Wednesday, December 31, 2008

That End of Year Rambling Reflections Thing

Twenty years ago I read, The Origins of the Second World War, by British historian A.J.P. Taylor . Taylor was a left wing academic and fervent critic of the Munich Agreement with Nazi Germany. Yet his revisionist book originally published in 1961, provoked outrage among critics who accused Taylor of absolving Hitler for causing the war. Among Taylor’s conclusions was that World War Two,
“far from being premeditated, was a mistake, the result on both sides of diplomatic blunders.”
Too often we examine war’s causes with knee jerk sloganeering and perpetuate myths. Taylor opted to examine the conflict’s origins as it might appear to historians 100 years hence when it could be analyzed with more detachment. Not an easy task for someone who himself was so passionately and publicly engaged in opposing the Munich Agreement and the evil Hitler represented. Nonetheless, in his opening chapter Taylor wrote,
“I am concerned to understand what happened, not to vindicate or condemn. I was an anti-appeaser from the day that Hitler came to power, and no doubt should be again under similar circumstances. But the point has no relevance in the writing of history. The purpose of political activity is to provide peace and prosperity; and in this every statesman failed, for whatever reason. This is a story without heroes; and perhaps even without villains.”
Although I found Taylor’s perspective enlightening, I still believe Hitler’s foreign policy as well as his ideology, were the primary catalysts for war. Even so, as 2008 ends, I find myself reflecting upon Taylor’s scholarship and words. If as he suggested the “purpose of political activity” is to provide “peace and prosperity” then political activity worldwide stands indicted for callous ineptitude at best and chronic brutality at worst. If he were alive today, it’s doubtful that Taylor would find any heroes to praise. Rather, Taylor would find a world he has seen before: global economic calamity combined with barbarism.

Israel’s leadership is berserk in the name of self-defense while Hamas is bloodthirsty in the name of Palestinian liberation. Neither is advancing the cause of peace and prosperity for their people. The same can be said of the United States, India, Pakistan, Russia, every political actor in Afghanistan or Iraq, China, Europe, the entire Mid-East, Africa – too many damn places to name filled with genocide, famine, slavery and horrible lingering death in the name of God, land, country, power or greed. Nothing has really changed except that non-state actors have emerged to be as feared as superpowers used to be.

Who and what is to blame for this condition? Capitalism? Globalization? Corporations? Technology? Is too much religion to blame as killing is justified in the name of God? Many blame America's pursuit of empire or Islamic radicals dedicated to global jihad. I’ve blamed all of the above at one time or another.

We often blame political leadership for the horrors and failings of a society. For example, I’ve read quite a bit how their leadership is leading both the Israeli and Palestinian people astray, just as I complained for years that my country was grievously steered off course by President George W. Bush. Yet “political activity” as Taylor referenced in his book is not solely conducted by “statesmen” and “diplomats.” Political activity is also the province of humanity’s hearts and minds.

Many Israelis and Palestinians may oppose what is being done in their name but too many are on board with it too. Many Americans opposed the homicidal indecency of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld but the Bush Administration still retained enough support to remain in power and avoid accountability for their crimes. Osama Bin Laden and his henchman have successfully recruited a new generation of terrorists to their cause. In his time, Adolph Hitler reflected the aspirations of millions of Germans. We are all “political actors” whether we support, oppose or remain apathetic to a tribe, democracy or even a dictatorship. Thus my admiration for John Lennon's slogan,
"War Is over if you want it."
As the curtain closes on 2008 an era is supposedly ending and a new one beginning. Not merely with the changing of presidents but a generational change in leadership as well. And I am hopeful that in Barack Obama we will have a president of intelligence, decency and good sense – even if I don’t always agree with him. That is no small change and I applaud it. Indeed, millions of Americans and myself devoted time and money to help make it happen.

But the world at large is hardly poised to begin anew and Obama himself is leading a citizenry that looked the other way during many of the Bush Administration’s worst abuses. Hence, as Obama attempts to bring change with renewed diplomatic engagement and rehabilitate America’s reputation, he’s likely to find our power to shape events is limited. Extricating America from Iraq and stabilizing Afghanistan will be Herculean tasks in themselves. Assembling and maintaining a coalition for peace and prosperity both at home and abroad while simultaneously restoring government’s credibility as a check on private power will be a thankless job.

Ultimately, as much as any other cause, humanity’s collective hearts and minds are responsible for our planet’s lack of peace and prosperity. People with power continue to oppress and take from the weak and the weak either succumb or try to get even. There have been exceptions of course such as the enduring peace in Ireland and South Africa’s transition from apartheid. Events in recent weeks though from terrorism in India to the current conflict in Gaza, are a reminder how the old world is very much with us and will remain with us for a long, long time no matter who the president is.

