Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So, are we getting anywhere?

Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech was okay for a practical, pacifist Christian war president - straight out of Reinhold Niebuhr. Find a way out, Mr. Obama. You can't have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq "keeping the peace". As Niebuhr says, "Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted".

And the health care bill passed last night: No single payer, no public option, no downward extension of Medicare. All it seems to do is close some gaps for those who are uninsurable due to pre-existing health problems - much needed, by the way, but paid for by taxpayers. Taxpayers will also foot the bill for subsidies for low income people who will be required to buy health insurance and pay out of pocket $6,000 to $12,000. So, as I understand it, it's a boondoggle for the insurance and drug companies at tax-payer expense. Wouldn't we get a better deal if the government just ran the program?

And the auto companies and banks are back with their executives making obscene salaries and benefits.

I guess I can't expect even Obama to get the insurance companies, drug companies, banks and auto companies all to play fair and obey the law at the same time in just a few months. Of course it isn't all Obama's fault. Congress - both houses and both parties - appear to be unduly influenced by big corporations.

Maybe Obama has a plan I don't see yet and is biding his time for the right moment as his other hero, Lincoln, was so good at doing. I hope so. If it were up to me I would re-instate the draft, publicly fund and limit campaign financing and revise the income tax laws to make it expensive to be "too big to fail".

Monday, December 21, 2009

At least I didn't see it coming


I hadn't seen the grey whale everyone has been talking about so I rowed out to Rat Island this morning - and hit it! I thought you'd be interested in the details.

I was rowing around the south end of Rat Island about 100 yards past the turn inside the green buoy. At very low tide I know it's about 20 or 30 feet deep there since I can sometimes see the eel grass. Anyway my right blade hit something and immediately thereafter the whale blew briefly right under my port rigger - and then dived, brushing the bottom of my boat with its back or tail.

I'm pretty sure the whale was as surprised as I was which answers the question I have had since a grey whale breached about ten feet away along side the Salish Star we were rowing about five years ago just off Chetzemoka Park: Did the whale see us? That one was about 40 feet long and could have easily overturned the Salish Star. No, I decided today. Greys don't look where they are going.

So, after our encounter this morning the whale took off toward the Navy dock, and then circled back to swim parallel to my path and blew a couple of more times. It never did breach and I never really saw it but I would guess it was at least 25 feet long and made quite a wake just below the surface as it swam away from me.

Hope & Transparency

President Obama!

Obama has started a new website at www.change.gov in order to communicate directly with the American people and offer a way to communicate back. If it works (and I hope it will) it will be a great leap toward a more transparent and democratic government. Here is my first comment on the www.change.gov blog:

When I read The Audacity of Hope, I can't tell you how much I related to Barack. When I heard Michelle say it was the first time that she could feel proud of her country it resonated.

I was an organizer for peace and civil rights in the 1960's. I was also born in Indonesia and traveled much of the world by the time I was 20. I also was lucky and went to a good school, in my case Cornell.

There are issues I feel strongly about - universal health care, ending the wars, renouncing torture coupled with a reestablishment of habeas corpus and return to the rule of law, a rational immigration policy and control of Homeland Security, a progressive income tax, and control of the banks and international corporations.

But for now, all I want to say is WE DID IT! Thanks so much for making it possible to believe in America again.


The transition is over and www.change.gov has become http://www.whitehouse.gov - 6/09

Homeland Secuity

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Postville, IA and
The Border Patrol in Port Townsend, WA

On May 12, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted what at the time was hailed as the largest single site immigration raid in U.S. history at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. After a nearly one-year investigation into Agriprocessors, approximately 500 ICE agents moved on Postville at 10:00 a.m. outfitted with machine guns and in full combat gear. Helicopters circled overhead while ICE agents entered the meatpacking plant with warrants for 607 undocumented workers.

On the Olympic Peninsula the Border Patrol has increased the number of officers from four to 24 and plans to add more officers. They've staked out the Catholic Church, set up traffic checkpoints, have attempted to buy off local police and sheriffs, detain people suspected of the misdemeanor of being "undocumented" in a secure private barbed wire enclosed detention facility in Tacoma - and apparently don't see any reason to abide by the Fourth Amendment.

Socialism & Democracy


Obama is not a socialist in spite of what the swift boaters implied. In context you might have guessed Joe the Plumber was charging him with being for a progressive income tax - but not socialism. Why, however, does the word "socialism" have such negative power?
"Socialism" means the collective or public ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Socialism is not about how decisions are made.

Democracy is the most rational way to make decisions. At least our Founding Fathers thought so, steeped as they were in the 18th century ideas expressed by Locke, Hume and Bentham - empiricists who argued that democracy, a system by which decisions are made after deliberation in arenas where all opinions and facts could be considered, is the most rational way to determine the will of the people.

The Founding Fathers certainly were not in favor of universal suffrage. And they certainly didn't question private ownership of their farms and businesses. They never imagined that decisions about their management of the means of production should be subject to democratic decision-making.

It was almost 100 years later that the idea of socialism introduced a problem or contradiction. Socialism, arising out of industrialization in Europe dating from about 1830 was the basis of many 19th century utopian ideas. If democracy was such a rational way to make political decisions, why not extend it to economic decisions too?

Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital and creates an unequal society. Socialists generally advocate the creation of an egalitarian society, in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly.

Thank God the Founding Fathers had built the protection of minorities (white men with property) into the Constitution as a protection against mob rule. With the rise of socialism, the owners of farms, businesses and factories had no doubt that they would not be in charge if democracy were to be extended to economic decisions as well as political decisions. The masses would just vote them out and take over ownership of the means of production - socialism.

That's pretty much what Marx advocated except that he didn't trust the people any more than the Founding Fathers did so he envisioned a transition during which there would be a "dictatorship of the proletariate" before the state would wither away into utopia. That and the fact that most real Communist countries ended up with some pretty awful dictatorships, gave socialism a bad name making it easy for the capitalists to oppose, at least during the Cold War against Communism.

But wait. Socialism is not about how decisions are made. Do we trust the American people to make important decisions? How about people without property? How about women? Blacks and Hispanics? If we do trust the American people to make important decisions, aren't we back to that 19th century contradiction that if we believe democracy is the best way to make political decisions, why not economic decisions?

I wouldn't mind a vote in how the banks, the oil industry, the insurance and drug companies, are run. I guess that's called governmental regulation, if not socialism. Maybe a little regulation now would forestall nationalization or revolutionary takeover of the means of production down the road.