Boston Book Festival

I went to the kickoff event of the Boston Book Festival on Thursday night, Writing Terror featuring Wes Craven, Mary Louise Kelly, Jessica Stern, and Valerie Plame Wilson. It was a discussion about fear and writing about fear.

The first question the moderator, Joe Klein, asked, was what each of the panelists feared most. “Eighteen members of Congress,” quipped Wes Craven. He was referring, of course, to the eighteen House Representatives who have been at the core of the fight to shutdown the government and send us into default. That got a good laugh from the audience.

During the evening, we were treated to a frank discussion about what is scary to a group of people who really have some perspective on the issue. Craven, of course, is in the business of frightening us with his movies and has drawn on fears from his childhood to power his films. Jessica Stern has written about the unsolved sexual assault perpetrated against her sister and herself when they were adolescents. She’s also met with and interviewed self-avowed terrorists, and neo-nazi leaders. Mary Louise Kelly, a broadcaster an author has worked for NPR, reporting on the intelligence community. She told us about the time she was most frightened. She was called by her son’s school. They wanted her to come and pick him up because he was having trouble breathing. Trouble was, Kelly was six thousand miles away in a Black Hawk helicopter about to be ferried into a war zone. She lost the call before she could explain and it was twelve hours before she found out what happened to her son. (He was fine. The school contacted his father, who was six thousand miles closer.) Valerie Plame told us of the fear she experienced when her CIA cover was blown by the Bush Administration as retribution for her husband, Owen Wilson, revealing that the Administration was lying about Iraq buying yellow cake Uranium from Africa. Plame was immediately concerned for her children and the assets she’d developed around the world.

I was most impressed by Valerie Plame. I knew some of her story from press coverage at the time, but I haven’t yet found the time to read her account of what happened to her. The way she was treated fills me with outrage. She spent her time as an agent in the CIA in one of the most vulnerable positions, that of a Non-Official Cover agent. If she was discovered, the government would have simply disavowed her. During her at the CIA, she worked to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I wish I was able to say I’d done as much to make the world safer.

Most on the panel agreed that the greatest threat they could see was the intersection of fundamentalist terrorism and nuclear technology, and that they felt Pakistan was where that intersection was most likely going to happen. The government of Pakistan is ‘heavily infiltrated’ with extremists and barely holding together. Pakistan is also making nuclear weapons faster than any other country on Earth.

I’m not sure I agree. It would be terrible for terrorists to set off a nuclear weapon, but if they do, they will be hunted down by an outraged world. I doubt it will happen more than once and I hope it never does. It could cost millions of innocents their lives. But what we are doing to the global climate will affect everyone and has the potential to destroy our species along with most other species on the planet. In the worst case, it might destroy all life on Earth and leave our planet looking like Venus.

The use of a nuclear weapon by extremists is, so far, a horrible potential scenario. Global climate change has already started and is accelerating every day. We spend billions on fighting terrorism while trying to pretend climate change will just go away is we ignore it long enough.

Another scenario, not discussed by the panel, is the steady erosion of civil rights that is happening in the U.S. and other countries where technology makes it easier and easier for the government to spy on anyone at any time. While it might be a boon for solving crimes, the surveillance society is the dream of any potential despot. Members of Congress openly defy their constituents, confident that what really counts is the money they get from ultra-rich donors and huge corporations. They gerrymander voting districts to ensure incumbents need not worry about losing an election. Decisions by the Supreme Court have opened the flood gates, allowing almost unlimited amounts of anonymous money into the election process, turning the U.S. into a virtual plutocracy already.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Encourage Obama and Democrats to give Republicans Nothing

The latest “compromise” that the Senate is considering would give Republicans part of what they want and set us up for another identical confrontation in February.

We’re already seeing economic effects of this confrontation. Hundreds of thousands of government workers are laid off. Fidelity and similar investment companies either have already dumped their government securities or are already in the process. Even China is talking about dumping their securities. They hold more U.S. debt than any other nation, and could cripple us for years if they decide to dump our debt. They would suffer too, but they’ll suffer anyway if the U.S. defaults, so they may figure they might as well.

The U.S. is the backbone of the world economy. If that backbone breaks, it won’t just be Americans who suffer, it will be people all over the world. We may create another global recession. If so, we’ll have handed our enemies another gold-plated opportunity to recruit terrorists.

All Americans need to wake up to the fact that what is going on is terribly dangerous. This isn’t about Obama care. It isn’t about debt reduction, it’s about power, spite, pride and envy. It’s about people who can’t stand the idea of a black president. It’s about people who are frustrated that they’ve been denied the American dream, and who’ve been rooked into believing that the party that took that dream away is somehow on their side.

The only reasonable outcome for this crisis would be to deny the Republicans everything, to demand a clean CR and clean debt ceiling bill that extends government through the summer, at the very least.

What we’re doing now is asking the hostage taker to give us his gun, with the promise that we’ll give it back to him in January. When has that ever made any sense.

Posted in Economy, Obama, Politics, Sequester, health care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preventing Brinkmanship

Lurching from crisis to crisis has become the norm in Washington. The radical Republicans cannot accept that they lost and that they can no longer dictate how the government will run. So they will continue to use every opportunity to manufacture deadlines that keep us constantly teetering on the edge of economic doom. The Republican message is simple: “If you won’t let us be in charge, we’ll wreck things until you do.” They’ve been playing this game since Obama got elected and there’s no sign of them letting up.

