Saturday, August 22, 2009

But we've always done it this way

Anyone that has worked in the world of business computing or other back room operations has run into this classic line of resistance to change:

"But we've always done it this way."

The Buddhist Though for the Day addresses this and similar manifestations of clinging.

While the Tathagata, in his teaching, constantly makes use of conceptions and ideas about them, disciples should keep in mind the unreality of all such conceptions and ideas. They should recall that the Tathagata, in making use of them in explaining the Dharma always uses them in the semblance of a raft that is of use only to cross a river. As the raft is of no further use after the river is crossed, it should be discarded. So these arbitrary conceptions of things and about things should be wholly given up as one attains enlightenment. -Buddha

All things are impermanent. What we have "always done" has not always been done nor will it always be done. It is simply the raft we have used for awhile to get from there to here. An interim measure that has served its purpose.

This clinging to the way we've always done things is the essence of conservatism. A blind need for permanence that fails to recognize that things are always changing all around us and in us at all times and in all places. Things that have served us well in the past become obstacles to moving forward.

"As the raft is of no further use after the river is crossed, it should be discarded."

As the European enlightenment-renaissance-scientific-industrial revolution went on the old ways of feudalism and mercantilism were abandoned to be replaced by nation-states, nationalism and capitalism. As Europeans crossed the ocean to settle the Americas they eventually discovered that the old ties that bound them to their former Kings and Lords no longer served a positive and useful purpose. Consequently, we broke those ties and moved on.

What drives us as individuals and communities to this clinging? We do it in our personal lives as well. We take photographs in order to hold on to precious moments in our lives. We attach to family, friends and relationships and all the while as we attempt to perfect them to our preconceived notions of how they should perfectly be we also resist the idea of change and potential... eventual... inevitable... loss occuring in them. We cling to our notions and idealized perceptions of the reality we create for ourselves.

Certainly fear and ignorance drive this. We fear loss. We fear not getting what we want. We tend to be ignorant of the inevitable impermanence of all things. Yet we see change happening and we cling in an attempt to resist that which cannot be resisted. We suffer as a result. Individually and collectively.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

There's Something Happenin' Here...

What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a thermometer over there
Tellin' Congress they got to beware

Goal Thermometer

I think it's time we
contribute children
what's that sound
Take a look at that rising amount!

There's battle lines being drawn
Ain't no reform if no public option
Progressives holding their ground
Getting so much resistance from Blue Dogs

I think it's time we contribute, funds, to the Ones
Everybody look at who's standing UP!

What a field-day for the town halls
A thousand people in the street
Teabagging and carrying signs
Mostly say, crazy is on our side

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into the right it has creeped
It starts when their feed bullshit lies
You listen to Limbaugh or Beck and they lie to your face
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

With apologies to Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield.

48 hours ago Blue American, FireDogLake and others started a fund raising effort to reward those members of Congress that are standing up strong for the American people. The battle in Congress over health care reform is a hard one. The insurance industry is pulling out all the stops (and all their cash) in an effort to turn reform into a give-away to the industry that will result in worse and more expensive health care coverage instead of actual reform.

Over 60 members of the House of Representatives are standing their ground and making it clear that any health care bill that does not contain a Public Option will not pass the House. And they have the votes to ensure that.

The response from the blogosphere has been nothing short of amazing. The original goal was $100,000. That was blown away in less than 24 hours. It was raised to $150k. That is in the past. It was raised to $250k and that was put in the distance as I typed this post. The current goal is $350,000 and we are well on our way to seeing that bid passed and raised even further.

If you have some change in your change jar now is the time to dig deep and contribute to the effort. This is about real health care reform for America. 47 Million Americans don't have health insurance. Almost all of the rest of us have health insurance that is insufficient. All of us pay more for our health coverage and get less in return then the rest of the industrialized world. We need real reform that brings America into the modern world.

But this effort is becoming one of such staggering magnitude that it is about more than just this one battle. The people of America are speaking up and making it clear that when we said we wanted health reform we meant it. We are sending a strong message to the teabagging minority, to what is left of the Republican Party, to the obstructionist Blue Dogs, to the corporate owned New Dems (DLC), to the White House, to the progressive caucus, and to the rest of the world.

