Only two presidential looking candidates at Las Vegas debate: a “friendly fascist” and a child of the ruling elite.

In yesterday evening’s umpteenth debate between the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney followed all the rules that my public relations firm teaches executives for controlling contentious public situations: He insisted that everyone follow the rules, he was always courteous and respectful, and he wore a broad smile throughout the debate.

And I think it worked.  He and Herman Cain came off as the only two presidential acting candidates.  Santorum looked honest but strident.  Bachmann diminished herself into a “mom candidate.”  Paul came off as an angry dodderer, while Newt seemed to try a little too hard to assume an Olympian attitude.

Rick Perry?  He seemed to be out-of-sorts, as if he were doing the cha-cha while everyone else was twisting the night away.  He seethed with anger and frustration.  He was like a guy who comes to a frat party looking for a fight because he’s just so pissed off and doesn’t even know why. 

And Mittman certainly did act the part of the conciliatory frat president—AKA Chief Executive Officer—when he put his hand on Perry’s shoulder and essentially told him to “cool off.”

There wasn’t much to the debate.  Whether it was Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, immigration or Romney’s stand on health care, all the candidates preferred to toss about words and phrases completely devoid of context or definition.  Whether the pose was studious, earnest or concerned, all actively avoided analysis of specific proposals.  They tended to bicker over minute facts, and in these cases, for example on how much unemployment there was in Texas or if Romney ever hired an illegal alien, both candidates involved tended to lie or misapply.

Although Cain did a great job of looking as if he can run a meeting and energize the people working for him, he made the biggest verbal blunder of the evening.  It was his failure to define his apples-and-oranges analogy.  He kept saying that his 9-9-9 plan and state taxes were akin to comparing apples to oranges, but he never told us why.  The missing piece of information that he assumed we all knew was the fact that the 9-9-9 plan replaces federal taxes only.  If he had said that, even just one time, then he would not have come off looking like a fruitcake with his friendly assurances that apples were not oranges.

Despite this enormous failure to communicate, Cain’s friendly and courteous bearing saved the day for him.  He truly does look and act as if he can run a business.  Of course, a country is not a business and a president can’t just order everyone to start saying “Have a nice day” at the end of all phone conversations, as a CEO can.

In the back of my mind, Cain kept making me think of the Andy Griffith candidate in the Elia Kazan’s old black-and-white movie, A Face in the Crowd.  The Griffith character was folksy down-home southerner, whereas Cain plays the charismatic entrepreneur, but in both cases, their attractive demeanors conceal the fact that they are bought and paid for by an ultra-wealthy cabal that wants to subvert democracy and install policies that would take money from the poor and give it to the rich.  In the case of Cain, whose campaign is bankrolled and run by the ultra rightwing Koch Brothers and their operatives, the policies will also both weaken and pollute our public resources and spaces.  I think Bertram Gross called this approach “friendly fascism” about 30 years ago.

Some pundits are saying the race is down to three, but that’s being kind to the embarrassingly out-of-sync Perry.  The two Republican candidates most likely to snare the nomination at this point are a child of the ruling elite and the current face of the Koch Brothers’ version of friendly fascism.

Meanwhile, the most ideologically chilling moment of the Las Vegas debate came from the moderator, Anderson Cooper, right in the preamble to the main event.  Cooper, child of wealth and privilege himself, said that debate would determine “who should be the next President of the United States.”  The unstated but obvious suggestion was that our current POTUS, Barack Obama, was going to lose (unless you think Cooper was looking ahead to 2016?).

The mainstream news media followed this strategy in the 2010 election cycle, giving all coverage to the Republican primaries and none to the Democratic ones.  The assumption in 2010 was that the Democratic Party’s decisions on who should run were not newsworthy.  This election cycle, the Dems pretty much know who’s going to be at the top of the ticket, so I can understand the focus on the Republican race.  But to assume that it’s the race that counts is just another way to help the Republicans capture control of the country despite having policies favored by a minority of both voters and citizens.  It makes sense that a Vanderbilt heir like Anderson Cooper might want to do that.

Tabloids depict Occupy Wall Street as sex-and-drug-fueled orgy. Are they outraged or envious?

