Posted in C-Haze, Change, Current Events, Discrimination, Frank Ricci, Hope, New Haven, News, Policy, Politics, Race, Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court

The Death of Affirmative Action?

We are getting news today that the Supreme Court has ruled on the infamous New Haven Firefighter reverse discrimination case.

Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, in a strange coincidence, was one of the presiding judges during this case’s original appeal.

The High Court has ruled in favor of white firefighter Frank Ricci, reversing Judge Sotomayor’s ruling.

As most of us are aware, the New Haven firefighter case was about whether or not Mr. Ricci was unfairly discriminated against when he passed (with flying colors, I might add), the city of New Haven’s standard test, the results of which determined one’s eligibility for promotion within the department.

Ricci, unfortunately, did not get the promotion, because just after taking the test, the city threw out all test results because no eligible black firefighters (and only one Latino) had passed it.

The city’s defense was that they were following applicable federal law- Title VII, if you want the name for it- that prohibits an employer’s discriminating against any race in its hiring or promotion practices. Even if the discrimination is not purposeful, it is still illegal, according to the law.

When Ricci initially brought suit against New Haven, he lost, and the trial judge ruled in favor of the city.

Not to be deterred, he appealed the ruling at the federal level, where it fell into the lap of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s federal appellate court. Sotomayor (in a unanimous decision, reached along with the two other judges on the panel), upheld the trial court’s decision, ruling in a depressingly brief statement, that the applicable law- love it or hate it- had been appropriately applied.

Ricci then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The High Court has spoken, and Frank Ricci is likely a very happy man.

I have had feelings that were difficult for me to reconcile about this case from the start.

I do not fault Judge Sotomayor in her decision, as she was merely charged with determining whether or not New Haven had been on the right side of the law when the city decided to throw out the test. Simply looking at legal precedent, New Haven’s officials acted the way the Title VII statute requires them to.

This case is a true eye-opener, and is a symptom of the challenges that can develop as a result of changing times.

In the not too distant past, reverse discrimination was a myth. It was an excuse used by lazy white people who did not have the education or the drive to get a real job and go to work. This country, at that time, was so terribly stacked against minorities that the notion that white people could possibly be victims of discrimination was absolutely ludicrous.

Now, however, things are different.

We have multiple laws- both state and federal- protecting workers from discrimination. These laws cover everything from gender to sexual orientation, from race to religious background. Not only are these laws on the books, they are actively in use. We have affirmative action- require some organizations to hire certain percentages of minority workers; we have colleges and universities that give preferential treatment to qualified minority applicants over equally qualified white candidates who apply for admission.

I have never been against affirmative action, as in my lifetime I have seen a real need for it. These laws, these practices, in my liberal mind, have always been my definition of reperations, the much-needed apology of a nation who has done dastardly deeds to minorities for centuries.

Today, however, I am conflicted.

Make no mistake- I am not so naive as to believe racism or (and perhaps especially) discrimination is dead. No, I still see evidence of it in my day-to-day life, and I am as appalled by it today as I ever was…

… But something has changed in this country.

The change is called progress.

No longer do we, as minorities, live in a nation where reverse discrimination is a ridiculous figment of certain people’s imaginations. On the contrary, we have made enough progress, moved far enough forward that reverse discrimination has become a real problem.

This case never could have happened had we not successfully begun to level the playing field.

For that fact alone, I am quite proud of my country today.

Make no mistake- we aren’t there yet.

There are still companies that will find silly and illegal reasons to keep from hiring a black man. 

Or a woman.

Or a Muslim.

Or a homosexual. 

… And apparently, in some cases, even a white person.

It is important to remember this fact, and to continue to fight against discrimination in all its forms. Companies still need to be held accountable for their hiring and promotion tactics, ensuring that they are not excluding anyone from realizing their true potential and achieving greatness.

The enemy here is, and always has been, discrimination.

We must be careful that we are not missing the forest for the trees. As Americans, we are the best- perhaps in the world- at doing just that.

It is discrimination we fight, and we fight it in all its forms.

Frank Ricci, while yes,  a white guy, is a man with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

He dedicated himself most thoroughly to passing the test administered by the New Haven fire department; a man who worked harder than probably anyone else to earn this promotion… quitting his second job so that he would have more time to devote to studying, spending large amounts (approximately $1,800) of his own hard-earned money on study materials and even hiring a tutor to come and read the materials to him, as his learning disabilities were so great, he could not have gotten through all of it on his own.

Some say the fact that Ricci had the resources to take such extraordinary measures to pass the test constitutes a bias. Simply put, not everyone has the luxury of quitting their second job, buying extra study materials, and hiring tutors to help prepare them for an upcoming test.

I agree, to an extent.

However, what I have not seen mentioned, at least not as point of fact, is that most people do not suffer from the learning disabilities Ricci has either.

How many of the other candidates had the unique challenge of overcoming dyslexia in order to prepare for and take this test?

Ricci went the extra mile, and in doing so, I believe he merely leveled the playing field.

He did not have an unfair advantage- in fact, he had a significant disadvantage- but rather than fall victim to the fact that he came to the starting line handicapped, he found away to overcome his disabilities.

This man was dedicated, he refused to let his shortcomings deter him. He found a way around his own handicap, and he knocked it out of the ballpark.

Since when is hardwork, creativity and digging up helpful resources not worthy of reward in this country?

He deserves his promotion.

Discrimination, in all its forms, is ugly.

Whether the victim is black or white, gay or straight, man or woman, Christian or Buddhist, learning disabled or not.

The goal is to create a level playing field, not to give minorities a free pass over all else.

It is because we are charged with fighting discrimination in all its forms that we should not be in support of hiring or promoting practices that tip the scales in the opposite direction either, causing a new group of people- fellow humans- to miss out on hard earned- and deserved- opportunities.

