Archive for April, 2009

Where’s the outrage?

[Mayor Ken Miyagishima e-mailed the following statement on the quality-of-life tax with the weekly City Council Information letter. Editor]

FYI: I do not support the quality of life tax as this time for the following reasons:

I believe we (council) can do more to increase funding to avoid raising taxes such as:

1. Proceeds from CLC license plate will generate approximately $150,000 to be dedicated to the recreation fund.

2. We are currently looking at helping both the Museum Foundation and Branigan Foundation to generate income, thus reducing city funding. This could also generate approximately $100,000 – $150,000

3. I believe we could sell some small “Pocket parks” that according to staff could be as many as 20 very small, seldom used pocket parks. What is a pocket park? Basically a small piece of land within a subdivision that the developer “donated” to the city to be used as a park. Savings: $150,000

As you can tell, this could raise or save about $400,000 to be used toward recreation.

Thank you, KEN MIYAGISHIMA

By Steve Klinger

How about a show of hands? How many supporters of the “quality-of-life” tax in Las Cruces were waving their signs against taxes at the teabag party on April 15?

Of course, this tax is different. Just ask a soccer mom. Or a rec league weekend warrior. The tea parties were all about federal taxes, taking my money and giving it to some lazy unemployed person or a big investment bank when the government ought to be saving money. The local sales tax boost would enhance recreation opportunities right here in this community.  Everyone should get on board and sign the petitions now being drawn up so the City Council can either approve the tax directly or send it along for a public referendum.

And besides, it’s only ¼ of one percent, a measly quarter on a hundred-dollar purchase. How selfish can you be to not support this tax and expect those who participate in the sports to pay their own way with user fees?

OK, since you asked, I’ll tell you. We are in a recession, in case you hadn’t noticed. And sales (or gross receipts) taxes are among the most regressive; they take a larger proportion of income/assets from the poorest individuals. Those on a fixed income are the hardest hit, and probably the least likely to use the sports/recreation facilities as well.

Advocates of the tax will have 60 days to get at least 2,136 valid signatures on petitions to get the initiative before the City Council.

The proposed tax may be small, but it would come on top of the spaceport tax and push the city gross receipts rate closer to 8 percent. Now is not the time for non-essential taxes. Surely the teabaggers agree with me and are aghast at this effort to add a new tax to the burden of Las Crucens.

Seems kind of quiet out there. Don’t all protest at once.

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Tortured Logic

By Steve Klinger

I don’t often come down on the same side of an issue as Nancy Pelosi, but at least I suppose I can disagree with Harry Reid on his opposition to the establishment of an independent “truth” commission to study U.S. interrogation policies and practices.

Reid is a card-carrying member of that widely populated Democratic Party order of invertebrates that has backed down from every opportunity to act with integrity that has been placed before them. I’m not surprised at his position, but I had hoped Barack Obama would show some more backbone. The smokescreen they have thrown up is laughable: that an independent inquiry would risk a partisan fight that would detract from Obama’s economic agenda.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Reid and Obama prefer handle the initial investigation, is composed of a nearly equal number of Democrats and Republicans. It is therefore pretty likely to be about the most partisan forum you could find to investigate the volatile torture controversy. The whole point of an independent panel would be its nonpartisan nature.

Obama, ever the pragmatist, can certainly raise the objection that any study could detract from and weaken his agenda, but when did convenience take priority over the law and moral imperatives? The point is that the United States has signed international compacts outlawing torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners, and has established the sanctity of human rights in its own constitution. Acknowledging that we violated those standards in the past but no longer do so would be like Ted Bundy saying he’d knocked off a few women but didn’t do it anymore.

Aside from the semantic arguments about what constitutes torture, the real issue is that in saying we must move on and not dwell on the past we are essentially condoning behavior we have condemned, which sets the worst possible precedent for future administrations. Further, it establishes us as rank hypocrites, who condemn human rights violations of other governments and continue merciless embargoes against those governments while clearly lacking the willpower to swallow any version of our own medicine.

The big red herring in this discussion is the contention by some conservatives that waterboarding and other tactics work and have brought us valuable, actionable intelligence. Whether torture works is entirely beside the point. If it’s productivity you want, slavery works. And if it’s mass murder, atomic bombs work. But that doesn’t make them right.  Until someone is brought to justice for the criminal and immoral acts we know occurred, we cannot hope to restore our international standing or our own pride in what America purports to stand for.