Imagine Woodstock 1969 with worse music and more sex and drugs. Many tabloid newspapers like The Daily Mail and The New York Post did just that this week and called it Zuccotti Park.

The Mail story was particularly scurrilous, claiming that lurking prominently among the Occupy Wall Street protesters congregating in lower Manhattan’s financial district were junkies and homeless people.  The headline focused on sex and the photos tried their best to show an orgy of sex-and-drugs.  But the best the Mail could come up with were a couple hugging innocently and another, naked to the shoulders, tousling under a blanket, plus a couple of young ladies who must have lost their way because they looked as if they were getting ready for a slutwalk.  

The Post story followed the Mail model of putting sex in the headline but talking about crime, with one difference: the photos suggested that the protest had become homeless city central for the three-state New York metro area.  

These sex-drugs-and-crime stories represent the slimiest sort of journalism because they use a few isolated incidents and turn them into a false impression that they then serve to an innocent public. There can be no doubt that like in every large gathering of young people some will light up a joint and a few will express their sexuality inappropriately.  And what crowd does not attract its share of pickpockets and other rip-off artists? Marches do, parades do. The Louvre Museum, which is packed all the time, has signs everywhere to watch for pickpockets.  So big deal! There’s nothing different—nor newsworthy—about these occurrences at Occupy Wall Street.

This tabloid press fear mongering plays to the lowest common denominator of public discourse.  The rhetorical strategy is to make those who are afraid of crime, the homeless or sexual freedom come to dislike the protestors and what they are saying.  Studies over the past few years suggest that the very groups most prone to fearing crime, the young and the homeless are also the groups that have been left behind because of the financial machinations against which the Occupy Wall Street protestors have organized. We’re talking about the less educated population, especially but not exclusively in rural areas.

What remains to be seen is if this approach will turn tabloid readers against the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Will they channel the anger they are rightfully feeling about the growing inequality of wealth and income towards those who have taken to the streets on their behalf?

I have no idea, but I don’t think it’s going to matter.  Without a political platform, the Occupy Wall Street movement will eventually die out.  The Tea Party had a set of action points from day one.

The next step for Occupy Wall Street should be for each local movement to elect someone to a central national committee that would then develop a 10-, 12- or 16-point plan that could be described in one page.  Another next step would be to identify candidates who will run in Democratic primaries as Occupy Wall Street candidates. 

All the movement has to do is imitate the Tea Party to become a political power.  It’s true that the mainstream news media won’t be helping the Occupy Wall Street movement along as it did the Tea Party, at least not until the Occupanti can claim it made the difference in winning a few elections.  The standard for Occupy Wall Street will no doubt be higher at every step of the way than the Tea Party, to be sure.

But if organizers don’t get busy and draft a list of real-world demands, there will be no steps beyond the monotonous thump of the marchers until the weather turns bitter cold and the crowds begin dwindle into tiny pitter patters in the snow.

Pundits want Chinese to save the world by making our mistake and developing a consumer economy

One of the recurring subthemes in the news lately has been the need for China to develop a consumer economy.  The latest to exhort the Chinese and their consumers about their frugal ways is The New York Times in a front-page article earlier this week titled “As Its Economy Sprints Ahead, China’s People Are Left Behind.”

The argument in the story is familiar: The policy of the Chinese government to keep interest rates low to consumers and feed Chinese industry with cheap state loans has sent Chinese inflation higher than what the average consumer can earn in a bank account. The result is a population that hoards money instead of spending it on raising their standard of living or quality of life. The couple whom the article features saves two-thirds of its income.  The article never points out that the United States faces the same problem of bank interest being less than inflation.

The article then asserts that to keep its economy growing, the Chinese must develop policies that encourage their consumers to spend more of what they make. It warns that if the Chinese consumer doesn’t get off its duff and start buying things then China will go the way of Japan, which has only the third largest economy in the world.  

The underlying premise of the article is that without growth, an economy must suffer.  It’s the basis of most economic text books and all economic planning in the United States.  It’s taken for granted in virtually every political debate and news story. No politician ever leaves economic growth out when talking about his or her plans. Even thoughtful progressive economists such as Paul Krugman often advocate policies based on the idea that the only strong economy is a growing economy.