Sooner or later, probably in the next three years, we’re going to go over the edge and find out exactly what happens when the U.S. defaults on its debt. It probably won’t be Armageddon, and I’m sure lawmakers will scurry to patch the holes, but it will cause damage world-wide and the people most hurt, as usual, will be those who have the least.

It’s our responsibility as voters and citizens to stop this. The people inflicting this on us are people we voted for. They will only stop if we make it clear that they will lose their office if they don’t start behaving responsibly.

That means we voters have to act responsibly, too. We have to stop treating politics like it’s religion. Politics is the art of compromise, not deadlock. Like it or not, in a Democracy, we all get a say, so no one is ever likely to be completely happy with what happens. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

We also have to listen to the views of the opposition. Sometimes they have perfectly reasonable ideas. It would help if we admit it when that happens. This isn’t a game. Every one of these decisions affects people. Sometimes these decisions determine who lives and who dies. Think about that the next time you’re discussing politics and start resorting to talking points instead of your own reason.

What we are arguing over isn’t even particularly important. We have to pay our bills, so it’s a no-brainer that we have to raise the debt ceiling. Obama care is the law of the land. It’s been passed by Congress, signed by the President and declared Constitutional by the most conservative Supreme Court in recent memory. The sequester is an open wound in our economy that makes our enemies chortle with glee, since it continues to put a drag on our recovery.

And that’s the real problem, lack of growth. We need jobs. We need an economy that’s chugging away in order to generate those jobs, which will generate tax revenues, which will allow us to pay down our debt.

So what is this whole crisis about? It’s about pride, spite, and envy. It’s about a party that was riding high, nearly destroyed the economy, and now can’t accept that it’s no longer the darling of most of the voters. It’s about people who put their own political ambitions above the good of the country. It’s about paper-patriots who wear flag pins but care for no one but themselves.

To paraphrase a furloughed government employee, “Only you can prevent brinkmanship.”

Posted in Economy, Obama, Politics, Sequester, health care | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why the Debt Ceiling is a Dumb Idea

Our Constitution, so beloved of the political right, gives the power of the purse to Congress. The Senate and the House have the responsibility of writing and passing the appropriation bills that keep our government funded. The President can only lobby for the funds he/she thinks are needed for various agencies and projects, and then can either sign or veto the bill that Congress passes. The President has no direct power over spending.

It used to be that Congress would do a budget for the whole year and give it to the President. Lately, it seems the Republican minority won’t stand for that, so the government has been funded by a series of Continuing Resolutions. This allows the Speaker of The House, John Boener, to shut down the whole government by refusing to let the latest Continuing Resolution come to a vote.

At present, we have to borrow money in order to pay for all the things we’ve decided we want government to do. Those range from running the world’s largest military, to providing nutritional assistance to those people at the bottom rungs of our economic scale. About 250 billion dollars of that money is spent each year just on paying interest on our borrowing.

So it might seem like a great idea to just stop the spending. Except we can’t do that without defaulting on our creditors, which will make them less likely to lend money to us. Rather than give us money at rock bottom interest rates, they might double the rates, which would increase our interest payments each year to $500 billion.

The only real purpose of the debt ceiling is to provide a minority in Congress with a lever to use to try to get concessions from the other party in exchange for not bankrupting the government. Since the price of doing so is so high, we might be a lot better off without a debt ceiling in the first place.

What’s really needed is a strong economic stimulus program and good governing that reassures Wall Street so we can get people back to work. The more people we have working, the more tax revenue we get. The more tax revenue we get, the faster we can start paying down the monstrous debt left over from 8 years of irresponsible spending by the Bush Administration and and the bail out of the banking system when our economy came close to imploding.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

See What You Made Us Do!

So, now that the government is shut down, the Tea Party Republicans want us to believe that it’s the intransigence of the Democrats that’s caused all the problems. This, after eighty Republicans signed a letter outlining a strategy to refuse to fund the government if they didn’t get their demands. This is the new reality of government. If one house of one branch of government decides they want something done, they’ll shut down the government until they get what they want.

Let’s suppose that the Tea Party Republicans get their way and Obama care is postponed for a year. Do you think that will be the end of it? If Obama gives in to this kind of extortion, you can be sure that the Tea Party will use it’s new found super-weapon to turn the Constitution on it’s head. We’ll be in a country run by 80 conservatives who care more about personal power than doing their job. We’ll be a giant step closer to a dictatorship.

Once you have a sure-fire way to force the other party to submit, why should you stop at anything? Why not rewrite all the campaign laws to favor your party? Why not allow international funding of our campaigns. Why not force a rewrite of the Constitution?

Our democracy has endured because of the checks and balances, not in spite of them. When a law is passed, that’s it. It’s not the job of Congress to defund the law, it’s their job to fund it. If they don’t like the law, they can try to repeal it, which requires both houses of Congress and the signature of the President.

What we’re seeing isn’t just a dispute of Obama care, it’s a naked grab for power. If it succeeds, out Democracy will never be the same. If you want to destroy American power, this is exactly how you do it.

Posted in Government Shutdown, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment