Friday, February 26, 2010

Health Care Reform: what's conservative or progressive?

Hal Pepinsky,,
February 26, 2010
I watched yesterday’s health care summit for over an hour after it started. Personally, President Obama was in charge, the most on top of an issue as any president I’ve seen since Jimmy Carter. When he was challenged on details, from polls to Congressional Budget Office estimates, he did not need to check notes or be whispered to, he was on top of the issue. When the Republicans led off with Tennessee doctor/senator Lamar Alexander, who from note cards read out the message that their cost-containment measures had not be considered in the Senate, then did everything but propose an alternative on how even to get started, I literally screamed to myself, “So WHAT are YOU proposing?” The unified Republican answer was: Let’s not pass any legislative reform until after election day next November, so as to show voters that Democrats can’t do diddly squat. As readers of my blog and other writing know, “just say no” is a blatantly violent position to take, especially when members of any Party above all never break ranks.
Many friends with whom I most agree on directions for change call themselves “progressive,” just as family-value Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats vie for the “conservative” label. Once again, I’m reminded how political labels describe, and of the larger structural violence inherent in labeling differences between “us” and “them.”
If “conservative” is a belief that we ought to consume within our own fiscal means, call me conservative. I’d start by shutting down our army the way Oscar Arias long ago did, and the way prisons were also shut down in Costa Rica more than twenty years ago. That would save money and stop creating criminals and terrorists. I would shut down drug wars, a position advocated by that classically Republican conservative, Barry Goldwater.
If “conservative” means fighting change or trying to return to visions of good old days that never really existed, then conservatism is a lost cause. Buddhists have it right: change, including happenstance like the earthquake in Haiti, and the burst in the bubble of US borrowing to spend more, is as inevitable as its form may be unpredictable. Change happens. The question remains: Do we just let change happen while we struggle to stop it—defying death and taxes for example—or try to work with it.
Wikipedia tells me that conservative is the opposite of progressive because “progressive” means advocating reform. Since change is always happening, all political initiatives become by definition progressive. Increases in sentences for criminal convicts have often been planned, and hence, I trust, progressive. So all calls to political action are inherently progressive. And so, I’m progressive and in ways conservative. So what?
I’m with President Obama on health care. Some attempt to accommodate change in provision and expense to health care ought to happen, subject to modification as we learn effects of legislative intervention. Congressional Republicans are not conserving anything. Just because I want health care reform to progress doesn’t take away the differences I have with other would-be power brokers on how we reform. Ultimately we are all progressives. As President Obama put it yesterday, once we concede we all want reform, the question of how to reform remains for negotiation and experimentation. Nice try, Mr. President, keep at it. Love and peace--hal

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Are the United States Getting Their Just Deserts?

Hal Pepinsky,,
February 21, 2010

I think it presumptuous of any human being to believe that justice can be done. “Doing justice” is no more than outcomes of human power contests. In these games in the short run, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the longer run, all human empires decline and fall. The United States is in imperial decline.
The nation’s governors are holding their annual meeting in Washington. Unlike the federal government, many state governments including my own cannot run deficits. State governors and legislators are forced to decide whether to cut medical care for children, prison populations, schools, infrastructure maintenance, police and fire protection…first.
The U.S. federal taxing structure is the most regressive in the world. The federal government imposes the highest, most progressive taxes. The most regressive, least popular taxes are left by the states for municipalities and counties to collect. Thanks to California’s notorious Proposition 13 in 1978, counties taxation power has since been capped for such basic services as public schools, maintenance of local roads and utilities, and emergency response like policing. And as people get squeezed out of house and pay, the most progressive and major source of state revenue in my state of Ohio (40 percent) shrinks quickly, and so do regressive taxes like sales and property taxes.
I share outrage at paying the bulk of my taxes to faraway Washington. I bristle at the news that the proposed Pentagon budget alone is almost half the entire national indebtedness will incur in the fiscal year to come, and that “national security” spending is exempt from budget discipline. I bristle especially because military and crime control spending in fact imperil the security of me and my fellow U.S. inhabitants. Taxation in the United States has become a mutually assured destructive social process. Taxation is fundamentally unfair.
In my field of criminal justice there is much talk of how to give offenders what they deserve, their “just deserts.” I believe that what goes around comes around. I believe it karmic that after the U.S. military-industrial complex achieved world economic domination during World War II and held onto it for sixty years, fall from economic grace has come to the part of the planet I inhabit. In times of group decline, there is a tendency, as now in US news media, to cling to optimism. No one has yet dared call our “recession” a “depression.” As times get worse, analysts’ optimism over signs of recovery (namely, that “investors” are speculating more heavily in stock markets and earning bigger returns) becomes more convoluted. Where are lost jobs to be recovered? In discussion of whose proposals will work, there is at margins lip service that reduction in unemployment might be a couple of years away. Here we have a classic case of what happens, as Leon Festinger et al. put it in their classic work, when prophecy fails. The prophecy of god blessing America with sustainable economic growth has failed. Some people may take heart that the United States are receiving their just deserts. The trouble is that as prophecy fails, those who have the least hand in creating the prophecy suffer hardest. There is karma but there is no justice. Love and peace--hal

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Making Enemies

Hal Pepinsky,,
February 2, 2010
I admire President Obama personally as much as I have admired any president in my 65 years. In his State of the Union address last Wednesday, he was on domestic policy a model of responsiveness, the way of relating that accommodates difference rather than trying to overcome it. Here as a group it is Congressional Republicans who remain stuck in the inherently violent posture of just saying no.
In his foreign policy, President Obama is locked in an equally violent position in foreign policy, of just saying yes to the U.S. military-industrial complex. In yesterday’s budget, he exempted the Pentagon from his domestic spending freeze, and granted the military a 3% increase with a total appropriation of nearly half the budgeted federal deficit. Barack Obama caved in to military-industrial orthodoxy the moment in his campaign when he pledged that defeat in Afghanistan would remain unacceptable. He has scarcely wavered from giving “national security” anything it wants. Happily, this no longer includes federally criminalizing medical marijuana. Unhappily, it includes spending 33 cents of every USG dollar in Haiti on military security, while one cent goes directly to Haitians, most of whom even in Port au Prince have still not been entrusted to receive food and water.
In the wake of WWI, US sociologist W.I. Thomas proposed an oft-cited theorem: Things that are defined as real are real in their consequences. If Congressional Republicans are united in defining health care reform legislation as their enemy, single-payer, salary-for-service, immunity from denial of coverage for prior conditions, and on and on, will find themselves more united in their enmity to enemies of reform. Likewise, enemies will continue befriend enemies of ours abroad when our special forces invade their homes at night and take their loved ones away, and when pilots of our drones in cubicles in Virginia and Colorado fire missiles into compounds across national boundaries.
I’m afraid that the greatest tragedy of the Obama administration will become multiplication of enemies abroad and paralysis at home. Gorbachev did the Russians and the world a favor when he gave up military-industrial aggrandizement. Otherwise, imperialists tend to implode faster by investing more desperately in military superiority as empires collapse, as the president proposes to do by building a new generation of nuclear warheads in the name of abolition. Please Mr. President, don’t let military inevitabilists play with your head, any more than as a foreign policy team y’all play with ours. Love and peace--hal