But in a world of rapid climate change and diminishing resources, continued growth based on fossil fuels will lead to an ecological disaster for the human race.   As a species and as individual nations, we have to learn to manage economies that do not have to grow to thrive. 

While the makers of waffle irons, video games and golf clubs might not be as happy, wouldn’t the world be better off in the long run if the Chinese people maintain their frugal ways, which stem as much from ancient traditions as they do from active government policy?

Isn’t it possible that the Chinese government has peered realistically into the cold hard facts of the looming ecological disaster, instead of swerving away in disbelief as Americans seem to be doing.  After all, the Chinese currently invest far more money into alternative energy like wind and solar each year than any other country. China tried with some success to curb population growth for years by implementing a one-child policy. Throughout the ages, population growth has been the primary but not sole instigator of economic growth.

There is also no doubt that the Chinese are doing their share of polluting, but they spoil the air, land and sea less per capita than we do in the United States.  If the consumer remains frugal, the Chinese carbon footprint could stay fairly small, and get smaller as the country transitions to alternative energy and makes its industrial processes more environmentally friendly.

I hope that the Chinese government eventually rewards small savers for their service to the country’s growth spurt by raising interest rates on savings deposits.  But other than that, I see very little wrong with the current Chinese economic policies.  Chinese politics, internal security and free speech issues—now that’s a different story. 

Department of Homeland Security wastes millions of bucks rechecking people and luggage

Our trip to France ended on a dyspeptic note in its very last phase. After enjoying the comforts of French culture, cuisine and superb organizational skills for 16 days, we stepped into the paranoid world of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

We had cleared our passports at the passport control point and our luggage had cleared customs. We were quickly rolling our bags towards the exit when we ran into another line: We had to go through the entire security process once again, emptying our pockets, taking off our shoes, displaying the laptop, passing our bodies through a zone of light radiation and finally putting ourselves back together. When I say we, I mean every traveler on the plane.

Meanwhile, our suitcases chugged through an X-ray machine and into the bowels of the Pittsburgh International Airport’s state-of-the-1992-art luggage transport system. We were told we would find our suitcases in the L section of the baggage claim area. This re-security operation took the efforts of six people.

Now in what way is the United States safer because DHS wasted everyone’s time and spent all that money redoing what the French had already done? Hadn’t the French X-rayed our luggage, given us an extensive oral questionnaire, put us through the security process and checked our passports on eight separate occasions? French security even searched the Delta airline representative who led us on the bus from the gate to the aircraft. Then upon landing, U.S. personnel checked our passports and our luggage.

Why this extra layer? Does DHS think that people have access to their luggage while in flight? Or that a flight attendant sold someone something dangerous or useful to a terrorist attack that he found in the in-flight catalogue? 

It was impossible for any passenger to acquire or store anything that could be construed as dangerous. The French do as good a job as we do, if not better, in managing security at airports. The rescreening is a total waste of money. As far as my experience and research shows, this recheck of security doesn’t happen anywhere else in the industrialized West.

The federal government would be better off ending these senseless additional screenings and reallocating these wasted funds to creating productive jobs, not “make busy” work.

Unions announce backing for Occupy Wall Street and immediately POTUS and his VP jump into the fray

The Occupy Wall Street movement got a big boost this week when organized labor decided to get involved.  Members of several New York unions came out to Wednesday’s demonstrations and national unions expressed their support. 

The intervention of the AFL/CIO means more than just more people protesting and more people getting arrested.  The unions bring two great strengths to the Occupy Wall Street movement:

  • Their ability to organize, which could help sustain the protest for many weeks and months.
  • The fact that they have an action plan for changing the country’s direction, something that Occupy Wall Street doesn’t yet have.

The movement is also picking up steam in the news media, with coverage every day for the past week.  As late as last week, I saw a lot of Facebook complaints that the news media were ignoring the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I didn’t think it was so then, and it certainly isn’t true now.

And it looks as if our elected officials and candidates have stopped ignoring the Occupy Wall Street movement.  This morning, President Obama said he believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects the current national mode. Amen to the truth!