But we have to keep trying until enough people finally want war to be over.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NY Gov. Dave Paterson Solicits Netroots About the Budget

New York as well as many other states are in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Liberal New York bloggers like me have urged Governor Paterson to put forward a budget that shares the pain fairly. Time is short because the deficit needs to be reduced by April 1st of 2009. New York's projected deficit is $15 billion this year and $36 billion over the next two years.

To his credit, Governor Paterson is soliciting the opinions of the progressive netroots community over at Daily Kos as well as The Albany Project. If you're a New York State resident, I urge you to set up you're own account with The Albany Project. It's a terrific opportunity to review the ideas and concerns of other progressive New Yorkers as well as contribute to the conversation. Also, The Albany Project is an outstanding resource for information and activism to shape the debate in Albany in a more reformist minded and progressive direction.

It is also gratifying to know that Paterson respects our community and is not merely operating under the traditional "three men in a room" formula. The netroots through The Albany Project as well as the New York Workers Family Party have helped elect many progressive minded state legislators the previous two election cycles. Obviously we have earned clout as Governor Paterson is using the Internet to solicit our views.

I've been critical of Paterson regarding the budget and his flirtation with Caroline Kennedy as Hillary Clinton's replacement. If he is willing to engage however, as good citizens we should respond with respect and candor. We don't yet know how much federal aid New York will receive from the incoming Obama administration. In the meantime, tough decisions need to be made as the budget is vetted through the legislature and Governor Paterson is asking for ideas. So don't just sit on the sidelines and complain. Pitch in and help!

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Shocked! Shocked To Find Racism In the GOP!

So have any of you ever watched the 1942 movie Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart? Bogart portrays "Rick," a cynical and romantically embittered proprietor of a gambling den frequented by officials of Vichy France and Nazi Germany. Whether you've watched or not, this scene between Bogart and Claude Raines as Inspector Renault, a corrupt opportunist, is among the most memorable exchanges in American cinematic history:
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.
I wonder what Claude Raines character would think of Republican National Chairman, Mike Duncan. Over the weekend, Mr. Duncan issued the following statement to Politico in response to the CD "Barack the Magic Negro" being distributed by veteran GOP operative Chris Saltsman:
"The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party.

I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate, as it clearly does not move us in the right direction."
Duncan and Saltsman are rivals for the position of RNC chair. Duncan's feigned outrage about how he's "shocked" and "apalled" that his fellow Republicans could find this CD appropriate is at best disingenuous. How can any Republican be "shocked" and "appalled" to find racism in their party? The party of the southern strategy?

Do you recall Mr. Duncan when Republican hero Ronald Reagan spoke about "states rights" during a 1980 campaign stop in Philadelphia, Mississippi where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964? Have you forgotten Mr. Duncan your party's indifference as impoverished blacks literally drowned to death in New Orleans following Hurricane Kartina? Do you recall Mr. Duncan the hateful race baiting campaign ad of Republican giant Jesse Helms against Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gant in 1990? How about Willie Horton? The diabolical Republican strategist Lee Water made a living off of racism!

And let's not forget William Bennett who served as Ronald Reagan's Education Secretary and George Herbert Walker Bush's drug czar. In September 2005, Mr. Bennett actually said the following on his radio program,
"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
I could go on forever. For forty years the Republican Party skillfully exploited white resentment to distract and deceive blue-collar voters and white suburbanites. Whether it was in the neighborhoods of Mississippi or the street corners of New York City under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Republicans obtained and held onto power as the party that put blacks "in their place."

Yet Mr. Duncan is "shocked" and "appalled" to find racism in his party? Somewhere, Claude Raines is smiling in appreciation.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Going Blind In Gaza

I feel obliged to at least comment about Israel's military activity in Gaza. As a Jew, both Israel's existence as well as their national character matter to me. Hence, my outrage at Israel's immoral brutality and anger at their strategic stupidity. Israel never seems to learn that as the Prussian General Clausewitz once said,
"Politics is war by other means."
Invading Lebanon did not enhance their security in 1982. Instead, Israel only succeeded in radicalizing the Lebanese population against them as occupying the country became a strategic liability. Israel was also weakened by their disproportionate response to the kidnapping of their soldiers by Lebanon's Hezbollah in 2006.

With respect to what is happening in Gaza today, Israel is playing into Hamas's hands. The truce was for Hamas to exploit a strategic pause and mobilize against Israeli ground forces. They want this fight. Just as Hezbollah gained prestige in 2006, Hamas will also be strengthened politically as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza intensifies. Meanwhile, Abbas and his Fatah movement will be further weakened while Hamas presents itself as the Palestinians only legitimate government standing up to Israeli aggression. And the rockets being fired against Israel won't stop and will never stop until a peace settlement is reached. A just peace settlement is infinitely more difficult to achieve when much of the civilized world is opposed to your actions.