The CIA interrogators who were assured the orders they were following were legal should not be the targets of this investigation; those should be the justice department officials who set the policies and rationalized torture. But clearly those policies did not originate with apparatchiks.  They came down from higher authorities: Rice and Cheney, very possibly Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush himself.

The Senate Intelligence Committee under Dianne Feinstein will show very little of that if it is the primary investigating body. Or else it will prove hopelessly polarized and blatantly partisan.  That’s why an independent truth commission, if a credible one could be created, would be the only hope of a nonpartisan, or postpartisan outcome. Barack Obama knows that in his heart of hearts, but apparently we need to keep reminding him that pragmatism is no substitute for the standards of national conduct we repeatedly invoke when it suits our purpose in condemning others.

As for his agenda, it will either take care of itself or it won’t. Even if it does, it won’t be worth much in a nation that has traded its moral compass for a leaky lifeboat in need of constant bailouts — with dollars or rationalization.

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How to Secede Without Really Trying

Texas secede from the Union? Sorry, Rick Perry, the State Department beat you to it. On its website listing of 16 foreign countries visited by Secretary Hillary Clinton, State had Texas right there between Turkey and Switzerland. Although there wasn’t anything parrticularly “foreign” about Clinton’s stop in Texas last month, the surprising classification seemed even more curious after the Texas governor’s behavior at an April 15 “tea party” in Austin. State later revised its list, but Perry is still sending mixed signals about his position.

After praising veterans in the cheering crowd Wednesday, he said: “I’m just not real sure you’re a bunch of right-wing extremists. But if you are, we’re with you.” He also said that Washington has abandoned the principles of limited government and is overburdening Americans with taxes, spending and debt.

Later, in a press conference, Perry responded to question about his seeming encouragement of some in the crowd who had been shouting, “Secede!”

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

According to a Huffington Post poll, about 75 percent of Texans responding said they wanted the Lone Star State to remain in the Union, but that leaves a significant number opposed—and I’ll bet you the percentage in favor of secession would be a lot higher if non-Texans could vote.

SK

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The Teabag Revolution

By Steve Klinger

Grassroots movements arise spontaneously at ground level. AstroTurf looks like grass from a distance, but not up close. It’s all in the roots, you see; when they’re fake, the surface must be ersatz as well. When interest groups conspire to ignite a so-called people’s movement, the only roots are in those groups, and at their source is always money and power. So it may look like Bermuda or rye, but it’s as phony as the turf in the Metrodome – or an April 15th Boston Tea Party.

The Republicans are so delusional they not only steal ideas from the libertarians but then rewrite history so they can prove ownership. The Boston Tea Party in 1773 wasn’t a rebellious act against taxation or deficit spending but a protest against a particular tax that was unfair because the colonists had no political rights yet were being assessed a tax on tea that should have been paid by the British East India Company. For the Republicans to incite modern tax-day protests, when Republican Congresses and presidents gave us decades of deficit spending and the massive deregulation that empowered corporations and freed them from both oversight and most taxation, goes beyond hypocrisy. The irony is thick enough to cut with, well, a lawnmower.

Right-wing squeals about the tax rollbacks Obama is proposing are blatant lies that ignore those nasty little facts that get in the way – such as the tax rates they’re so upset about reverting to levels in effect under the previous socialist president, Ronald Reagan.

Predictably, the rabble jump right in and blame Obama and the Democrats for mortgaging their grandchildren’s heritage with stimulus spending. The puppetmasters pull the strings and the rank-and-file, who will never make enough to pay the higher income taxes, take to the streets to defend the agendas of the rich and the incorporated who will (but probably don’t because they’ve offshored to the Cayman Islands).

But we need to be aware of what else is going on here, and that what else is about as insidious and cynical as a political strategy can get. It may help to remember that the folks behind today’s tea parties are not subjects in a monarchy or citizens who were disenfranchised. No, they were in power but they made such a catastrophic mess that they were voted out of power – democratically.  You can see how much they care about their country by tracking the total obstructionism of the current House Republicans and all but three of their Senate counterparts. (The Republican conscience is epitomized by Norm Coleman, who would appeal to Satan if it would buy him and his cohorts another day of denying Al Franken his rightfully won Senate seat. Someone said that if conscience were oil, Coleman would be a quart low. I say he’d have thrown a rod.)