Until President Obama made his remarks this morning, Democrats have been ignoring or running away from Occupy Wall Street.  Running away would describe the comments of our Vice President Joe Biden, who yesterday compared Occupy Wall Street to Tea-partiers, who in Joe’s version hated the TARP bailout of the financial system.  Of course the easy-to-understand code embedded in Biden’s remark is that both are extremists who have no place in politics.

Now it looks as if Joe Biden’s boss, the POTUS AKA Barack Obama is overruling him and sympathizing with the protestors and unions.  Something else the unions may have been behind since they and trial lawyers are traditionally the two biggest donors to Democratic candidates and the Democratic party.

Let’s hope the Democrats build on Obama’s remarks.  Imagine if Barack Obama or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were to speak at an Occupy Wall Street rally and tell demonstrators what the Dems intend to do about the growing inequity of wealth in this country.  A jobs program.  Higher taxes on the wealthy.  More investment in public institutions.  Wouldn’t that energize many of the protestors to volunteer for and vote for Democrats?

For Occupy Wall Street to have lasting impact, we must use democratic processes to break link between big money and law-making

As a former student protestor against the Viet Nam War and for civil rights, I sympathize with and applaud the Occupy Wall Street protestors in lower Manhattan and elsewhere across the country.  As an ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and his disciple Martin Luther King, I believe that widespread peaceful disobedience can help change the direction of a country.

Having said that, after reviewing the news stories about the protests and read the Occupy Wall Street website, I’m shocked that the protestors and organizers really don’t have a plan and have not articulated specific actions that we as a society should take to rebalance the distribution of wealth and income, which over the past 30 years has gotten severely out of whack.  Law and policy have redistributed wealth over the past 30 years, leaving the richest Americans with a much larger percentage of both wealth and income going to the top 1% and 5% of the country, and much less going to everyone else.  And it is law and policy that will have to redistribute wealth again so that we achieve the more equitable society that we enjoyed throughout the 50’s, 60’s and most of the 70’s of the last century.

In OpEdge, I have written many times about specific actions that we should take to create a more equitable distribution of wealth and income, but here’s a quick list of some of the major actions we could take:

  • Raise the minimum wage
  • Raise income taxes on the highest incomes and institute a wealth tax, such as they have in France.
  • Rebalance our labor laws in favor of unions, which historically have raised working people into the middle class.
  • End the capital gains tax discount or limit it to true investment in creating new jobs and wealth, instead of allowing people to get a tax break when they profit from a sale of stocks or bonds in which the money goes to someone other than the company creating the new jobs.
  • Invest in national and state-wide programs to repair our broken public infrastructure of mass transit, public education, roads, bridges and sewer systems, which will create jobs and strengthen our public institutions.
  • Only import goods from nations that pay the same wages that we do and have high worker safety standards.

There are other policy and law changes I could recommend, but I don’t want to dwell on these points, each of which can be argued and refined.  Instead I want to focus on the actions that we must take to make our elected officials implement the changes necessary to save our country.  I write “save our country,” because one of the lessons of world history is that countries in which the distribution of wealth becomes less equitable over time virtually always decline and those in which the distribution of wealth becomes more equitable virtually always flourish.

Our elected officials will for the most part ignore or downplay the significance of the protests and the protestors, just as they have ignored and continue to ignore the will of the American people on such issues as exiting Iraq, punishing Wall Street manipulators and raising taxes on the wealthy.  They ignore us and listen to the big banks and large corporations for one reason only: Money.  Politicians embrace the positions of big money and the mainstream news media directs its coverage primarily on the big money candidates.

But money is not votes.  While the media and politicians count money, election officials can only count votes. If we want to change the direction of the country, we need elected officials who will pass new laws and pursue new policies.

Here then are the steps I propose that we take to reclaim America:

  1. Formulate a one-page set of specific actions that we will demand of any candidate that wants our support. I would think that this “Contract with the Real America” will include many of the actions I propose above, stated with more precision, e.g. “Impose an annual 2% tax on all net assets more than $1.0 million a year per taxable entity, and a 5% tax on all net assets of more than $10.0 million.” While my example uses one of my more radical proposals, I understand that the “Contract with the Real America” will have to be watered down a bit from my personal vision to resonate with the majority of Americans.
  2. Identify local and national candidates (most likely Democrats or independents) who will back some, many or most of the actions proposed in the list.
  3. Go to caucuses and support those candidates.
  4. Volunteer for voter registration drives focused on those most likely to vote for progressives and left-leaning Democrats, e.g., students, the poor and minorities.
  5. Engage in local “take people to the polls” campaigns on every election day (not just the presidential elections).
  6. Vote in every election.

The other side has the money, but the rest of us have a very powerful tool in social media, a tool with which we can speak directly to people.  The organizers of Occupy Wall Street have used social media with some effectiveness to organize the protest. But with no plan of action, all the protests do is allow people to let off some steam.  Venting is fun, but at the end of the day it accomplishes nothing except to give people the illusion that they have acted.

Do Rick Perry’s misinformed statements about global warming make him stupid or merely cynical?

When you say, “I think” or “I believe,” you haven’t really told a lie, since it’s what you “believe.”  So we can’t call Texas Governor Rick Perry a liar for having said over the weekend that he thinks that limiting carbon emissions would devastate the economy.  I suppose we’ll have to settle for calling him misinformed or stupid. 

Or perhaps we could connect his statements to the fact that he comes from a state dominated by oil and gas interests from whose financial troughs he has been feeding like a ravenous pig for years.  In that case, he’s a cynical politician who puts his own best interests above addressing a pressing threat to the entire world community.

Perry’s false claim that limiting carbon emissions will hurt the economy is one that many have bandied about for years, but just because you keep repeating something doesn’t make it so. 

To be sure, complying with stiffer pollution standards will cost money, but no one is going to burn that money or bury it in the ground.  It will be spent to create, buy and operate new technologies.  And that means jobs.  Other new jobs will be created for industry to manage and for government to oversee compliance.  FYI, I wrote “create” new technologies, but I want to point out that many of the technologies needed to  address the carbon-emissions challenge already exist; industry flacks tell us they’re too expensive, but isn’t that what the car companies said for years about seat belts and airbags? 

There is no doubt that the cost of many things will increase as the cost of producing electrical energy and running carbon-emitting industrial processes rises, just as the cost of phone service rose when phones were made Internet-capable and the cost of food rose when we began to institute safety and health standards more than 100 years ago.  Often, though, what happens when a new feature is added to existing goods and service is not a rise in the cost to the consumer, but a decrease in the profit made by the companies selling the goods and services.

At the end of the day, establishing new environmental regulations will lead to a transfer of wealth from the profits of oil companies, electrical utilities and heavy industry to pollution abatement companies and the people holding the many new jobs that will be created. To the degree that consumers will pay more, they will benefit from the new regulations, which will slow down global warming and enable everyone to breathe cleaner air.  Of course, cleaner air will lead to fewer lung ailments, which will hurt the medical industry.  The real threat to the economy then will be that with fewer people ill, our healthcare sector will shrink.  But is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Of course, when I write, “Is that such a bad thing?” I am referring to society in general.  It will be a bad thing for Perry and the people who are backing him financially.

Before signing off, I want to consider one of the comments in Cowboy Rick’s most recent pronouncement on global warming that shows that there is some subtlety in this former C student: “Are we as a country willing to take this science as incontrovertible and put in place cap and trade legislation that will devastate this country economically?”

Cap and trade sets up a marketplace for pollution in which polluters buy “credits” from non-polluters instead of actually ending their own pollution.  For example, let’s say Company A has lowered its emissions.  Company B pays Company A for the right to consider the decrease in Company B’s pollution its own.  Multiply these transactions thousands of times and you have a new marketplace in which “credits” are bought and sold like stocks and bonds.  If it sounds confusing, complicated, inefficient and unnecessary, that’s because it is.  But it has the “advantage” of being a “market-based” solution in an area in which a market is not needed.  To my mind it would be far easier just to make the polluters spend the money to stop polluting. 

Perry’s either/or is not “either we continue to pollute or we regulate,” but “either we continue to pollute or we establish cap and trade.”  I suppose he figures that if we’re going to tackle global warming, we might as well at least uphold his cherished myth that markets always work and are always right.

The symbolism of a “slutwalk” is clear: No means no

The current issue of Nation has an opinion piece by Salamishah Tillet that discusses a term of which I was only vaguely aware before: the slutwalk.

A slutwalk is an anti-rape march and street protest.  As I understand it, the women marching in a slutwalk dress in a provocative and revealing manner that shows plenty of skin and/or adorn themselves with the kind of cosmetics or hair styles often associated with women presumed to have a lot of sexual partners.

According to Tillet, the first slutwalk occurred last April in Toronto after a Toronto police officer told a group of students in a public safety class that women “should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Tillet reports that there have now been more than 70 slutwalks all over the world, including in Chicago, Berlin, Cape Town, New Delhi and Mexico City.  New York City is holding one tomorrow, October 1.

I personally don’t care for women who don the attire and cosmetics associated with slutwalks.  No woman with whom I have ever been involved or in whom I have ever had a romantic interest has ever dressed in the slutwalk manner.  When women at my company have occasionally dressed that way, I have asked other female employees to speak with them about what constitutes a business-like appearance and why.

But I think the slutwalk is a wonderful statement of the simple fact that “no means no.” 

As we know from the news and entertainment media, defense attorneys in rape trials often accuse the rape victim of “having asked for it” by the way she dressed or presented herself or tries to establish that the woman had engaged in intimate relationships with many men, or several men in the hours preceding the rape.  I have never understood either line or reasoning:

  • So what if a woman is dressing in a sexually arousing way?  We don’t excuse a murderer because the deceased pissed him/her off by their actions.  And we don’t excuse a thief because he is poor or has lost a lot of money gambling or in the stock market.  Civilized humans are supposed to be able to curb their instincts when to act upon them would be against the law or inappropriate for the situation.  This ability to discipline one’s self is part of the essence of our humanity. Many philosophers through the ages would say it’s the primary factor that distinguishes us from other animals.

  • Why is it that a man who sleeps with a lot of women is called a stud, which has a positive connotation (unless he is married and prominent, in which case he is a “sex addict who needs treatment”), but a woman who sleeps with a lot of men is called a slut, which has a negative connotation? The stud-slut dichotomy was and is a major tenet of sexism and all right-thinking people should reject this double standard. Treat the goose and gander the same way.

Let me use the rhetorical technique called reductio ad absurdum—taking something to its most absurd conclusion—to make my point.  Let’s say a woman of her own free will and not under the influence of foreign substances has decided to have sex with 8 men in a row, with the other males watching while she is engaged with each man, what is crudely called a “gang bang” or “pulling the chain.”  She has completed her business with 7 of the men and the 8th is about to take his turn. If she says “no” and he continues, it’s rape. Period. End of story.  That police departments, prosecutors, judges and juries don’t always see it that way is a continuing travesty of justice and makes a mockery of our concepts of freedom and free will.

I salute the women marching against rape in tomorrow’s slutwalk in New York and in all the slutwalks that have taken place or will take place.  These women are not saying that women should dress or act provocatively.  They’re saying that “no” means “no,” no matter what.  They’re saying that rape is not about anything other than violently forcing a woman to engage unwillingly in a sexual act. 

“No” means “no.”

With its military sales, the United States reverses Isaiah, turning plowshares into swords

America buys oil from Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  We buy cars from Japan, South Korea and Europe.  And from China, we buy clothes, appliances, plastic goods, toys, shoes and medical equipment.

But for what goods and services are we the dominant world seller (that is, besides Spiderman movies and Lady Gaga)?

The answer is weapons.

According to a Congressional report released a few days ago, the United States dominates the world’s weapons market, selling almost 53% of the $40.4 billion in total world trade in arms in 2010.  In second place, with a mere 19.3% of world arms trade, was Russia.  And while the recession sent arms sales into a nose dive in 2010, going from $65.2 billion to $40.4 billion in the prior year, the U.S. percentage of total sales has been rising steadily. According to a Congressional report from a year ago, from 2006-2009, the United States had made only 38.6% of all agreements to sell weapons to other countries.  

And who is buying all of these bombs, guns, bullets, tanks and anti-aircraft systems? It turns out it’s the developing world, where governments tend to be less stable.  Of total arms sales last year, developing countries bought 76.2% of all implements of war, with the America supplying 48.6%—almost half—of all weapons of that total. 

Here’s the list of developing countries that bought the most bombs and bullets in 2010.  You tell me how many of these countries you want to have more weapons:

  1. India
  2. Taiwan
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Egypt
  5. Israel
  6. Algeria
  7. Syria
  8. South Korea
  9. Singapore
  10. Jordan

We’re perverting the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah.  Instead of turning swords into plowshares, we’re turning plowshares into swords, by arming to the teeth some of the most unstable countries or countries in some of the most unstable areas of the world. 

The weapons we sell are sophisticated, high-tech stuff that help countries perfect the art of mass killing: For example, The New York Times reported over the weekend that the Obama administration has supplied Israel with bombs capable of destroying buried targets.  My rhetorical question on this bit of news: will these bombs guide Israel towards a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians and a rapprochement with the Arab world, or will it embolden Israel to stoke the flames of Middle Eastern violence?

And even as the U.S. cash register for arms sales sounds a steady ka-ching ka-ching, we continue to develop more and more sophisticated arms like drone planes that turn war into a video game.  For a good overview of our drone program and other robotic weapons we are developing, check out Christian Caryl’s review of two books on the subject in the latest New York Review of Books.  This new generation of weapons makes it easier for aggressors to launch attacks that inflict maximum damage on the enemy and its innocent citizens with minimal damage to the soldiers of the attacking nation. 

One of our lesser presidents, Calvin Coolidge, once said that “the chief business of the American people is business.” Perhaps we should update his statement and say that the chief business of the American people has become war.

Anti-death penalty movement and the idea of justice go one for two in stays of execution

In baseball parlance, the anti-death penalty movement has batted 500 over the past 24 hours.  The Supreme Court of the United States stopped the execution of white man Cleve Foster, but the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to back man Troy Davis.  The racial contrast speaks for itself.

Much has been written about perversion of justice in the Troy Davis case.  Post-trial findings have put the testimony and other evidence used to convict him in grave doubt.   Even Amnesty International has gotten involved in organizing support for granting clemency to Davis.

Despite this substantial new information, the prosecutors have dug in their heels and insisted that they have the right man.  We can only assume that these prosecutors are not Christian and thus have not heard of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before a fall.”  No one likes to be proven wrong, so it’s only human nature for prosecutors to stare past a raft of new evidence.

But the Board of Pardons is not implicated in the mistakes of the prosecutors.   These five people, voting in secret, decided that the law is not the hand-maiden of justice but an end unto itself.  Once the law convicts someone, we can continue to punish him or her even if we find out that the conviction was in error.

Beyond the ho-hum barbarism of seeing a man fry who is probably innocent—and I call it ho-hum because we can see it every day in war reporting from around the globe—is the idiocy of capital punishment.

There are many arguments against capital punishment, including:

Of course, those serious proponents of capital punishment could respond by saying that the value of societal revenge is what matters, not deterrence; and that fixes to the system can drive out racism and cut the cost of the capital process by speeding it up (killing people faster!).

But one argument trumps all the others, and that is the ethical or moral one.  I won’t call it religious, since so many religions condone the taking of another person’s life.  As a society, we are supposed to be better than our worst elements.  If we kill, we stoop to the level of the killer. 

Sparing the killer’s life makes us more human and more humane than the killer, and increases the value that our society puts on human life.

Sparing the killer is an affirmation of our social contract to live in peace.

Sparing the killer tells him or her, and the world, that when we say that human life is holy we mean it.

Nobody likes pathological monsters who commit crimes heinous enough to justify our current capital punishment.  Those who do it are the scum of the earth.  But just as we have to protect the free speech rights of Nazis, pornographers and global warming deniers, so must we protect the lives of those who have killed others.  Let them rot in jail, but let them live.  Not for their sakes, but for our own.