Regardless of race.

Past injustice does not constitute an excuse to inflict future injustice.

So…

… Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the white guy in a discrimination case, and strangely…

I’m ok with that.

Posted in C-Haze, Change, Conservative, Current Events, Dick Cheney, Elections, George Bush, Homosexuality, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, President, Race, Religion, War on Terror

Dick Cheney, Irony and The Mortally Wounded GOP

Dick Cheney thinks it would be a mistake for the Republican Party to ‘moderate’ itself in an attempt to save itself from slowly dying.

This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas … what the role of government should be in our society, and our commitment to the Constitution and constitutional principles,” Cheney said in an interview with North Dakota radio host Scott Hennen Thursday, according to a transcript.

“You know, when you add all those things up, the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy,” Cheney also said. “I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most of us aren’t. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren’t eager to have someone come along and say, ‘Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.'” –CNN Political Ticker, May 7, 2009

How ironic that Cheney today finds himself arguing for, claiming to support people’s constitutional rights when he fought so desperately during eight years of the Bush Administration to  single handedly destroy them.

This isn’t the Party that protects rights… it has made a name for itself by destroying them.

To list a few…

  • Human rights- by torturing people who do not share “American” beliefs
  • Women’s rights- by attempting to do away with a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive path, and giving a cluster of cells inside her body more consideration than the living, breathing woman whose body they reside in
  • Religious rights- by attempting to silence non-right leaning Christians, by perpetuating hatred for Muslims and others, by shoving a narrow doctrine down the throats of people the world over
  • Gay rights- by actively shaming homosexuals and seeing to it that they do not enjoy the same treatment or benefits of their heterosexual counterparts
  • Minority rights- by fighting against progress, and actively seeking to do away with the very protections (such as affirmative action) that can help our nation achieve racial parity…

The list is endless, really.

I wonder if Dick even realizes that it is his party’s philosophies, ideals and “fundamental beliefs” that are causing the problems- causing their recent and overwhelming defeat-  to begin with.

People, with little exception, do not inherently subscribe to the GOP belief system- a system that systematically destroys the freedoms of so millions… and yet, this is exactly what the Republican Party is fighting to maintain.

Protection for the few, persecution of the many.

If Dick Cheney has his way, that is.

This party, for so long, has been the one to set the narrow standard of what it means to be an American.

You’re either with them or you’re against them.

Not too long ago, to be against them was a dangerous thing.

It was not ok to simply have philosophical differences… to do so was un-American, it was traiterous, it was downright dangerous.

Our country, at long last, is changing.

I’m happy for it.

I hope Dick Cheney eventually grasps the fact that in large part due to his actions, his philosophies- his ideals- and his very Party are an endangered species.

It begs the question…

… Is he with us, or against us?

He has drawn his line in the sand.

Posted in Bill Richardson, C-Haze, Capital Punishment, Change, Current Events, Death Penalty, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, Race, Religion, True Crime

New Mexico Governor Repeals Capital Punishment

Today I was happy to read that Governor Bill Richardson has signed a bill aboloshing the death penalty in New Mexico.

I realize that this was a very tough decision for him to make… Richardson does believe that the death penalty- in rare cases- is just punishment for especially heinous crimes.

His statement reads, in part:

Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have the confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime.

The governor’s signing of the bill, as one would expect, was met with some criticism.

The New Mexico Sheriffs’ and Police Association (among others), opposes the bill.

They have issued a statement claiming that the state’s law enforcement officers are now in more danger as a result of the repeal.

The Association would have a point if there was any data whatsoever to show that the death penalty actually serves as a deterrent to crime.

In fact, statistics show states that do not have the death penalty actually have lower murder rates than states that do. In 2007, non-death penalty states had murder rates that were 42% lower than states that carry out the punishment.

42%.

That ain’t a small number…  and certainly not an insignificant one.

People who commit horrific crimes are typically not thinking about the potential consequences of their actions.

Generally speaking, would-be criminals do not walk around saying to themselves…

Gee, I’d really like to rape and murder that kid over there… and I sure would do it too… if it weren’t for that stupid lethal injection I’d probably get.

It just doesn’t happen that way… and available data pretty much proves it.

The death penalty is not a punishment that serves the interest of justice.

On the contrary, it serves the interest of revenge. 

It’s not difficult to understand why families of victims would prefer blood… death… an eye for an eye…

Who wouldn’t?

Human emotion, however, especially in such highly-charged circumstances, does not equate to justice served.

Our justice system- or court system, as I like to call it (in my opinion, it is sickeningly short on justice)- is imperfect, just like the humans who run it.

As long as there is a chance that even one single person could be killed for a crime he or she did not commit… as long as there is classism and racism running rampant in our society…

The only responsible action, in the interest of justice- true justice– is to repeal the death penalty.

New Mexico, while just one state, has done a great thing.

Let’s hope other states follow suit.

Posted in C-Haze, Change, Current Events, Dating, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, Relationships, Religion, Science, Sex, Single Mom

AIDS, Andino, and The Diva

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the AIDS epidemic- both in the U.S. and abroad.

I’ve blogged about it myself on more than one occassion.

It’s been my stance, since day one, that one of the keys to curbing what is fast becoming a plague is education.

The abstinence-only approach isn’t just unrealistic- it is dangerous.

It simply isn’t enough.

Some people may take well to a lesson on abstinence, but many others will ignore it entirely.

Too often, parents use abstinence as a cop-out. It’s an excuse not to have to talk about things we do not feel comfortable discussing.

As parents, we need to get over it.

We must educate our children. We must remove the stigma that is currently attached to having open, candid conversations with them.

AIDS will kill our babies if we don’t.