Hamas of course also merits condemnation as they prefer shedding blood over coexisting with a Jewish state. They would rather provoke a humanitarian crisis among their own people then acknowledge Israel's right to exist and negotiate a settlement. From Hamas's point of view the deaths of their own people represents acceptable collateral damage that will gain sympathy and enhance their prestige. These people are thugs and Israel took their bait.

As Booman writes at Booman Tribune,
"I doubt that Israel can stop the rocket attacks without further worsening their reputation in the world, which is now about as low as it has ever been. Israel outsmarted itself with its settler policy and they're never going to have security again, ever, until they concede that the settlers are the gravest danger to their Nation's security and do something about it.

You'd think a country that was defending itself from rocket attacks would get some leeway. You'd be wrong."
I agree with Booman's observation and would only add that the Israeli government is afraid taking on their settlers will result in a civil war. These fundamentalist nut jobs believe they answer to a higher authority then any civilian law and are more than willing to wage terrorism against their own government in opposition. The only hope Israel has is for their body politic to express itself and give new leadership a mandate to not back down against the settlers.

But Israel's body politic will never elect the right caliber of leadership until the the United States is perceived as an "honest broker." The nascent Obama Administration won't have the political cover to become an honest broker as long as The American Israel Public Affairs Committee ('AIPAC") is perceived as the most representative voice in Washington of American Jewish opinion. Israel's worst friend in America is AIPAC because they're encouraging behavior that is both immoral as well as self-destructive.

American Jewish opinion however is far from monolithic. And Jewish Americans like me need to mobilize and present a counterweight to voices such as AIPAC's. Israel's security as well America's are at stake as well as the lives of Israelis and Palestinians on both sides.

American liberal Jews like me often feel beleaguered. Many on the left truly are Anti-Semitic and regard the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a pretext to justify their hatred of Jewish people. I've seen it on the blogosphere where even liberal Jews opposed to the occupation are vilified and accused of being right wing apologists. To them the Palestinians bear no responsibility and any Israeli deaths are morally acceptable. Meanwhile, we have family and friends that believe Israel can do no wrong and we're selling them out. Yet express ourselves we must or the cycle will never end.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said,
"An eye for an eye, and soon the world is blind."
Sixty years after Israel was founded both sides of the conflict continue to go blind.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Replacing the Cultural Ethos of Predatory Conservatism

Presidents define our country's cultural ethos. Our cultural ethos impacts how large America's economic pie is and whether the benefits and sacrifices are proportioned fairly. The Republican presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43, promoted a cultural ethos of hyper individualism that rationalized waging ruthless class warfare against the middle class, working poor, the unemployed poor, the very old and the very young. Liberals were lonely voices against the tide as predatory conservatism eroded protections for consumers and wage earners alike.

Predatory conservatism's rationale was the virtues of entrepreneurial capitalism. Alas, it was crony capitalism that was promoted at the expense of America's meritocracy instead. As an American kleptocracy consolidated its grip, conservative Republicans justified their immoral excess as the establishment of an "ownership society" that would transition wage earners into the investor class and magically create wealth for everyone. Republicans also believed their electoral majority would be enhanced as more Americans joined this "investor class" and even hoped to dump Social Security in our fraudulently toxic stock market. Now investors, entrepreneurs and wage earners are all hoping the Democratic Party can pull our collective chestnuts out of the fire.

Sadly, Democratic presidents such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were unable to redefine this cultural ethos and with too many policies were even co-opted by predatory conservatism's influence peddling machine. Indeed, the Democratic Party was itself corrupted as illustrated by New York Senator Charles Schumer's relationship with Wall Street predators who dumped hydrochloric acid on our economy's deregulated naked raw flesh. Democrats often rationalized such compromises as the price for power.

In fairness to Democrats, power and principle can be a delicate balance. The discredited former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was fond of saying, "Power without principle is barren. Principle without power is futile." Despite Blair’s legacy as George W. Bush’s poodle, that is a sagacious quote. It expressed a sentiment that largely defined the Clinton years and thankfully he possessed the political skills to squeeze as much juice on behalf of regular folks as his political capital allowed when predatory conservatism was riding high.

Times have changed and the body politic is currently debating whether America remains a center-right country - if it ever truly was. My admittedly unscientific visceral sense is that an old cliché still applies: Americans are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. During prosperous times Americans embrace an ideologically conservative mindset and favor the preservation of their individual equity over policies they consider "redistributionist." An economic calamity such as we're experiencing today translates into Americans channeling a more operational mindset as they struggle making ends meet on a daily basis.

Put another way, John and Jane don't want Uncle Sam to subsidize a jobs program or healthcare when they have good paying jobs, healthcare and a valuable home in a nice neighborhood. But once John and Jane are threatened with foreclosure, are out of work themselves or working harder for less and their retirement pensions are disappearing into the free market ether, government intervention doesn't feel so intrusive. Hence, the cultural ethos of the moment is economic security over hyper-individualism.

