Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, September 04, 2006

And the nominees are . . .

Thanks for the suggestions about what this fall's national elections ought to be about. Here are the results, with comments from YT.

Trashing of the Constitution (2 votes): Glenn Greenwald is your go-to guy on this. At first I found it jaw-droppingly incredible that the claims of the Cheney Administration that the Constitution makes the U.S. a dictatorship because "we're at war" were taken seriously by the corporate media, and that the "opposition" party has been terrified to object. But then I remembered that even 20 years ago, a large majority of a random sample of Americans refused to endorse the first, fourth and fifth amendments when they were presented as a petition.

Honest elections (2 votes): We should ask President Gore and Senator Cleland what they think about this issue.

Plutocracy/corporate rule (2 votes): So what else is new?

National Debt: I'll go along with that but I'd put it in broader context of the looming Medicare funding crisis and the dishonest campaign by the Cheney Administration to pretend that the crisis actually pertains to Social Security. The profound, long-term structural deficit facing the U.S. requires a three-fold response:

  • Restore taxation of the wealthy to pre-2000 levels. Also, eliminate the cap on earnings subject to the FISA payroll tax, reducing the regressivity of financing. (That alone, all by itself, would solve the bogus Social Security "crisis.")
  • Slash the base military budget by $200 billion annually -- much of it consists of building weapons system designed to fight WW III against the Soviet Union, which don't actually work. Withdraw from Iraq, saving another $100 billion or so per year.
  • Establish a national health care program, and get control over the escalating cost of health care. If we make Medicare universal, we can cover everybody, and actually spend less.

Peak Oil and the Automobile Dependent Society: You betcha, but don't forget global climate change. (I'm sure y'all meant to mention this one.) It all goes together, along with the dependence on foreign oil and why exactly are we in Iraq again?

Militarism: Yup, see also above and above.

Poverty/Inequality: If we continue on the present trajectory, there will be serious social and political instability, but maybe that's what it takes. I refer you to the turn of the 19th-20th century, and the 1930s.

Racism: Related, obviously, to the preceding, and also, BTW, to the trashing of the Constitution, and to plutocracy. Many people go along with those autocratic powers because they assume they will only be used against macacas. That's a very bad bet. People also object to government intervention to reduce inequality because they think it's intended to help the darkies.

Terrorism: This will undoubtedly be a major theme of the election, and perhaps it should be, but we need to get our vocabulary straight. Terrorism is not a movement, or an organization, it's a tactic -- and one that is very difficult to define to everybody's satisfaction. Some people say it's violence directed against non-combatants, intended to produce fear and intimidation for political ends. But in the U.S., the attacks on the U.S.S. Cole and the Marine barracks in Beirut, as well as attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, are often called terrorism. By that definition, obviously, they aren't. On the other hand, the "Shock and Awe" bombing of Iraq by U.S. forces, the destruction of Fallujah, etc., clearly are terrorism.

In my view, there is a legitimate political problem that is buried somewhere in that vague construct called "terrorism," but not many people are talking about it with any clarity. Easy access to powerfully destructive technologies, along with the ever increasing complexity and fragile interdependencies of modern society, do indeed mean that the potential for small groups or even individuals to commit hugely destructive acts is greater now than in the past. We didn't need Osama bin Laden to prove that, Tim McVeigh did many years before.

To be honest, I'm surprised we haven't seen more seriously destructive acts by wackos than we have. I can think of some pretty simple ways of wreaking havoc that don't require any great smarts or access to sophisticated technology, and there are all sorts of antisocial people out there, of whom Islamist fanatics constitute only a small minority.

Now, the destructive potential of marginal lunatics is still vastly less than the destructive potential of national armies, and we have far more to worry about from good old fashioned war than we do from "terrorism." (Just ask the Lebanese.) The Cheney administration has used anxiety about "terrorism" as a justification for war. In fact, war is terrorism, and only increases the risk of acts of political violence by non-state actors. The Cheney administration has also used the threat of "terrorism" as the principal justification for de facto repeal of the Bill of Rights. Glenn Greenwald (see above) says what needs to be said about that.

We neeed to be prudent and vigilant, of course. And just as important, we need to understand why and how people become so alienated that they contemplate horrific acts, and where possible and ethically appropriate, work to eliminate the root causes. But most important, we need to avoid exaggerating this problem and overreacting to it. It has always been a dangerous world, and always will be. We need to find an appropriate balance between carelessness and paranoia. I don't pretend to have the answer to where that balance lies -- it's a subjective question. But we need to discuss it calmly and honestly, which we have not been doing.

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