My oldest daughter, The Diva (she’s 10), was trying to make some money by doing extra chores the other day.

She decided to clean out The Hippie Andino’s car- he’s my 25 year-old baby brother.

I thought this was a wonderful idea.

When she was done with the job, she came back inside, and I immediately noticed the look of horror on her face. She was holding something in her hand, though I couldn’t tell what it was.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

She answers, in an accusing tone, “Look what I found in The Hippie Andino’s trunk…”, and shoves the contents of her hand in my face.

When I saw what she was holding, I could immediately feel the heat in my cheeks. Though I really had no reason to be, I found myself embarrassed for her.

She was holding a tattered box of condoms.

Oops.

I was confused by her tone… why is she being accusatory? Why is she acting as my brother is doing something wrong by having safe sex?

I decided to take this opportunity to speak candidly with my child- and hopefully turn this into a teaching moment.

So I asked her, “Why would you be upset?”

She responded, “Because- they’re condoms. Gross.”

I said to her, “He is being responsible. He’s having safe sex. He isn’t getting anyone pregnant, and he is protecting himself and his partner from sexually transmitted diseases.”

I explained that while condoms may seem “gross” to her right now, they are important.

They save lives.

The Diva’s world opened up just a little at that moment.

She didn’t view those condoms in disgust or contempt any longer, and with great relief I realized, she gets it.

It isn’t necessary to constantly harp on our children, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week about the horrors of sex and AIDS.

This particular exchange took less than five minutes, from start to finish.

We can educate our babies a step at a time- provided we start the process early enough. By the time they find themselves old enough to be faced with these grave decisions, they will have already had all the information they need to make the right choices.

Hopefully, by then, it will be second nature.

With absolutely no bombarding whatsoever- by taking advantage of the little teaching moments life throws our way- we can raise our kids to be responsible adults…

… One educational opportunity at a time.

Posted in Barack Obama, C-Haze, Change, Children, Conservative, Current Events, Economy, Elections, Governor Mark Sanford, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, President, Race, Wall Street

Stimulus, Schools and Sanford

A few weeks ago (on February 24, 2009), Obama addressed the nation in front of a joint session of Congress.

It was a moving speech, focusing primarily on the economy, and the challenges faced by America today.

There were a couple of attendees at the event that are not politicians, but rather, people whose personal stories touched the President and First Lady personally.

One was a banker by the name of Leonard Abess Jr.

Located in Miami, Mr. Abess was recognized for his generosity- he received a $60 million bonus from the proceeds of the sale of his bank’s shares- and rather than keep it for himself, he split it up among his 399 current employees- and more than 70 previous ones.

Another guest of the Obamas was Ty’Sheoma Bethea, an 8th grader from South Carolina.

Once President Obama told her story, we all fell in love with her.

Ty’Sheoma is from a tiny town in South Carolina. Her school is dilapidated- in fact it isn’t even up to code. Classes are interrupted several times a day to allow for the noisy trains that roll through the area.

Desperate for a decent school- a building that isn’t falling apart around her- a place where learning can be uninterrupted, Ty’Sheoma wrote to Barack Obama.

She requested some of the stimulus money for her school.

Her letter read, in part, “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.”

Our President was so moved by her words that he invited Ms. Bethea to attend his speech, sitting with his wife in a place of honor.

We all had warm fuzzies at the close of the speech, knowing there were hundreds of millions of dollars in that stimulus package- set aside just for South Carolina- money that the state’s governor could use for education.

Ty’Sheoma, her fellow students and their teachers can now attend a school that stands on its own and isn’t interrupted by the constant din of passing trains.

Right?

Ha.

Not so much.

Now comes news that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford will not accept the more than $700 million in stimulus funding that is available for his state.

Money that will patch holes in the roofs of public school buildings… money that will go to purchase school books and teaching supplies- replacing outdated and inaccurate materials… money that will save teachers’ jobs… money that will pay the salaries for qualified educators to join the ranks of the South Carolina Public School System.

Is Governor Sanford really so arrogant as to think we aren’t watching him? Does he believe that we have forgotten Ty’Sheoma Bethea? Does he assume we don’t care about her, her fellow classmates, her teachers and their administrators?

If so, he is sadly mistaken.

Sanford only wants to accept the stimulus money if he gets to choose how to spend it- and has stated if that were the case, he would focus on paying down South Carolina’s other debts- not on extending unemployment benefits and education.

Oh.

In that case, I’m sure Ty’Sheoma will understand.

I mean, let’s face it.

She wasn’t going to be a doctor, lawyer or anything else, right?

Posted in Barack Obama, C-Haze, Change, Current Events, Economy, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, President, Race, Science, War on Terror

Beyond War: A New Economy Is Possible- Part III- Militarism

By Andrew Heaslet, guest Author, Coordinator, Peace Economy Project

Militarism

 

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation… I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Address, Dec.10 1964

 

 

Out of Iraq and Afghanistan

 

A 16  Month Plan for Iraq is 16 Months Too Long

 

Reuters reported last December, “Obama said a new security pact between Iraq and the United States already put the United States on a “glide path” to pulling out of Iraq. He also noted that a “residual” U.S. force may need to remain in Iraq longer than combat troops.”

 

16 months does not fulfill our demand for “Troops Out Now,” and we will not be satisfied until every American serviceman and woman is back on US soil.  “Residual” forces existing in Iraq is unacceptable.  John McCain mused about being in Iraq for 50 to 100 years – if the American people wanted that, he, not Obama, would have been elected president.

 

End, Don’t Escalate the Occupation of Afghanistan.

There is No “Good War”

 

For all of his flaws, former president Bill Clinton has sagely said, “you cannot kill, occupy or imprison all your actual or potential adversaries… You have to try to build a world with more friends and fewer terrorists.”

 

The spouse of the current secretary of state’s words should be heeded, especially considering Foreign Policy in Focus’s Conn Hallinan words: “As the United States steps up its air war, civilian casualties have climbed steadily over the past two years. Nearly 700 were killed in the first three months of 2008, a major increase over last year. In a recent incident, 47 members of a wedding party were killed in Helmand Province. In a society where clan, tribe, and blood feuds are a part of daily life, that single act sowed a generation of enmity.”

 

Hallinan continues, “According to U.S. counter insurgency doctrine… Afghanistan would require at least 400,000 troops to even have a chance of “winning” the war. Adding another 10,000 [or 30,000] U.S. troops will have virtually no effect.”

 

Furthermore, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, “Britain‘s most senior military commander in [Afghanistan]” has said “We’re not going to win this war,” and, according to the Telegraph.co.uk, “said the goal should be to find a non-violent resolution.”

 

Finally, the FY 2008 supplemental spending bill already pinned the cost of the war in Afghanistan at $173 billion.  At a time when our economy needs a boost to the tune of a trillion dollars, increasing spending on an unwinnable war is not only a strategic mistake, but also a cost we simply cannot afford.

  

Nuclear Weapons

The United States should make nuclear disarmament the leading edge of a global trend towards demilitarization and redirection of military expenditures to meet human and environmental needs. (Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security?)

 

In 1995 testimony before the International Court of Justice, Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka told the Court: “History is written by the victors.  Thus, the heinous massacre that was Hiroshima has been handed down to us as a perfectly justified act of war.  As a result, for over 50 years we have never directly confronted the full implications of this terrifying act for the future of the human race.”

 

The Nuclear Information Project has estimated that there are still more than 25,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The United States and Russia have by far the largest nuclear arsenals, with thousands of deployed weapons, capable of destroying any country and killing tens of millions.  The United Kingdom, France and China each have hundreds of modern nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of carrying them. All of these countries promised the world, decades ago, when they signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), that they would negotiate to get rid of their nuclear arsenals. There are no such negotiations underway. 

 

Remaining outside the NPT are India and Pakistan, believed to have fewer than 100 nuclear weapons each and engaged in an unpredictable new arms race; Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, believed to have several hundred nuclear weapons that can be delivered by plane or missile; and North Korea, which claims to have conducted a single nuclear test in 2006 and which has not tested successfully any missiles that could carry a nuclear weapon to the United States. (Western States Legal Foundation Information Report, Fall 2006)

 

The United States is the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war.  And it is the only country with nuclear weapons deployed on foreign soil. Nuclear weapons continue to play a central role in U.S. “national security” policy. Today the U.S. possesses approximately 9,400 nuclear warheads.  Of these, some 2,200 strategic (long range) warheads are actively deployed on intercontinental ballistic missiles and at long range bomber bases.  Another 500 or so tactical (short range) nuclear weapons are actively deployed, about 200 of them in Europe. (Federation of American Scientists, Strategic Security Blog)

 

But it’s not just about the numbers. A September 2008 Department of Defense report on the Air Force’s nuclear mission describes “the importance of nuclear deterrence” this way: “Though our consistent goal has been to avoid actual weapons use, the nuclear deterrence is ‘used’ every day by assuring friends and allies, dissuading opponents from seeking peer capability to the United States, deterring attacks on the United States and its allies from potential adversaries, and providing the potential to defeat adversaries if deterrence fails.”

The Pentagon’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) expanded the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy, including the possible use of nuclear weapons in “immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies” and called for indefinite retention of a large, modern, and diverse nuclear force.  The NPR has served as the primary justification for each subsequent annual nuclear weapons budget request as well as the current “Complex Transformation” plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and manufacturing plants for decades to come. (Western States Legal Foundation, Information Brief, Spring 2008)

According to a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report entitled, Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities ,in fiscal year 2008, the United States spent $52.4 billion on nuclear weapons programs alone.  This staggering amount is a drop in the bucket compared to overall U.S. military spending ($711 billion), but it exceeds the entire military budgets of nearly every other country. In 2006, the last year for which figures are available, only China ($121.9 billion), Russia ($70 billion), the United Kingdom ($55.4 billion) and France ($54 billion) spent more on their militaries than the U.S. spent on its nuclear weapons. (CACNP)

 

Atomic Audit, a study by the Brookings Institution completed in 1998, found, as a conservative estimate, that the United States spent $5.5 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons from 1940–1996 (in constant 1996 dollars). The Brookings study found that nuclear weapons spending during the 56 year period it examined exceeded the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development, including disaster relief; law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

 

 

Foreign Bases

Bring all troops, everywhere, home.  Now.

 

Former Cold War hawk and CIA analyst, Chalmers Johnson, has written: “As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize — or do not want to recognize — that the United States dominates the world through its military power.  Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire — an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class.” Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.”

 

Noting that “official records on these subjects are misleading,” Johnson in 2004 estimated that the Pentagon maintains more than 700 overseas bases in about 130 countries, with an additional 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. “These numbers,” he concluded, “although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally…. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people’s countries, but no one — possibly not even the Pentagon — knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years.”  According to Johnson, “Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases – surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries. . . .”

 

When establishment of the new United States Northern Command was announced in April 2002, the official press release declared: “For the first time, commanders’ areas of operations cover the entire Earth.” (DefenseLink.mil)

 

Military Industrial Complex

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. 

            Dwight D Eisenhower, Jan 17, 1961

 

James Quinn’s article entitled “The Economic Cost of the Military Industrial Complex” summarizes the current status of this nexus well: “The top five U.S. defense contractors generated almost $129 billion in revenues and $8 billion in profits in 2006, double the revenue and profits in 2000 when George Bush became President. The War on Terror has been a windfall for the defense industry and their shareholders. These companies have intertwined themselves into the fabric of our government and defense department. They contribute tremendous amounts of money to Congressional candidates and have thousands of lobbyists pushing for more defense contracts.”  Boeing, for example, reported spending $16.6 million on lobbying in 2008 (opensecrets.org).

 

There is also the issue of the “revolving door,” where politicians cycle between governmental positions and private sector companies posing serious questions about conflict of interest.  Famous examples are Dick Cheney, who went from the government to CEO of Halliburton, back to the government.  In the new administration, Obama’s national security advisor, Gen James Jones (Ret.) sat on the board of major military contractor, Boeing as well as oil giant Chevron (TheHill.com).  Additionally, a former Raytheon senior vice president now sits as the nation’s deputy defense secretary (Bloomberg.com).

 

B.R. Reece recently summarized some of the Economic Conversion guru, Seymour Melman’s arguments against the power of the Military Industrial Complex in a book review for The Peace Economy Project. “The defense industry profits through inefficiency at the expense of the general population,” she writes. “The difference is that consumers are free to purchase vehicles that are price competitive, efficient, have high technical standards and low failure rates, and so the inability of domestic automakers to produce competitive vehicles has resulted in lost sales. No such situation exists in defense contracting: inefficiencies and losses are absorbed by the taxpayer, not by the producer. The contractors thus have an incentive not only to ignore the hemorrhaging created by inefficiencies, but to build in greater inefficiencies in the form of huge bureaucracies, inefficient production and innovation practices, and pricing methods designed to maximize cost to the final purchaser (a practice that would be impossible to sustain if the company had to compete for buyers).”  Melman’s commentary, though 35 years old, still describe the waste we encounter today; a 2005 NY Times article notes, “The Pentagon has more than 80 major new weapons systems under development…  Their combined cost, already $300 billion over budget [emphasis added], is $1.47 trillion and climbing.”

 

 The Pentagon is NOT a Jobs Engine

Jobs should never be used as a justification to produce instruments of war.

 

31 year veteran of the defense analysis field, Winslow Wheeler has written extensively against the idea that Pentagon should be used as a jobs program: “With its huge overhead costs, glacial payout rates and ultra-high costs of materials, I believe the Pentagon can generate jobs by spending but neither as many nor as soon as is suggested.

 

“…even if Congress appropriated today the USD11 billion needed for [60 new F-22s], the work would not start until 2010: too late for the stimulus everyone agrees is needed now.

 

“…if employment is the aim, it makes more sense to cut defence spending and use the money in programmes that do it better. As for the defence budget, less money offers the opportunity for reform – just what the doctor ordered. Despite high levels of spending, the combat formations of the services are smaller than at any point since 1946. Major equipment is, on average, older, and, according to key measurables, our forces are less ready to fight.”

 

The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a report in mid 2007 noting the following: “It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy… In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment.”

 

A 2007 University of Massachusetts, Amherst study wrote that dollars invested in alternatives to defense spending such as education, healthcare, mass transit, or even tax cuts “create more jobs and,” potentially, provide “both an overall higher level of compensation… and a better average quality of jobs.”

 

An honest look at the defense industry does show that millions of jobs are related to massive military contracts but it does not have to remain this way.  As the above comments demonstrate, creating jobs in other sectors would be a more effective means of widespread employment.  The workers who design, build, and maintain these elaborate, high priced machines are incredibly skilled workers whom could relatively easily be retrained to produce goods that create and maintain higher levels of capital.

 

Our current military philosophy and actions are unnecessarily dragging our nation to the poorhouse.  If we actively confront the threats of illness, disease, poverty, racism, unemployment, and the environmental crisis, our dollars will create more jobs and capital and will finally honor the words of one of our nation’s greatest heroes, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

*              It should be noted that increasing reliance on biofuel is controversial.  A Sustainable  Energy Future is Possible Now, a report by Abolition 2000, warns that “unconstrained industrial biofuel production will produce dire consequences for the natural environment.” Concerns range from biofuel feedstock taking priority over food crops due to limited arable land, to use of pesticides, to widespread deforestation.  The report makes the case that solar, wind, and geothermal power, tidal and smaller scale hydro-electric energy, and hydrogen fuel are good choices for the economy, citing a University of California finding that sustainable energy sources provide more jobs “per MW of power installed, per unit of energy produced, and per dollar investment than the fossil fuel-based energy sector.” The report concludes that “switching to sustainable energy would have an added benefit of promoting democratic values and the international aspirations embodied in the United Nations.”

 

A “renaissance” in nuclear energy is being promoted as part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  But nuclear power is fraught with problems including the potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons by virtue of the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons materials and technologies; the potential for catastrophic accidents; the unsolved problem of nuclear waste storage and disposition; and the very high financial costs associated with all aspects of nuclear power production.

 

The United States can and should implement energy production, distribution, and use policies that will phase out the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power by the year 2050. A recent book, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, by the Institute for Environmnetal and Energy Research and the Nuclear Policy Reseach Institute, provides a detailed analysis that shows that this goal is technically and economically feasible. The Roadmap lays out how we can get from a 4 percent reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy (as of 2005) to none by mid-century. Oil imports would be completely eliminated along the way.

  

Document compiled and organized by:

Andy Heaslet, Coordinator of the St Louis based Peace Economy Project

Posted in Barack Obama, C-Haze, Change, Current Events, Economy, Elections, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, President, Race, Relationships, War on Terror

Beyond War: A New Economy Is Possible- Part II- Racism

 Part II of Andrew Heaslet’s (Coordinator, Peace Economy Project) talking points, dealing with Racism.

 

Racism

 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

            Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

 

While the election of Barack Obama represents a giant landmark in overcoming racial barriers, Racism is far from behind us.  The income and healthcare gaps illustrated above show clearly that minorities, particularly Blacks and Hispanics, are significantly disadvantaged compared to their white counterparts.  The following statistics further show the distance still to be overcome by minority citizens in order to be at a level of prosperity equal to their white peers.

 

 

Criminal Justice System

Racism runs rampant throughout the “justice” system and must be stopped.

 

“At year end 2007 there were 3,138 black male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,259 Hispanic male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 Hispanic males and 481 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males.”

            (US Dept of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics)

 

Dr Manning Marable, a Columbia University Professor and director of the Center for Contemporary Black History, has written, “In practical terms, by 2001, about one out of every six African-American males had experienced jail or imprisonment. Based on current trends, over one out of three black men will experience imprisonment during their lives.” (Incarceration vs. Education: Reproducing Racism and Poverty in America)

 

An organization called “the Rights Working Group,” explains how immigrants are often targets and victims of profiling by law enforcement officers:The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regularly conducts warrantless and aggressive raids on homes and workplaces to round up hundreds of immigrants, often sweeping up legal residents and citizens. Raid victims are often detained without access to counsel or a phone call to contact family members…

 

“Individuals detained by DHS, including vulnerable populations like the elderly, infirm, refugees and children, are being held in inhumane and overcrowded conditions often without charges for months and even years.”

 

The Washington Post tells us that between 2003 and 2008, “Some 83 [immigrant] detainees have died in, or soon after, custody.”  Conditions are dangerous and inhumane.  The same article quotes a former detention center nurse saying, “Dogs get better care in the dog pound.” In a recent case of blatant disregard for human dignity by law enforcement officials, “more than 200 men in shackles and prison stripes were marched under armed guard past a gantlet of TV cameras to a tent prison encircled by an electric fence” under the orders of Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (NY Times 2/5/09)

 

Since 2001, Arab Americans and Muslims have been victims of racial and religious profiling by local and federal law enforcement, especially via the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “Operation Front Line.” The Yale Daily News notes, “’Though Operation Front Line claimed to target terrorist suspects, it was actually targeting people from Muslim majority nations…’ But in looking at a random sampling of hundreds of cases, it became clear that there were no crimes or immigration violations shared by those targeted… In fact, 250 of the 300 random sample cases given to the [Yale] Law School cited no immigration-related violations. The only feature the targeted group shared was that 79 percent of those targeted were from mostly Muslim nations.”

 

Black and Hispanic Poverty

Estimated Median Income 2007: White $52,115 – Black $33,916  – Hispanic $38,679

(2007 Census data, pg 7)

 

“Predatory lending practices and slumping real estate markets threaten hundreds of thousands of American families with the imminent loss of their to foreclosure. Given the disparate number of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority Americans who have been and continue to be targeted by predatory lenders, the foreclosure crisis is certain to be especially severe in communities of color across the nation.” NAACP letter to the Senate, Feb. 22, 2008 (Center for Responsible Lending)

 

“A United for a Fair Economy estimate in January (2008) put the wealth loss for people of color at between $164 billion and $213 billion, roughly half [emphasis added] the nation’s overall loss. “

(The Subprime Swindle – How Banks Stole Black America’s Future, by Kai Wright.)

 

 

Education

Thirty percent of white adults had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2005, while 17 percent of black adults and 12 percent of Hispanic adults had degrees.

(MSNBC: Census report: Broad racial disparities persist)

 

Statistically, African-American youths are two to three times more likely than whites to be suspended, and far more likely to be corporally punished or expelled. Also from the ACLU study, “nationally, African American students comprise 17 percent of the student population, but account for 36 percent of school suspensions and 31 percent of expulsions. (Incarceration vs. Education: Reproducing Racism and Poverty in America)

 

Just because a minority has reached the highest level of power, this nation cannot allow itself to become lazy when it comes to confronting the very ugly reality that racism and disparity between races that exists.  Continuing with Affirmative Action, supporting home-ownership among minorities, investing in education, especially in urban centers, a re-evaluation of policies imprisoning non-violent offenders, and widespread, frank discussions of the realities that exist regarding attitudes towards minorities may represent a path towards overcoming racism and racial inequalities.

 

Posted in Barack Obama, C-Haze, Change, Current Events, Economy, Elections, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, Race, Science, War on Terror

Beyond War: A New Economy Is Possible- Part I- Poverty

Send America to Work, Not War

Someone who I thoroughly respect is a man by the name of Andrew Heaslet. He is the Coordinator for the Peace Economy Project, a non-profit organization that advocates the reduction of military spending in favor of social and infrastructure needs. He has written some very interesting talking points, which I will be presenting over the next three days, in three parts- focusing on poverty, racism and Militarism. Both Andrew and I welcome all comments, provided they are respectful. Enjoy!

In his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Dr Martin Luther King Jr declared, “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”  He also warned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

 

It is in that spirit that United For Peace and Justice has created a new campaign borrowing part of its title from Dr King’s famous 1967 speech.  We are attempting to fulfill Dr King’s call for “declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism,” noting that these “triplets” do not exist in a vacuum and, indeed, are intrinsically inter-related.

 

This is detailed, paint by numbers, if you will, approach to illustrating how Poverty, Racism, and Militarism are still very prevalent in America today.  In sharing Dr King’s vision of conquering these ills, it may be difficult to draw on all of the data contained within this document.  Feel free to find and use the information that applies best to you and your peers.

 

Poverty

 

Speaking in 1961 to the AFL-CIO, Dr King advocated for economic rights when he said, “[Negro] needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.

 

41 years after his death, millions of Americans still suffer the economic hardships Dr King fought against in his time.

 

The Military Budget is Costing Us All

We should cut military spending and fund human needs.

 

Defense plus Homeland Security expenditures make up 60% of our total discretionary spending. (Federal Budget)

 

United States spends more than the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined. (Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation [CACNP])

 

The United States accounts for 48 percent of the world’s total military spending. (CACNP)

The United States spends on its military 5.8 times more than China, 10.2 times more than Russia, and 98.6 times more than Iran. (CACNP)

The United States and its strongest allies (the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea and Australia) spend $1.1 trillion on their militaries combined, representing 72 percent of the world’s total. (CACNP)

 

The preceding figures are astounding and frustrating on their own, but when compared to the needs of American citizens, as described by the following information, they become unconscionable.

 

POVERTY IN THE UNITED STATES (2007 Census data, pg 12)

“Highlights:“

• The official poverty rate in 2007 was 12.5 percent

• In 2007, 37.3 million people were in poverty, up from 36.5 million in 2006.

• Poverty rates in 2007:

         non-Hispanic Whites (8.2 percent)

         Blacks (24.5 percent)

         Asians (10.2 percent)

         Hispanics (21.5 percent in 2007, up from 20.6 percent in 2006).

• The poverty rate increased for children under 18 years old (18.0 percent in 2007, up from 17.4 percent in 2006)

 

Race and Hispanic Origin

 

“At 8.2 percent, the 2007 poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites was lower than the rate for Blacks and Asians – 24.5 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively. In 2007, non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 43.0 percent of people in poverty while representing 65.8 percent of the total population.

 

Among Hispanics, 21.5 percent (9.9 million) were in poverty in 2007, higher than the 20.6 percent (9.2 million) in 2006. (2007 Census data, pg 12)

 

Home Foreclosures

Bailout Homeowners, Not Bankers

 

The Tulsa World reports “More than 2.3 million American homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year, an 81 percent increase from 2007, with the worst yet to come as consumers grapple with layoffs, shrinking investment portfolios and falling home prices.

 

“Nationwide, more than 860,000 properties were actually repossessed by lenders, more than double the 2007 level, according to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing firm based in Irvine, Calif., which compiled the figures.

 

“Moody’s Economy.com, a research firm, predicts the number of homes lost to foreclosure is likely to rise by another 18 percent this year before tapering off slightly through 2011.”

 

 

Healthcare

Citizens of the United States want healthcare not warfare.

 

In 2007, there were 45.7million uninsured citizens in the US. In 2007, the uninsured rate for non-hispanic whites was 10.4% whereas the uninsured rate for Blacks was 19.5%, Hispanics, 32.1%. (2007 Census data, pg 19-21)

 

The Massachusetts Campaign for Single-Payer Health Care website summarizes our nation’s health insurance woes very succinctly:

“The way we currently organize health insurance:

– “Is Expensive: The United States spends more per person than any other country on health care.

– “Is Financially Ruinous for Many Households, Businesses, and Government Budgets:  These catastrophic costs are paid disproportionately by low-income people and small businesses.

– “Leads to Very Poor Health Outcomes: Under this system we actually live shorter lives, and receive much less of the care we need.

– “Is Highly Discriminatory: Health Care disparities along lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and age are unmatched in the developed world.”

 

 

Green Jobs and the right to join the Union

            In short, we should Send America to Work, Not to War

 

Americans Need Quality Jobs Now

“The Labor Department said that almost 600,000 jobs disappeared in January and that a total of 3.6 million jobs had been lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 7.6 percent, from 7.2 percent a month earlier.” (2/7/09, NYTimes)

 

Employee Free Choice Act

Supported by a bipartisan coalition in Congress and millions of workers around the country, the Employee Free Choice Act would level the playing field and put the power to choose a union back where it belongs—in the hands of workers. It will restore workers’ power to bargain for a better life, rebuilding the middle class and strengthening the economy for the long term. (AFL-CIO)

 

Get Rid of Ineffective “Trickle Down” Economics

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has said, “that ‘trickle-down’ economics does not work and has never worked.” He has gone further, “stating that markets alone produce neither efficient nor socially desirable outcomes but instead provoke periodic crises that erase the gains of growth and hit the poor the hardest.”(Upside Down World)

 

The Gravity of Climate Crisis

According to the BBC, former president Bill Clinton “said that the most profound threat to the way of life in the UK and US was not terrorism but global warming.”

 

Why then are we spending more than half of our discretionary federal funds preparing for cold war era theoretical attacks while avoiding and ignoring the very real and present threat that climate change represents?

 

 

We Should Invest in Green

The Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst recently released a report on the benefits of a proposed, government-initiated $100 billion, two-year “green economic recovery program.” This price tag seems staggering at first glance, but when compared to the cost of corporate bailouts, Congress’ springtime economic stimulus package and the Iraq war spending bills, the numbers do not seem so outrageous — especially considering the value that would be generated by such an investment and the longer-term costs of not investing immediately in environmental sustainability.

 

The study recommends investments in:

— Retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency.

— Expanding mass transit and freight rail.

— Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems.

— Wind power.

— Solar power.

— Next-generation biofuels.*

 

These investments would create some 2 million new jobs, stabilize oil costs by reducing overall demand, reduce energy costs for homeowners, increase energy security and provide a sustainable boost to our nation’s economy and infrastructure.

 

In addition to human, environmental and community benefits, there’s also a lot of profit potential in going green. In 2008, the research firm Clean Edge projected revenue growth in wind, solar, biofuels* and fuel cells of “$55.4 billion in 2006 and expanded 40 percent to $77.3 billion in 2007 to grow to $254.5 billion within a decade.” *[There are some concerns with biofuels and please note the absence of recommendations for nuclear power in the preceding comments – for further details about these issues, see the addendum at the bottom of this document.]

