who perpetuated the Cold War and militarization. Not that Obama has not learned some of those mistaken worldview. In the end while I am positive about Obama, I am not inspired.

So I turned to John Edwards, and I see more consistency, less “clues of concern”. Yes, there is the big Black Mark, his vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq. A big black mark. Yet he has vigorously and assertively repudiated his vote and set out a solid plan for disengagement from the disaster that he helped create. But that’s not good enough. Still, his vociferous opposition to the Iran war resolution indicates he has learned. Last May, he became an early advocate of global nuclear weapons abolition. His essay in Foreign Affairs was in clear contrast to Obama’s: while still troubling at times, it was a tone of acknowledgement of the causes of terror tactics and the critical importance of “engagement” with foreign adversaries through trade and diplomacy. These “signals” combined with his many good domestic positions recommend him highly. His courting of labor and working people’s issues and his frequent participation in ACORN events over the years has impressed me. ACORN is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, one of the, if not THE, leading nationwide grassroots group organizing lower and middle income working people to fight for their interests. I was an ACORN organizer for a while. ) And on that note I must mention that Obama was a community organizer in Chicago, to his great credit. Community organizing is one of the greatest vocations of all. It’s up there with teaching and the priesthood.) Thus, from a practical standpoint, I can endorse John Edwards for President. As my pragmatic endorsement. Still, I need someone better.

So as I cast about for someone else, of course I came to Dennis Kucinich. For a Progressive, he’s a no brainer. On every count he meets my criteria for the vision, wisdom, strength and clearness of thought that is capable of leading the American public away form the abyss so I endorse him for President too. I don’t even have to explain why. But we have to be practical. My main, my single problem with Kucinich is that he is a Congressman. By tradition members of the House of Representatives rightly or wrongly are not regarded as serious presidential candidates. No member of the House has been elected President in 150 or so years and that was in a different age. So practically speaking, I endorse Dennis Kucinich for Vice President. Let us hope he runs for the Senate from Ohio, which will position him for a presidential run.

But I’m still left without a true strong visionary inspiring practical leader. And then I realized we need somebody like Kucinich who’s a Senator. And it was obvious: Russell Feingold. Feingold ran an exploratory campaign last year, raised some money, but in the end said he didn’t have the stamina and personality to subject himself and his family to the grueling presidential campaign. We need to draft him. Draft Russ Feingold. He is one of only handful of Progressive leading lights in the Senate. Almost alone he has talked of impeaching Bush and Cheney and has offered a practical resolution to censor him over the illegal warrantless searches. He opposed the Iraq war authorization when Edwards and Hillary voted for it. He opposed NAFTA and CAFTA. He supports state by state federally funded national health insurance. He’s lead the movement for serious campaign finance and lobbying reform. He’s right down the line. But there is one thing that tipped me over. I remembered how Cold War Warrior anti-communist Richard Nixon normalized relations with Communist China and all the talk that only a president with such credential could have done that. And I realized that as a Jew, Russell Feingold might be the only President capable of getting Israel to do what it has to do to restore Middle East peace after these 60 years and knock the main pillar out of the “war on terror” and the rearming of Hezbollah and Hamas and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and Syria, perhaps: withdraw most Jewish settlers from the West Bank and participate in the establishment of a fully independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital and aggressively pursue global abolition of nuclear weapons. Russ Feingold for President. Draft Feingold. And to help carry the swing state of Ohio, Dennis Kucinich for Vice President.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ecuador Demands Military Base in Miami

President Correia (sp?) of Ecuador is demanding that the U.S. allow Ecuador to establish a military base near Miami as a condition for allowing the U.S. to renew its base agreement in Ecuador, its only one in the Western Hemisphere. Cool idea, huh? How would you like a foreign base in Florida? Ecuador could use it for operations against Mexico if they ever have a problem with Mexico, or even strike Canada. They could use it to promote democracy and fight the Mexican drug cartels. Please comment.
# Now you understand why so many people around the world resent the U.S. Empire’s bases flung all over the globe and why some of them resort to terror tactics to force their removal and halt their operations in their regions, such as Bin Laden demanding that the U.S. remove its airbase from Saudi Arabia. Close most of the bases. Terror attacks on us end. That’s how we “win” the “war on terror.” And here’s a question for you to ask Steny Hoyer this weekend and be asking our Congressmembers and Congressional candidates: do you favor closing down many U.S. bases around the world? If so, to what extent?

Libertarian Progressivism

My brand of Progressivism has a strong libertarian streak. I’m Pro Freedom and freedom of expression. I think we Progressives need to change the culture of America, the way the rightwingers have done over the past 30 years. You know, decriminalize “drugs” etc. (Isn’t it interesting how the Democrats have ceded the Freedom issue to the Republicans, which they have perverted — that’s another post). So now I’m outraged that Opa-Locka down here by Miami became one of the first cities in the country to ban sagging pants on public property yesterday. Democratic, African-American Opa-Locka. Florida. Leading the way once again. At least they didn’t criminalize it: “offenders” whose pants do not cover all of their underwear will be “removed” from public property but no one can be fined or arrested. But Tase the resistors, the ones still fighting for their freedom in the American Police State that imprisons more of its citizens per capita than any effing country on Earth.

Personally, I’ve always kind of liked the look, not that what I like or dislike should have any bearing on another person’s freedom of expression. I like artistic people. I especially like the young men showing the tops of their sexy rounded butts. I also like the torn jeans look, especially when the tears are large and in the right places and maybe showing a furry leg. I find it exciting. Adds some pizzazz to a day’s boring forays and errands. Hey, women get to show cleavage. I’m for equal rights. I liked those Muslim breast cancer victims sitting with Laura “Hurricane Corrina” Bush this week in their black whatchamacall thems, faces hidden behind the mesh screens. I thought — they must feel more safe and secure than the rest of us, hidden from society like that. I wonder if they are allowed into banks in their countries. I actually thought about trying it some time. Wouldn’t it be cool to walk around seeing everything but nobody being able to see you? I was outraged when the French banned Muslim head scarves.

I think it’s wrong for egotistical aggressive people to be forcing their lowest common denominator conformity on others. Fuck them. It’s not just wrong, it breeds resentment and anger in our society that spreads and eventually gets expressed in destructive ways and it all eats away at our decaying society. Low pants are associated with thug-gangsterism but the style has gone well beyond that. So Opa-Locka will be disrespecting and humiliating a lot of non-gang people by physically forcing them off the sidewalks and enraging them and alienating them from the society they need to be a part of.

In the 1960s we were being brainwashed by recurring media condemnations of totalitarian Communist Red China, which if we didn’t “contain” with military bases and the Vietnam War, would take over the U.S. — yes, that’s what the stupid rightwingers were actually saying while most Democrats quietly went along then as now. They kept showing photos of the Young Communist Pioneers — scores of them all dressed identically in their gray uniforms in supposed drab martial conformity that had snuffed out all individualism and turned Chinese youth into zombies. And they would do that to us if we didn’t fight them. That’s how they portrayed it. I’m not embellishing. Never mind that our Cub and Boy scouts wore blue martial uniforms. So you can imagine my outrage in the 1990s when our schools imposed totalitarian style Communist conformity on American youth with mandatory uniforms. I oppose that too.

If you want to get into the conformity game, do you really want me to indulge my dislike of business suits and ties? Make them illegal? I’ve worked for a couple of corporations in my life and I did not like it. I prefer non profits and education. (By the way, I’ve been job hunting for seven years now with little luck — that’ll be another post — and after this post do you think I will ever work again? Tee hee.) I hate the phony bullshit role-playing corporate culture and the alternate lives and personalities of corporate people after 5 pm. I find suits and ties laughable. I really do. I hate the way people use suits and ties to give themselves a “legitimacy” that they often don’t deserve. That guy wearing a suit and tie is just as likely, if not more so, to lie and steal from you as that friendly homeless guy lying on the sidewalk outside Starbucks yesterday. They’ll usually use the “system” to do it. Like the Democrat lawyers nixing the caps on their exorbitant fees in the no-fault “reform” this month while the doctors had to take caps because there are far more lawyers in the legislature than doctors. I hate wearing them, except once in a while when I feel like dressing up or weird. Why when I sweep next year’s Netroots Awards in multiple categories I will accept your adulation in torn jeans and sagging pants. Tee hee. You should see me in a suit some time. If you look closely at me you will see how uncomfortable I am and if you nail me for how stupid I look I’ll blush very red and perspire. They look like costumes to me. Something you’d wear to a Halloween party. Can you imagine what Muslims think of them? And they’re so restrictive. The ties choke the neck and most of the time the knot is skewed to one side and looks kind of sloppy and stupid. What idiot came up with the idea to tie a piece of cloth around the neck so as to choke it?

Among the many problems with this ban is it’s yet another example of arbitrary government dictated by the whims of the particular clique in control of a given government. You can’t show underwear. Does that mean the elastic waste band? Tase ‘em. What if half the waste band is showing? Tase the resistors. What about a half inch of the flannel, or even an inch? How ‘bout an inch and a half? Or two? What if the pants are low on one hip but not the other? You know, that fashion statement. Of course it will depend on what you look like. If you’re a 50 year old white man with graying hair the Morals Control Officer will let it slide. But not if you are a 25 year old Black male. Although it might depend on the officer’s mood that day. Stop the oppression. Day 52.

Republican Property Tax Disaster

The Republican legislature’s near total failure to place meaningful property tax reform on the January ballot provides an historic opportunity for Florida progressives to seize the issue, build the movement, bash the Republicans and, possibly, elect more progressive Democrats next fall. This is serious, people. An opportunity like this, and this big, doesn’t come often. It could be the fourth pillar of a realignment in this state on top of the Bush revulsion, the fracturing of the Evangelical movement and the Independent shift of Republican Hispanics. Advice to the Democrats: without endorsing or opposing the ballot measure, start running TV and radio spots slamming the Republicans for not putting real relief on the ballot. Soften them up.

Just look at the deep grave the Republicans have just dug themselves. Don’t you want to shovel the dirt on top of them? It’ll be up to you. By increasing the effective homestead exemption by a paltry $15,000, the average property tax cut they have just proposed is $240, which is no relief for the couple million angry voting Floridians who have bought homes in the past ten years and are paying taxes in the thousands of dollars. More recent buyers are paying in the double digit thousands. The taxes on my modest 1900 sq. ft. home jumped over 50%, $1200, when I bought it in 2000 and crept up another 21% since, while my income …. Well, let’s just say it hasn’t kept pace, and I’m one of the people less affected. The ballot measure DOES NOTHING for first time home buyers (renters), many many of whom are locked out of home ownership because they cannot afford the exorbitant property taxes on current values. The ballot measure perpetuates the grossly unjust disparities in tax rates on identical homes created by the annual 3% Save Our Homes cap, where next door neighbors with similar homes pay tax bills that differ by the thousands. Even the 10% annual cap on non homestead assessment increases is insufficient, having no relation to a business’ revenue. One result of this will be to force businesses such as public marinas to sell to condo developers, worsening the condization of Florida’s disappearing beaches. I mention this because it is common ground between the business and progressive communities and might serve as a source of funding for a progressive ballot initiative, at least from the more progressive elements of the business sector.

And on top of all of this, the ballot measure slices education spending in a range of $80 million to $600 million a year when we ought to be increasing our starving schools by a billion.

The only good feature of the measure, aside from the token tax relief, is that homeowners will be able to transfer their 3% cap exemptions to a new home. They’ll no longer be trapped in their homes, unable even to downsize because the taxes on their new home will be far greater than their capped taxes on their current home. Still, even this is a lot of illusion: it really only benefits long time homeowners who have accrued substantial assessment savings. It does almost nothing for people who have bought homes in the past five years or more.

Tomorrow: why we need to get a progressive tax reform on the November ballot.

A Progressive Tax Reform Initiative

A state’s tax and revenue structure is the single most important issue in its politics. Florida’s skeletal system, pathetic to begin with, has broken down. It needs to be fixed. The Republicans and their decent but weak publicity hound running for President governor have failed to fix it. This creates a golden political opportunity for progressives, and dare I say, Democrats, to show leadership, to use this opportunity to build the progressive movement in this state. How do we do this?

The January property tax ballot measure is a patch on a worn out tire. It’s almost inconsequential whether it passes or not, in the bigger scheme of things. Even if it passes it solves little. The property tax crisis and all our other fiscal problems will continue to fester and probably get worse. There will probably be another billion dollar deficit next year. Too many people are being screwed by the dysfunctional property tax system. Something’s eventually going to give. It can’t go on like this.

The Republicans will make another attempt next year to fix things and we now know the quagmire they will remain in. The legislative Democrats will propose their plan but it will only be the back benchers’ plan. Besides, the Party is too conflicted and influenced by high income organized special interests to offer a populist plan. The issue is heading for the November ballot in what promises to be the big fight of ‘08. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission will be placing amendments on the November ballot, but nothing good can come from this Jeb Bush-Republican dominated group chaired by Allan Bense, who says that the top concerns are businesses, owners of second homes and investment properties. Rubio is talking about putting something up. An anti-tax right wing radio host in Palm Beach is using his show to organize a petition drive. (Geez, is he giving me an idea?). We progressives have to be a part of that fight. We need to place our own plan on the November ballot. If we don’t offer a competing measure we lose. We remain sight seer bloggers talking about THEIR agenda, bitching and moaning about it and remaining irrelevant.

We need to do this not only to do what is right, not only to become players in state politics, but as an essential organizing strategy of the Florida Progressive movement. With so many of us locked out of electoral politics by local establishment power structures and the campaign finance system, we need to make the initiative process a key part of our strategy. We need to be putting progressive initiatives on every ballot every two years. Maybe most important of all, this will get us organized in a real way. It forces us to organize and build the infrastructure that will extend to the candidate, party, grassroots and media spheres.

We need to form a steering committee to start planning. Now. We need to hash out the kind of tax reform that is both good progressive public policy but also something than can win at the ballot box. I believe the two are the same. We may need to qualify several tax reform initiatives for the ballot. We will need 610,000 signatures by May. I know, I know. It may be too late. The progressive infrastructure in this state is too weak. But we have to start some time. This forces us to get serious and this is an historic opportunity. And you never know. Lightning strikes. Maybe the 12 perfect people will coalesce who can make this happen. That’s all it takes. Including a sugar daddy and mommy.

Tomorrow: a progressive tax reform plan.

2008 Florida Tax Relief and Reform Initiative

Here it is, the initiative Florida progressives should get onto the November ballot. This is critical, people. If we don’t do this, the right wingers will have their budget busting tax-breaks-for-the-well-off on the ballot and win it because we haven’t given the people an alternative.

(P.S: You right wingers out there are going to LOVE this!!! Though I have to admit, you anti-tax people are the sole remaining rational people in the Republican Party. I appreciate your posts).

I base this on basic Progressive principles. A tax system should be
1) based on a person’s ability to pay the tax
2) spread across a broad and diverse tax base
3) generate lots of money, whoopee! To fund an ambitious lite-socialist agenda such as fully funding existing government programs plus universal early education, parent training, park land acquisition and Everglades restoration, living wages and self-help anti poverty and economic development programs (subject to rigorous audits to prevent waste and corruption)
4) moderate the economic predation and inequalities of wealth that occur when large corporations and high-paid professions use their undue economic power to extract excessive amounts of money from lower and middle income people

2008 Florida Tax Relief and Reform Initiative

Section 1: Tangible Property tax.
A) Abolish all taxes on tangible property.

Section 2: Sales tax
A) Reduce state sales tax to 4%
B) End all exemptions to sales tax except for food, prescription drugs and permanent residential rentals
C) Extend sales tax to all non-medical services (B&C=$66 billion/yr)

Section 3: Intangible property tax
A) Reinstitute tax on investments over $1 million/individual abolished by Big Business Henchman, My-Daddy-didn’t -know -what-a-supermarket-price-scanner-was Jeb Bush. ($1.2 billion/yr)
B) Qualified pension plans shall be exempt.

Section 4: Corporate income tax
A) Adjust upward the corporate income tax to maintain revenue neutrality of current corporate contribution to state revenue in wake of property tax abolition
B) Close Jeb “my-mom-kept-calling-it-Hurricane Corrina-cause she doesn‘t care about the news” Bush loopholes and expand base ($1.6 billion/yr)
1) Reinstitute combined reporting
2) Tax S-corps
3) Tax LLCs

Section 5: Establish a graduated personal income tax ranging from 3% to 15% beginning on taxable income of $18,000 on a head of household ($$$$$!!!!)

Section 6: Inheritance tax
A) Recouple state inheritance tax to federal estate tax on estates over $1 million per individual ($1.2 billion/yr)

Section 7: State general revenue reserve fund.
A) The state shall by the end of Governor Mark Weaver’s first term maintain a $12 billion reserve fund (invested in a secure portfolio) to cushion budget shocks during economic/revenue downturns.

Gimme $1 million so I can get this on the ballot!