We will not be stopped. We will be heard. Our hired hands in Congress will do our bidding. The lobbyists will not be allowed to win.

The American People are speaking.

For your listening enjoyment:

10th Best Buddhist Blog: Ann Coulter

Hilariously, coming in at #10 Ann Coulter. This is perhaps the best take-down of her I've ever seen.

10. Ann Coulter: One of the key teachings of Buddhism is to develop enough space in your own mind that you can recognize, and choose how to deal with, the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. As root causes of suffering, we dedicate our practice to shining a light on the poisons in ourselves and others, in order to alleviate dissatisfaction. I can think of no better opportunity to practice compassion or deal with our own internal reactions than being faced with a living, breathing example of the three poisons run amok. Ann Coulter is a shining example of what happens when you (consciously or not) embrace the poisons and then package and sell them back to other people to increase their dissatisfaction without offering any hope or path to a more easeful way of being. This may be the best site site of all the best sites for Buddhists, as it offers an opportunity to practice how we deal with unskillful emotions in ourselves, and in others. It's easier being Buddhist in the familiar environments of Elephant Journal, Tricycle, or Buddhist Geeks - but what happens when we are confronted with button-pushing unskillful dogma?

That is where practice is, isn't it? If you've ever sat in perfect blissful Nirvana only to yell at the dog or the child or mentally cuss out the neighbor and their car alarm for disturbing your wonderfully harmonious and loving state of mind then you know that right living is something we need to practice in the real world of contentious behavior and not something we do sitting quietly on a cushion.

It is easy to laugh at the image of Ann Coulter as the personification of the three poisons... "a living, breathing example of the three poisons run amok..." but how sad and difficult a life it must be to live. It is difficult to deal with them in our own lives and minds when we aware of them and are trying to share peace with our worlds but to live in that state of ignorance where it seems right to spread self-centered hatred, discord and greed.

How sad indeed.

Here's a challenge... what skilful means does one practice when trying to be of service to an Ann Coulter?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Buddhist View of Health Care Reform

The basis of Buddhism is the The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path that the historical Buddha taught in his first sermon following his enlightenment. What is this Four Noble Truths?

Thus have I heard…

Now this, bhikkhus [i.e. monks], is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

This is the First Noble Truth. All of life is suffering. At first this seems a horrible view but it is not intended to deny that there is joy and happiness in life. Far from it. Rather to point out that suffering is an inevitable part of all aspects of life. Life is a wonderful thing. But ask any mother if there is some suffering involved in birth. Children are a source of great joy but ask any parent if there is not some suffering involved in parenting. And so forth.

The five aggregates, also known as the five aggregates of existence, or the five skandhas, are form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Our sense of self is tied up in these aggregates of existence. At the heart of any suffering is our clinging to some form or other of one or more of these aggregates in our mind.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving that leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

This is the Second Noble Truth. Craving. Craving after what we do not have. Craving derived from the five aggregates of existence and given body and strength by our clinging or attachment to them. Including, craving for the relief from craving, craving for the relief from our own delusions. This is the true source or origin of suffering.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.

Detachment from and extinguishment of our craving and clinging behaviors and nature. If you’ve ever wanted someone else (a child or spouse perhaps) to do something and experienced the powerlessness of watching them do what they want to do regardless of your wants and desires then you know clearly the nature of craving and clinging. If you’ve ever freed yourself from the resultant suffering simply by detaching yourself from your own desires for that person then you have experienced the cessation of that suffering. It is as simple, and as hard, as that.

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

So what does all this have to do with health care?

Without going too much deeper into Buddhist thought which traverses the borderlines between western philosophy, psychology and religion, let’s see how the eightfold path might clear some of the muddle going on in Washington, DC as well as the deep fog enveloping the traditional media reporting on the debate.

Right view: bi-partisanship, triggers, co-ops, public options, market competition, socialism, single-payer, profit margins, trillion dollar price tags. In what way do any of these describe a working health care system?

Right view would be to start by looking at the problem. What is, are, the problems with health care? Primarily, that some 45 million or more don’t have access to affordable coverage; that the costs for those of us that do are spiraling out of control; that the current structure of our health care system is unable to address these problems.

