April 24, 2009

Accountability and torture

I can't believe there is even debate on this. Water-boarding is torture. Torture is illegal under US law. Criminals belong in prison. It's that simple. Unfortunately, the fascist elite of the Bush administration want us to believe otherwise. They would like us to believe that there was nothing wrong with torturing our prisoners. They want us to believe that no one should be punished. They want us to believe that their lackies and sycophants are above the law. The Obama administration doesn't seem to be much better on this, but at least it seems he is coming around.

According to reports from the Thursday, April 23rd and Friday, April 24th broadcast of Countdown with Keith Olberman, there is evidence that instruction on how to torture and orders to engage in torture reach the upper echelons of the Bush administration; all the way up to former Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld and former Vice President Cheney. I don't relish the idea of prosecuting these officials for their crimes. It is an utterly tragic situation that could result governmental officials of such high office being tried for war crimes. The resulting trials would tear at the very fabric of our nation. But as a nation of laws I can see no other course of action that would truly satisfy justice. To prosecute only low level people but to leave the people who made the decisions alone would be one the worst blows to the American soul. It would be an expression of the worst form of elitism. We are all equal before the law, even these men.

Tea-bagging is Populism? Not hardly!

I realize I'm a little bit behind on commenting on this but real life has been a bit hectic. I lost count of the number of times Fox News attempted to portray the "Tea Parties" as a populist movement. Let me be very clear on this. Tea-bagging is not now, nor will it ever be, populist. If you have bothered to look at the definition of Populism then you know it's about believing in the value and virtue of the common people. With Tea-bagging what you have is a top-down fabrication by the fascists at News Corp that they are trying to convince you is a grass-roots protest.

The "Tea Parties" are distractions created by an elitist establishment to turn the people against itself. There was nothing at them that indicated this was about the value and virtue of the common people. In truth, these people showed up with total contempt for taxation and the false belief that President Obama has raised their taxes. This simply isn't true. Obama's tax policy realizes a Populist desire because it decreases the burden foisted upon us by the elite who work to dodge paying their fair share. I'm not talking about making the rich pay more. I'm talking about not bleeding the people to death while benefitting an elite ruling class.

For the "Tea Parties" to have had any connection to Populism they would have had to been genuine expressions of fact that the value of the people is being impugned. What they really were was an elitist ploy to rile the masses and aggitate the populace. Tea-bagging isn't populism, it's just inane.

April 17, 2009

What is Populism?

What is Populism, anyway? Ultimately, there is a very simple definition but a very complex answer. Populism is the belief in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people. The definition doesn't completely answer the question, however. To truly understand Populism we need to put it into context.

Populism is the opposite of elitism, or
leadership or rule by an elite segment of society. When the American colonies declared independence from Britain we declared our independence from elitism. Elitism means that only those who are possesed of superior position in society have the right to make the rules that govern everyone. Those rules do not benefit the populace, only the ruling elite. When we declaired that all men are created equal we said that all members of society have a place within government. We went one step further and said that government was granted its authority by the people it governed.

In a Populist society it is the common man that makes the rules. In a fair society those rules seek to benefit the whole of society while impinging upon others at a very minimum. In truth, fairness is intrinsic to a Populist society because of the belief that we are all equal before the law.

A common lie about Populism is that it seeks to take from the wealthy or elite and give to the commoner or poor man. Populism is not about redistribution of wealth. Populism isn't an economic policy. Populism isn't a governmental philosophy. Populism is the belief that the common man is of worth and value to society. Populism is a social principle of equality, and ultimately, fairness. Instead of a ruling elite answerable only to itself, government and society is controlled by the very people it governs. This is what Populism is.

For the people!

April 15, 2009

Why Populism?

The more I see the way the world operates, the more I realize that people need to be reminded of their power and importance. The populace, the people, are the life blood of a civilization and it is through them that true power of law is derived. This is a founding principle upon which our nation is built and it is the people who have been shut out from the systems of governance. We have been stripped of our importance by an over-class that neither regards our needs nor concerns. Liberty is the right to self-governance and that governance must be an expression of the will of the people with regard for the rights and equalities of the minority. Self-governance has been taken from us and replaced with a shallow veneer of involvement. We have been shut out of the Halls of Power because we are not born people of privilege, status, or wealth. We are not power-brokers with billions of dollars to spend. We are the life blood of our nation, and we have been constrained until we are barely flowing through the veins of the Motherland. Our nation withers and dies because its blood does not flow.

It is our blood most of all that was spilled in our formation as an independent nation. We, the people, bled for our birth. We, the people, bled for our own internal disputes. We, the people, bleed now under a yoke of control. That yoke is ignorance. We have been restricted to meaningless trivialities and been told that it is education. We have been brow-beaten into submission to a master who preys upon our labors but cares nothing for our toils. It is this yoke of bondage that we must cast off and rise above to take back our nation and our pride. We must remove the chains that shackle us and take back our rightful place in society.

We have been caged, our minds left to rot as wheat in the field. Thought is our revolution. Thought is what frees us from slavery and enables us to wield the power that is innately ours. No more an exalted state can man exist in than that of self-mastery. This principle is the founding principle of our republic and it is this principle that heralds the greatest truth we have ever uttered; all men are created equal. This is what is denied to us, and it is this that we must strive for. This is the Revolution of Thought that must take hold, and with it we can aspire to the greatness that was set before us.

Note: This was written a little while back and is meant to be more of a fire-brand than literal expression of populism. As a nation, we need to revitalize the lives and well-being of the common man. We are shackled by our ignorance of the back-room deals in the halls of power. We are worn down by our labors to survive. This is what we must master in order to assert our rightful role in government.

For the people!

What is Democracy Anyway?

We talk about democracy in blithe terms and I think we often fail to understand what democracy really is. It's easy to say that democracy is the right to vote but this misses the essence of democracy. Merriam-Webster's defines democracy as a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

Direct exercise of power is the oldest form of democratic principle. The ancient Greek city-state of Athens was governed under this manner in which all eligible men would gather and vote with the majority holding the day. There were no elected officials, just majority rule. Now you have to remember that who was eligible to vote was extremely limited and the common man had pretty much no say at all in how laws were decided so this ancient form doesn't come close to a populist ideal of democracy. The limiting factor is the over-all lack of sovereign franchise, the right to vote.

We live in a nation built on indirect exercise of democracy. We are a representative Democratic Republic. We have progressed to grant franchise to a wide and large body of people. This is meant to allow all voices and opinions to be expressed, but ultimately the majority still rules. In our republic the elected officials are supposed to be beholden to the will of the people. They are sent to represent us and are answerable to us. In truth, we do a pretty decent job on this. We are not so completely cut out of the system yet that we don't elect our law-makers. The past couple of elections has seen that to be true. Dissatisfaction cost many people their jobs.

I want to make it clear that we do have a great deal of impact on government and that we are not living in a complete tyranny. We have an amazing application of populist will in our system. But we are being cut out of it, and that is why I seek to wake us to this before we lose control. The United States of America isn't a sinking ship, it just has some holes in the hull that need patching before we take on any more water and sink.

None the less, the will of the people is being silenced and we can not allow this. For American democracy to work the voice of the people must be heard by law-makers at every level of government. A populist democracy demands that we take action and raise our voices to be heard. We must not be dictated to but must instead tell our leaders in no uncertain terms that our will is more powerful than those that seek to buy their vote for their own purposes. That is how American democracy should and must work.

For the people.

April 14, 2009

In Defense of Populism

Adam McCall, a student at Emory University in Atlanta, has written an excellent article on Populism. I encourage you all to read it.

In Defense of Populism
By Adam McCall

I have a couple of conservative friends who are attending a mock “Tea Party” at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta tomorrow. Being born and bred in and around Boston, I know a thing or two about such events. And, while I don’t necessarily agree that the situation the United States face now is similar to the state of affairs they faced then, I do believe that the media has underplayed the legitimacy of the populist backlash against the Obama-Bush economic policies of the last year.

Regardless of election-time appeals, Wall Street economists dominate the ranks of both parties. Functionally, there has been little change in the macroeconomic policies pursued by both former President George W. Bush and President Obama. Former Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson, current Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers, as well as their advisers, all spent time working in and around Wall Street. Unsurprisingly, all of their proposed solutions rely on bailing out investment and commercial banks and insurance companies.

Still, I have many friends who trust the elites more. It’s foolish, they say, to get upset about bonuses paid to incompetent managers, the death of the auto industry and the anarchic mess on Wall Street.

This is regrettable; truth is, it has become all too easy for these elite policy-makers to pick and choose which sectors live and die. Trapped inside their own bubbles, government bureaucrats keep Wall Street and the artificial economy afloat. They subsidize the creation of abstract value rather than the people who make America work, the people who make things.

Though there’s been a large outcry about the potential tax hikes on the upper class under the new administration, there has been little recognition of the fact that the bank bailouts represent a large re-distribution of wealth — upwards, to American elites. The idea that strengthening the banks alone will resolve the crisis of confidence in our economy reflects trickle-down economics at its worst.

Whatever happened to Obama’s campaign promises to help the working class and ignore the advice of the Washington wise men?

As these risks become more apparent to many Americans, conventional wisdom has focused on delegitimizing populism as a bastardization of American thought. Even among the intellectual class, there’s a reticence to acknowledge America’s long and proud tradition of populism, reflected in leaders such as former Sec. of State William Jennings Bryan and former Presidents Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt.

Jackson’s example remains instructive for us today. His distrust of banks and concentrated power in the hands of special interests that he put into practical policy as president seem to be the agenda that Obama has failed thus far to pursue. Like Jackson, Obama was elected after promising to fix similar problems after succeeding the unelected heir of a political dynasty. For his presidency to succeed, Obama must recognize the need to re-affirm the populism he preached on the campaign trail, which harkened back to Old Hickory’s.

So what can Obama do to avert further outrage? Expand on current plans to protect homeowners from foreclosure, for starters. Protect the rights of workers to unionize by passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows for unions to be formed after workers sign a petition. Put more money into “shovel-ready” infrastructure jobs and less in tax cuts. Support American manufacturing jobs and prevent jobs from being shipped overseas by bailing out the auto industry and supporting efforts to buy American.

These populist steps are necessary. As countries around the world stand idle, ignoring calls from Obama to stimulate their own economies, Obama must radically take steps to spur our own into a brighter day. While some of these policies may be discouraged as protectionist, the reality is that other countries already have “national champions” of industry and trade barriers of their own. It does the United States no good to allow high paying unionized manufacturing jobs to go elsewhere. Low prices at Wal-Mart mean less and less as employment fails to rebound and wages stagnate.

If Obama continues on his present path, wingnut tea parties will be the least of his concerns. The 2010 mid-term elections approach with Obama Democrats, such as Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, under fire from all quarters for their role in allowing the abuses of the bank bailouts. Will it take defeat at the hands of a dissatisfied public to turn Obama back toward populism? One hopes it doesn’t come to that, but it might if Obama doesn’t provide the answer to his own calls for change.

A Quick Discussion on Lobbyists.

Lobbyist. It's a political dirty word. President Obama said he would not include any lobbyists in his administration. This comment was later amended to mean that there would be no professional or corporate lobbyists in positions of authority in government where they would oversee areas on which they were paid lobbyists. Confused? I am. Before we get started I want to point out that I voted for Obama. I want to see him succeed. But that doesn't mean I won't be critical where I see reason to be critical. This is one of those areas and it is one where I admit that I need to do more research. But it is this very thing about "lobbyists" that I want to discuss.

I believe there are two types of lobbyists. There are those that are professional lobbyists who represent large organizations or corporations. Think of Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, or even the NRA or ACLU. Not all of them are explicitly bad. Special Interest Organizations like the NRA or ACLU are supposedly derived of the every people I am trying to reach, us. I may or may not agree with them but that isn't a requirement. The former examples, however, disgust me. These industry Goliaths use their money to out and out buy influence in government to promote their own business. They throw around obscene amounts of cash (I call it bribe money) to influence Senators and Congressmen and "persuade" them to support legislation that makes it easier for those companies to make huge profits.

Where is our voice in this? It isn't there and that is what I object to. When those with wealth can buy influence with the lawmakers then the democratic process by which our voice is heard is undone. Corporate lobbyists by-pass the democratic system and rig it so that their masters can make more money faster and easier. To call this dubious at best would be an understatement. I prefer to think of it as Un-American.

The second kind of lobbyist is the "Part-time Lobbyist." These are the men and women who genuinely care about an issue and take the time to personally go see elected officials to plead their case for their cause. These are not people backed by wealthy organizations. Some of them may draw small salaries or compensation for their time by organizations with some funds, but they are the voice of organizations that we are the life blood of. Again, I don't have to agree with them and often don't, but this is our voice in action. Political Action Commities are born of our need to be heard. When many people speak with a single voice it is easier to be heard than if you are a lone voice.

The truth of the matter is, however, that we are out-gunned in the lobbyist game. Large, wealthy organizations have resources beyond our reach. They have money and time we don't have and this is what we are competing against. It is Un-American that representitives of the people can not be heard over the din of noise generated by those that serve only themselves and not the people.

I have been lead to believe that some of the Obama Administration come from this second group. I don't know if any come from the first, although I suspect they do. With your help I want to compile a list of known lobbyists in the Obama Administraion. I want to identify their positions in government, who they represented, and when they represented them. I want to give credit to those that are the voice of the people and I want to cast shame on those who are not.

For the people!

Getting started.

It is my goal to get people to realize that we, the American People, are not powerless to influence our government. We all know that we can vote and have some say in things when the Big Day arrives. I'm not here to appeal to you to get out and vote. I don't have to, you already know. What I want to talk about here is us and our relationship to government.

The Founding Fathers set forth the idea that our government, our nation, was to derive legitimacy and authority from the people and not from an elite few of wealthy and powerful men that sit in judgment of us from lofty positions of power and authority. We, the populace, are the legitimizing force of government on all levels.

That's the theory, any way. I put forth to you that this is no longer the case. Truthfully, I can not say that it ever really was the case. The ideal is something we have sought but often failed to reach. Slavery, Jim Crow, Woman's Suffrage, Civil Rights. These are all examples of how we failed to be what we ought to be but sought to become that.

What I see today is the explicit removal of the role of the people in government. It's so very easy to identify certain targets like corporate and professional lobbyists. Other ways of taking our true franchise from us are not so obvious, like budget cuts in the educational systems. With your help I want to delve deeper into the ways in which the American People are being deprived of their legitimizing authority and how it is being handed over to an American Aristocracy.

For the People.