So the audacious lies and the hypocrisy have set the stage, but the drama the Republican diehards have in mind is far darker than this opening act. Imagine if you will a party that has marginalized itself to the point that it has no leader, no vision, no positive message, no plan other than to tear down those who won the election. It gets worse.

The truth is these Republicans, having failed to appeal to minorities, cannot see a future in which they are likely to win another national election as population trends work increasingly against them.  Their only hopes for regaining power are total disaster from stymieing and obstructing the Democrats, or a Revolution built on lies, such as a faux taxation-without-representation theme.

That’s why the rhetoric is so exaggerated and so virulent: They must somehow get the masses to think it’s patriotic to “restore” American liberty and democracy by rising up against the “totalitarian” Obama government, which they alternately label socialist and fascist.

All the seeds of fear are sewn: Obama will outlaw guns, so buy as many as you can now.  Dissent is being stifled, so take to the streets and fight for your rights, just like your heroic forebears of 1776. America is being weakened by a leader who would listen to Europeans  and Muslims, who’s not even a native-born American, who would redistribute your (hypothetical) wealth to lazy minorities, so  (the increasingly unsubtle message) use those guns and put the people back in power, and if you take him out, oh well, he asked for it.

Bigger ironies: The alleged power-usurping Democrats aren’t even progressives but rather centrist, status-quo politicians, nurtured by and beholden to the same special interests pulling the AstroTurf strings. They may have a few shreds of conscience for the common folks and just enough naivete to disbelieve – until it’s too late – that the Republicans would be such Macchiavellians as to bring down the government to reclaim power. And so those Democrats will express aggrievement and horror when the civil unrest turns to violence and bloodshed and a military response is necessary to restore order.  And of course they won’t nip things in the bud by stating publicly that the American right is inciting violence and committing acts of sedition in fomenting the faux uprising that has the solitary goal of destabilizing the U.S. so the real fascists can seize power.

I have a better idea. On July 4th, why don’t the states big on this Teabag Revolution just secede? Maybe Obama, unlike Lincoln, will let them go.

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Predicting the Future

By Gordon Solberg

I want to talk briefly about the accurate predictions I made back in 1998.  Making predictions at that point in time was really quite easy.  I was merely using the basic principles of science:  1) Make accurate observations, and 2) draw the logical conclusions from these observations.

In 1998, I felt that I (unlike most Americans) had an accurate understanding of what was really going on, and concluded that nothing fundamental was going to change anytime soon.  Things would get more extreme, to be sure, but the overall dynamic wouldn’t change.  So making predictions back in 1998 was simple:  “More of the same, only worse.”

Things are different now.  The next ten years or so are more difficult to predict.  The powers-that-be might manage to paper things over for awhile, but inevitably we will start experiencing some major discontinuities.  It’s impossible to say exactly what these discontinuities will be, but we can guess that they would probably involve any combination of:  climate catastrophe, total financial breakdown, energy shortages, food shortages, water shortages, terrorist attacks, war, insurrection (probably from right-wing yahoos with machine guns), you name it.  The actual form the discontinuities take isn’t as important as the fact that they will occur at all.  The future from here on out is murky, because it’s difficult or impossible, from our vantage point, to see beyond the discontinuities.

I’m reminded of a black hole.  The surface of a black hole is called an “event horizon,” from which no light, and in fact no information of any kind, can escape.  So… looking into the future, what we see is fuzzy and foggy because of the event horizon(s) in the way.  All we can say is, “whoa baby, big shit gonna happen!”

I’m struck by the utter helplessness of the American people at this point, and how easy it will be to manipulate them when the “big shit” finally hits the fan.  (What we’ve experienced so far is merely the warmup.)  Unlike the Great Depression, when people were still capable of “making do,” modern Americans, living their totally programmed soft lives, have no Plan B.  Everybody, from Obama on down, is waiting for all this to blow over, so that they can return to the artificial prosperity and easy comfort they think they’re entitled to.  After the discontinuities begin,  this attitude will surely change.

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