Right Intent then, would be to define goals that solve the identified problems. We need a health care system that is affordable and accessible for everyone regardless of economic status, changes in status (unemployment, age, sickness, marriage, divorce, etc), health or lack of health (“pre-existing conditions” in other words).

This health care system must be designed to provide at least basic health care needs for everyone and then, as cost and resources allow, expands available health care services to everyone up to the point where resources are no longer available (OOOOH! Scary! We’ll talk about that some more later).

Going back to Right View for a moment, Right View is one that isn’t driven by an “I got mine” attitude but rather by one that includes the needs of everyone. A self-centered view (Wrong View) sets people at cross-purposes, creates inefficiencies in the system and the market place and ensures that we do not achieve the best possible health care system for all. An inclusive view (Right View) is a cooperative one without wasted effort, wasted services, wasted dollars and wasted lives.

Right Speech is honest and forthright about our needs and intent. Right speech is not wasted on talk of “bi-partisanship” and “market competition” and “socialism” but rather on problems and solutions. It isn’t spent talking about profit margins but rather about meeting the needs of the people.

Right Speech demands a health care system that works for the citizens and doesn’t stop demanding it until the problem is solved.

Right Action is working towards creating that solution. Right action involves compromising between the realities of cost and the realities of need. Right action does not include compromising need in order to gain votes. Right action does not include compromising need in order to appease powerful lobbyist dollars. Right action knows when to compromise want and desire and when to hold firm in order to ensure a system that actually works.

Right livelihood steps back to take a look at other factors in play. Right livelihood involves business practices that produce ill-effects, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Right livelihood is responsibility, personal and corporate. Right livelihood means replacing old technologies and power sources with new, clean, sustainable, renewable technologies and power sources. Right livelihood means recognizing where the line is between profit margins and ethical behavior, again, personal and corporate. Right livelihood means engaging in businesses that enhance the well-being of self and others. It means phasing out and ending business that harm self and others.

A healthy environment will make for healthier people. Healthy people have fewer health care needs. Less strain on the health care system means lower costs. Lower costs means greater affordability for all.

Right Effort is soft and non-threatening, peaceful and non-violent but also as immovable as a mountain and as irresistible as an ocean. Right effort listens. Right effort seeks to understand. Right effort seeks to form common understanding, to find common ground, to create consensus, and to move forward together as a unified whole.

Right effort does not stop but it does so without attachment or stubborn clinging. Right effort does not get side tracked by anger or frustration… or self-centered greed.

Right mindfulness remembers what the problem is, what the goal is; what suffering is; what the cause of suffering is, what the cessation of suffering is, what the path leading to the cessation of suffering is. Right mindfulness is open, unconditioned. It does not overlay a situation with its own pre-conditioned views. Right mindfulness meets the needs of self and others equally as they arise for the betterment of all beings. Right mindfulness remains open and unconditioned in order to not get lost in the moment, its tangents, its frustrations, its delusions.

Right Concentration remains focused on solving the problem at hand. It doesn’t get lost in the past or the future. It resides here and now. It is only here and now. By existing here and now it does not get distracted or confused by propaganda, sales pitches and fear mongering.

Right concentration understands that governments are formed by common consent of the governed in order to meet their common needs and solve their common problems for their common benefit. Right concentration remains focused on solving the health care needs of American citizens and only once that problem has been solved concerns itself with the desires of corporations and the ephemeral arguments of markets competition and triggers, co-ops and socialism, profit margins and trillion dollar price tags.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Health Care Debate

Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler. - Albert Einstein

The health coverage debate rages on with talk of trillion dollar costs, market competition, public options, socialized medicine, co-ops, triggers and a variety of other things. What is lacking is discussion of what the actual goals and needs are.

It seems to me that there are two high-level categories required for health care coverage:

1. Basic Care
2. Catastrophic Care

Currently we incorrectly call basic care coverage “insurance.” There is no need for insurance for basic care. These are basic services and goods like any other. Everyone needs basic care just as we need food, shelter, and love.