 

Some of the skilled professionals required to make this ambitious program work are electricians, welders, machinists, sheet metal workers and mechanics — not to mention civil, environmental, electrical, and chemical engineers.  Many of these skilled professionals are prevalent in the ailing labor sector.

Posted in Barack Obama, C-Haze, Change, Current Events, Economy, Elections, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, President, Wall Street

Barack Obama, Executive Pay and a Whole Lot of B.S.

President Obama said in his recent weekly radio address that he will be presenting a new bailout spending plan soon.

Sounds good to me, though I was never really one to support these ridiculous bailouts to begin with.

What I am shocked- and quite frankly, a little pissed- to hear is that this new spending plan contains no added restrictions on executive pay.

Apparently officials are concerned that new restrictions on executive salaries could discourage other companies from asking for government aid in the future.

What the hell?

I didn’t realize the point of the bailout package was to encourage anybody to put their hands out and beg for money. And even if that was part of the point of this bullshit package to begin with, so what? How the heck is it a bad thing to require executives looking for our assistance to first commit to cutting spending- including their own astronomically sized salary packages?

Otherwise, by my estimation, they shouldn’t be getting a damn dime from us or anybody else for that matter.

Can we please back up and review for a moment?

In recent months we have AIG taking employees on luxury spa trips after receiving funds from the government bailout… we have CitiGroup attempting to purchase a new $50 million luxury corporate jet… we have some schmuck CEO over at Bank of America spending over a million bucks to redecorate his damn office… we learn that more than $18 billion of the original bailout went to executive bonuses…

… And no one seems to think we need to add a few provisions to this new proposal?

Seriously.

Obviously we’ve learned absolutely nothing from our past mistakes.

These asshole bigwigs are living high on the hog on taxpayer dollars- OUR money- while the rest of us are scraping by.

Actually, if we’re lucky we’re scraping by… and luck these days, unfortunately, is hard as hell to come by.

People are losing their jobs, their cars and their homes, dammit, in record numbers.

The few little pennies we do make seem to be going to help the rich get richer… and from way down here where I’m sitting, isn’t going to help me or my fellow middle-class Americans at all.

The stock market is still in the shitter, wall street is still acting like a bunch of complete and total retards where fiscal responsibility is concerned… Congress is either steadfastly refusing to pass the one stinkin’ package that could actually help our broke asses to survive- or are insisting on beefing the damn thing up with so much pork that it’s becoming a useless peice of legislation altogether.

These punk ass politicians need to get this shit together and get to the responsibility of actually standing up for the people they were sworn into office to represent…

… Or they need to get the hell off the stage.

Cuz I’m sick of it.

Posted in C-Haze, Change, Conservative, Hope, News, Policy, Politics, Religion

Our Forefathers, Faith and State Troopers

I was talking to Pastor Jon the other day (he’s my daddy), and he told me he recently testified in front of a house sub-committee regarding whether State Trooper Chaplains have the right to pray publicly according to their faith.

My dad, in good liberal fashion (he makes me proud), was testifying against the bill… with members of the Jewish community and the ACLU on his side. The bill was up for vote as a result of the fact that recently, the superintendent of state troopers in Virginia stopped all chaplains who were employed by the state police from public prayer in Jesus’ name…  instead requesting that all prayers remain non-denominational.

This resulted in 6 of 17 chaplains resigning their positions in protest. 

The issue was therefore put to a vote, and the bill passed despite the efforts of my father and others like him.

I’ve always been fascinated with the notion of separation of church and state, and what, exactly, it means.

I am reminded of my junior year of high school, when some officials were desperately attempting to gain support for “bringing God back into our schools”. Naturally, with my father being a minister, people were counting on his support.

However my dad, I’m proud to say, disappointed each and every one of them.

Prayer has no place in public school districts or public government activities… especially when the prayer is exclusive to one single religion.

Period.

I, like all Americans, have the right to enjoy the freedom to practice my religion… and I have the right to do so without interference or discrimination from my government-  so says the First Amendment of my Constitution.

Anyone who honestly believes that mixing Christianity- or any faith, for that matter- with government functions equals freedom of religion is delusional- and likely a cocky evangelical Christian.

By my estimation, our forefathers knew exactly what they were doing.

Having narrowly escaped religious persecution themselves, they made it clear in our Constitution that absolute religious liberty was a fundamental right for all U.S. Citizens.

How is it that a Jew, a Hindu or a Muslim can enjoy that sort of freedom if Jesus Christ is constantly being shoved down their throats?

Ours is a nation that was supposed to have been built on tolerance and freedom.

The United States of America was created on the principle that no one- regardless of their religious beliefs- would ever be made to feel unwelcome.

It saddens me, this unrelenting push from the Evangelical right, to include their God in each and every function of our government.

Certain Christians will claim that they are the ones being persecuted… that the current drive to take religion out of our schools is an act of discrimination in and of itself.

To those people, I say spend a day as a Muslim, or a Jew.

Attend your child’s “Christmas Concert” as a non-Christian… where they sing nothing but “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Silent Night”, and “O’ Holy Night”…

… Then tell me that you feel as if you and your faith have been respected and included.

Many people- friends of mine- who disagree with me, back their arguments up by saying if they were to attend a public function in a Middle-Eastern country, where religion is part of the every day government and public activities, they would not feel offended by prayers to Allah… they would expect such a thing to occur, and would understand that this is the way business is conducted there…

… Therefore, they claim, non-Christians shouldn’t feel offended to hear prayers to Jesus Christ in the U.S.

To those people, I remind them that we are a secular country. Our nation was founded on non-religious principles… our founding fathers fought and died so that people of all faiths could come together as one, being equal partners- citizens- enjoying equal rights- within the same great country.

As Americans, we are not given the task of merely tolerating those of different faiths…

… We are to embrace them.