“Insurance” is the proper term for catastrophic care. Most of us will need catastrophic care at some time in our lives. It is a broad category that includes things such as chronic illnesses, cancer, end-of-life care, etc. These are generally very expensive, catastrophically expensive, and usually unpredictable. For these things we need insurance.

Basic care on the other hand includes things like regular periodic check-ups. Treatments for minor accidents, everyday passing illnesses, and a certain level of diagnostic procedures.

Diagnostic procedures need to be discussed further and perhaps even create a third category of coverage as many of these wonderfully useful and helpful, modern high-tech diagnostic procedures are very, very expensive and part of why health care costs in America are sky rocketing.

Basic care should also include individual, child, and family health education; family planning services, pre- and neo-natal care, nutrition services and the like. Properly fed mothers make for healthy mothers. Healthy mothers in healthy homes make for healthy children. Healthy children make for healthy and productive adults. Healthy and productive adults need fewer health care services and therefore lower health care costs.

Forget for a moment that we are the richest nation on earth. Ignore that we already spend more than any other nation on health costs. Consider that you are designing a health care system for your people from scratch. Consider that you have limited resources. What do you do first?

First, we must provide basic care coverage for everyone. That is the starting point. Everyone is covered. Everyone gets the kind of basic, preventive, and educational care that:

a. everyone needs
b. lowers the likelihood of other problems
c. catches problems early
d. lowers overall needs, risks, and costs

Ok, let’s say you’ve designed a basic care system that provides that for all your citizens. What do you do next? Next, we create an insurance system that provides coverage for catastrophic health care costs.

Third, we tackle the problem of those in-between needs and costs. With whatever resources are available we expand up to include more in basic care and we expand down to include more in catastrophic insurance as resources allow.

What else is involved? Research and development. One of the reasons we have such good health care in the United States is the sort of R&D work that goes on in our high-tech society. This is very expensive but very worth while. The question is how do we encourage R&D work and how do we compensate for it? That is a discussion for another time but one to keep in mind as the discussion moves to costs.

What is missing from the above? Ummm… market competition, cost containment, co-ops, triggers, public options, socialized medicine and the like. Those are secondary concerns, secondary considerations having to do with politics, profit margins, and some very real concerns about cost. Some of that will come into play during a discussion about costs. But before we move there doesn’t it make sense to perform a needs assessment? To agree on what the problem is? To agree on what the goals are? Only then can one truly move on to system design and cost/benefit analysis.

Monday, March 09, 2009

"Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests"

Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his book The Social Contract, Book III, Chapter 4: Democracy says:

"It is not good that he who makes the law should execute it or that the body of the people should turn its attention away from general perspectives and give it to particular objects. Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests, and the abuse of the law by the government is a lesser evil than that corruption of the legislator which inevitably results from the pursuit of private interests. When this happens, the state is corrupted in its very substance and no reform is possible. A people which never misused the powers of government would never misuse independence, and a people which always governed itself well would not need to be governed."

Of which the key point to ponder is:

"... the abuse of the law by the government is a lesser evil than that corruption of the legislator which inevitably results from the pursuit of private interests."

Having just come through a time when our government has evidenced both such evil's... abuse of law and corruption of the legislators... it is worth pondering his view.

Abuse of law has been horrendous. At first blush it seems to be easily the worst of these two evils. And indeed, I think that is true.

However, Rousseau's point here appears to be that the one comes before the other and makes the second not only possible but subsequently impossible to get rid of. I think this is true.

Corruption of our legislature by moneyed interests has weakened our democracy greatly. It has broken down the rule of law. It has led to alteration of our law, tax code, oversight and such to the benefit of the few over the needs of the many. It has created an environment of government for sale and one of power for powers sake in a dog eat dog environment where the idea that he who dies with then most toys wins.

This is where the abuse of law in government comes from, this is what makes it possible. In an environment where the legislature was pure (or relatively pure), where money spoke no louder then poverty, law would be crafted towards the needs of the many not the wants of the few. Government policy would be geared towards the good of all not towards the greed of the few.

The needs of the many require that power be kept in check. Hence foreign wars of adventure and profit for the moneyed class would not be allowed. Principles of democracy would be sustained and advanced at home and would form the basis of foreign policy abroad rather than principles of hegemony and empire.

Hegemony and empire are structures of power. They have no place in the democracy of the many. They exist only in a world governed by the power games of the few. No hegemonic dreams, no glories of empire mean no torture of opponents, no creation of an atmosphere of terror to oppress the masses, no slaughter of innocents, no invasion of the rights and privacies of citizens at home.

Corruption of the legislator weakens the legislature. The strongest branch of government here in America was intended to be the legislative branch. A weakened legislature leads to a power shift towards the executive. There are benefits to a strong executive. However, the executive is by nature a branch of individual power rather than government by the law of the many. And power tends to corrupt. Even the best person in possession of that much power will almost inevitably succumb to at least some temptation of power over law. A lower quality individual will succumb to such temptations quite rapidly and in full. Frankly, they will likely arrive in office having already done so.

So, in attempting to solve the problems we have been experiencing in government it is necessary to take a two pronged approach. The first is what I call the band-aid approach. Immediately apply remedies to the problems at hand. An example of this would be to review all the signing statements and executive orders of the Bush/Cheney administration as well as the Office of Legal Counsel documents, immediately abrogating the obviously illegal, unethical or immoral ones. These are band-aids to stop the immediate bleeding.

The second prong is the most important and that is to get to the root cause and correct it so that such abuses of power do not recur. This means focusing on the legislative branch and the manners in which it becomes corrupted. This leads immediately to the influence of money. Money influences in many ways. In reviewing the McCain-Feingold campaign financing law the Supreme Court recognized correctly that money is like water, it will always find the cracks. This is true but it does not mean that reform, restriction and control are not possible. Quite the opposite. It means that the system needs to be structured in such a way as to best limit the cracks. It also means a constant review and audit of policies and procedures in order to find, monitor and plug the cracks before they break open the dam.

The influence of money is perhaps greatest in the electoral system itself. Most members of Congress are of the moneyed class. Political campaigns are won in virtually every case by the campaign that spends the most money. Consequently politicians spend more time raising money in campaigns then they do talking with the citizens they are supposed to represent.

There are those who argue that campaign finance limitations are unconstitutional. If this is so then this is a clear case where the Constitution needs amending. The influence of money is a grave danger to our form of government.

"Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests, and the abuse of the law by the government is a lesser evil than that corruption of the legislator which inevitably results from the pursuit of private interests. When this happens, the state is corrupted in its very substance and no reform is possible."

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sometimes they say stuff that pisses me off

Oh my... Oliver Willis sends me this link from The National Review.

It has long been a trite position of the right wing that those at the top of society are morally superior to the rest of us. It is their breeding, higher incomes, etc that prove their superiority. This is of course pure bunk. No matter how many times over the centuries or how many ways it has been thoroughly debunked it remains as a pet delusion of grandeur for them.

Sometimes though they say stuff that just pisses me off...

"And why is a president who needs them [the affluent] to keep on producing at the prodigious rates both society and the economy require, treating them as if they — not the slackers, the entitled, and the net tax consumers — were the problem?"

The prodigious rates evidenced by the plummeting economy, half-sized DOW, and millions of jobs lost? Including many of their own? The net tax consumers are a good target. Perhaps all the corporations and businesses that receive subsidies, government contracts, and tax breaks ought to be charged a fair share of that. Perhaps the upper tax brackets that received the bulk of the disastrous conservative republican tax give aways that were a large part of the cause of our current problems ought to pay all that money back. And perhaps the author ought to provide some proof for the un-sourced slam about unnamed and unknown slackers, entitled, and net tax consumers?

Oh yes, and speaking of tax consumers... perhaps the oil companies should pay for their own foreign wars and return the six trillion the government has spent on their behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He calls it as he sees it, with intelligence, intensity, and insight into the unrelentingly hard-working lives of the most productive people in America."

Provide proof please. Most productive people by what measure? And your concluding statement that they will turn to golf instead defeats your own argument. The truly unrelentingly hard-working lives of the low and middle class provide no options for turning to golf as an option.

"No group of people contribute more to their community."

Provide proof for this statement please because there are plenty of working poor and middle class that find time to coach kids sports teams, volunteer for fire departments, train as EMT's, volunteer at hospitals, take meals to shut-in’s, etc. Probably far more working poor and middle class that are the backbones of their communities by doing these things then “working affluent” sitting on charity boards sipping lattes.

"More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity."

No. He is trying to dig the country out of the economic disaster that conservative policy has created. Where else to look then for help then to those that benefited from these disastrous policies? Truly patriotic people would be looking for ways to help out the President in this effort. Similarly, truly productive people don’t need incentives to produce. They do so for the love of it.

"So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 or 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling?"

Pointless? Pointless? Learn some economics. He's not just spending money because he likes to spend money. He's spending money to save your jobs, your homes, your economic prospects, your small businesses, your large corporations, your 401k’s and the lives of the rest of us.

"But while we're watching, "working affluent" is a far more useful and less loaded moniker than "the rich," which has overtones of dilettantes, poodles, and yachts."

I agree. "Working affluent" is very a good and useful term. The working affluent are... A) working... and B) affluent. Therefore since they are working they can afford to pay taxes that those who aren't working due to the economic disaster of conservative policies can't and since they are affluent they can afford to pay more taxes then those who are not affluent. The rich yachting dilettante poodles can give back even more. I have no problem with two gradations of "affluent" and "rich" in the tax code. Works for me. That’s how the tax code originally started out. Only the rich and affluent paid.

The bottom line is that thanks to conservative republican economic beliefs being dominant since 1980 exemplified by the "drown the country in the bathtub" views of Grover Norquist and the belief in the moral superiority of industry titans, Wall Street financiers... you know... the Ken Lay's and Jack Abramoff's and Bernie Madoff's of the world... those guys and their unrelentingly, hard-working moral superiority... this country is facing the worst economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930's.

The money flow has stopped. The banking industry is on life support. Loans can't be had and that means homes aren't being bought or sold, businesses aren't growing or starting, workers of all stripes, affluent and non-affluent, are being laid off, unemployment is at a 25 year high with a record 12.5 million unemployed workers. GM & GE are in the tank. Read that again... GM and GE, the centerpieces of the once dominant American economy are both in severe danger. GE's stock price? $6.74. GM's? $1.47. Banking giant Citigroup? $1.01.

Right now is a time for all Americans to ask not what their country can do for them but rather what they can do for their country. Right now is a time when being patriotic is doing whatever is necessary to get this country back on its feet again.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during WWII. They have told me stories of rationing, of walking the neighborhood gathering tin cans and other scrap metal for the war effort. Of living in one town after another criss-crossing the Midwest wherever grandfather could find work. They tell stories of sacrifice for the common good. The common good.

The conservative republican mantra is "tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts." I am all in favor of keeping taxes as low as feasibly possible. The fact of the matter is that this country was at its financial, industrial, economic, and productively strongest during the decades following WWII when taxes were sky high, unionization was at its highest, and income inequality was its lowest.

After near 30 years of conservative economic policy income inequality is as high as it was during the gilded age, unionization is at its lowest, the average Americans income growth has stagnated for years, and our financial, industrial and economic strength is down and… taxes are at their lowest in years. America no longer leads due to conservative policy geared towards corporate greed.

Greed is a sin. Economic policy has been run by greed for far too long and we are now reaping the price of allowing it too run unchecked. Making money is a fine thing but it is not the only thing for which humans, society, and governments are made.

The conservative economic agenda has been one of class warfare. During the last couple decades of large increases in American productivity the produce of that increase has gone completely to the very upper class. It has not “trickled down” to the average American. Income growth at the top has been astronomical. The rest of us have experienced no real growth and in many cases loss of real, effective income.

The result? Recession edging towards depression.

High incomes, personal, corporate, wind fall, capital gains, or estate need to be taxed at a high rate in order to sustain a healthy economy. In a healthy economy money flows. Money that flows in only direction stops flowing when it reaches its destination. That is what we are seeing today. Money has flowed only to the top for the last 29 years and now it has stopped flowing.

This does not mean "soaking the rich" or stopping the haves from having enough to invest. It does mean that an extremist view of “tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts” and drowning the government in a bathtub are exactly that. Extremist. Extremist in the same way that terrorists and religious fanatics are extremists. And every bit as destructive.

Keep taxes as low as reasonably possible but also as high as necessary in order to ensure income inequality does not get out of hand and in order to ensure that money flows throughout the entire economy. Trickle down is nonsense. Trickle up is the way to go. Raise the level of the many at the bottom. As they spend day to day, jobs are created, goods are produced, small businesses and large are strengthened. Profits increase. And as profits increase incomes of the folks at the top increase as well. This is not socialism as the screamers like to scream. This is simply sound economics. It is also morally sound.

A free market is one with oversight and accountability. A free market is one with known and fair rules. A free market is one that takes into account all costs of production… including environmental costs to water, air and soil. A free market is one in which favored industries do not receive tax breaks and/or subsidies that allow them to profit from unprofitable ventures or to have an advantage over competing industries and products.

The government should stay out of business as much as possible. Fair and free competition can be very productive. However, there are some places where the government is the best or only vehicle in which to solve or nurture societal needs.

The last couple decades have been decades ruled by the sins of greed and gluttony. Sins come about from excess. Excess leads to disaster. We have witnessed the culmination of excessive disaster these past 8 years. It is now time to reign in the excess. Clean up the mess. Sweep away the wreckage. Restructure the economy on sound, moral and productive grounds that benefit all of society and not just the sinful, greedy few.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Indiana?

Kos wrote a piece showing state shifts in Presidential voting the last two elections on Thursday. Take a quick look.

Paul Rosenberg at Open Left followed up with a post pulling in Gallup poll numbers on change in party ID amongst voters. Take a look.

These make for a great lead-in to a question that has been rumbling around in my head since November.

Why Indiana?

In particular it is a question for pollsters, strategists, and Indiana people out there… Why Indiana?

In pondering this past election cycle I find myself surprised by only one thing… Indiana… well, two things, that one lonely electoral vote in Nebraska too. North Carolina came over to us one election cycle earlier then I expected but I consider that a very nice treat not a surprise. All the other states fell as expected. Except Indiana. Why did we win Indiana? And how do we build on that?

I think pundits, pollsters, strategists, political consultants and politicians are likely to make some serious mistakes in evaluating this past election and using it to predict future results. Two major factors came together uniquely in the 2008 election that will not be repeated in the future. Those two factors are the complete and total disaster that was the Bush/Cheney administration and Barack Obama, the first African-American to be nominated and subsequently elected President in the United States of America.

So, while some Democrats turned delusional in their victorious ecstasy gloat about “permanent Democratic majorities” and Republicans do whatever the Republican equivalent of navel gazing is while wailing and gnashing teeth over their massive defeat, the fact of the matter is that weak and poor governing on the part of Democrats could easily bring back the slim Republican majority that is their highest possible achievement level and return Democrats to the navel gazing self criticism that seems to come so easily to them.

During this past election cycle Democrats were energized by the opportunity to finally be rid of the Bush/Cheney disaster and the desire to ensure that it was not continued by another Republican. Minorities and liberals amongst Democrats were further energized by the opportunity to finally advance the civil rights movement that has been stalled since 1968 by electing the first African-American to the Presidency. Make no mistake this is a huge barrier that has been broken. Independent voters were similarly energized by the opportunity to be rid of Republican mis-rule and the desire to give Democrats a chance to dig us out of this mess. Reasonable and responsible Republicans, the same.

Which brings us to Indiana. Indiana is a very rural, conservative, white, Republican state. The last time it voted Democrat for President was in the Lyndon Johnson landslide against Barry Goldwater in 1964. Prior to that it was FDR’s first 2 elections during the depression. Going backwards between then and the birth of the Republican Party in 1860 Indiana has voted Democratic only 4 other times and of those 3 were in the 1800’s. In 2004 it was a 60% - 39% Republican state.

So, is this just an anomaly like 1964? Or is there something to be learned here? FDR is the only one to put back-to-back Democratic victories together but even he didn’t manage to win Indiana in his next two elections. Working with that small amount of information… is it economic populism? Or are there other lessons to be learned here?