It is imperative that President-Elect Barack Obama strikes while the iron is hot because predatory conservatives are always lying in the high weeds to seize at any soft underbelly they can exploit. One such underbelly is the newly formed Blue Dogs Caucus in the Senate founded by Indiana's Evan Bayh with Majority Leader Harry Reid's approval. With Republicans in the minority, predatory conservatives will look to establish a fifth column through so-called Democrats such as Bayh and peddle as much influence as they can. Thank goodness Obama didn't pick Bayh to be his Vice President. At least Joe Biden had the excuse of supporting bankruptcy legislation while a senator because it favored his Delaware constituents.

Yet even with predatory conservatism always lurking and dubious cabinet nominees such as the corporatist friendly Colorado Senator Ken Salazar for Interior and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, I am encouraged by what I hear from the nascent Obama administration. Franklin Roosevelt also had to soothe the body politic with some of his appointments too and so far Obama's team is talking big with respect to his economic recovery plan.

When Tom Daschle was nominated for Secretary of Health and Human Services, it was with the understanding that universal healthcare is an indispensable component of economic recovery. The brilliant and unapologetic liberal Jared Bernstein was also recently appointed as Joe Biden's chief economist. Biden will chair a task force with respect to recommending economic policies designed to help the middle class. It's reassuring to know that Bernstein is in a position to influence Biden who in turn will influence policy.

The upshot is that the current calamity has the American public in an operationally liberal mindset and a Democratic president-elect with stratospheric poll numbers. The stars haven't been this aligned to establish an enduring progressive legacy since the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt skillfully used his political capital to establish institutions that even endured predatory conservatism's feculent rule decades later. Today, Obama has a bully pulpit and progressive Democrats in a congress such as the new House Committee Chairman for Commerce and Energy, Henry Waxman, have a platform to educate the public about why we need polices that consider the American community as a whole while the citizenry is receptive to it.

Yes, I fully recognize that predatory conservatism has not surrendered and never will. Yes, we liberals must remain vigilant and put Obama on notice whenever he compromises too much such as cultural pandering to homophobic evangelical preachers like Rick Warren or with respect to civil liberties issues such as FISA. The challenges ahead are immense. Predatory conservatism has left behind considerable debris and Obama won't bat 1.000 during the cleanup.

No president could and re-educating the public that the pursuit of empire is self-defeating as well as immoral while simultaneously maintaining political viability is a juggling act. Hence, Obama will have to sometimes tread carefully and dance through the raindrops as a public addicted to consuming a quarter of the world's resources endures withdrawal symptoms. Cleansing Americans from decades of predatory conservative brainwashing will not be accomplished overnight.

Yet, even as my 401K disintegrates and I'm scared about my own economic future, I am optimistic as we approach the new year. Debris and wreckage also means the opportunity to build something that is new, better and enduring. Instead of debating whether we need healthcare reform the conversation will instead be about how to achieve it. The days of having to scream that global warming is real are no more. Instead the debate will be focused on how to address it. Rather then having to justify the necessity of government as a check on private corporate power, the conversation will instead be about how to reform and establish public institutions that effectively protects wage earners and consumers.

After years of activism and blogging in the wilderness of opposition, I'm eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Give Peace A Chance

I've been thinking about my favorite Beatle John Lennon this holiday season. Lennon was an international statesmen dedicated to the cause of world peace. All of us our focused on the economy and the squeeze we're currently feeling. Yet much of what is truly wrong in this world as Lennon himself observed is that too many leaders are insane. Hence, Lennon believed we had to "think locally and act globally" to advance the cause of peace and justice despite the homicidal maniacs in power. Naturally, homicidal rulers depict anyone who promotes peace as "dangerous" as was done with John Lennon whom President Nixon hoped to deport.

Alas, it has been over twenty eight years since Lennon was assassinated and too many lives, resources and talent remain consumed by humanity's war machine. Terrorists, religious fundamentalists and greedy corporatists have a death grip on our world and refuse to let go. Most people however prefer to live in peace and Lennon wanted to empower humanity to save itself.

Hat tip to Diane G over at the Wild Wild Left for finding this YouTube video of Lennon promoting the cause of peace.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Best 2008 Political Satire

Political humor often exposes truth far more effectively than anything else. My favorite this year remains the video below produced by the Onion during the Republican Party presidential primaries. The video depicts the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney as in trouble following revelations that he had previously expressed "tolerance" of homosexuals and wasn't really homophobic. It skillfully illustrated just how barbaric and passe Republicans have become in 21st century America.

Mitt Romney Defends Himself Against Allegations Of Tolerance

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Brain Mapping, Civil Liberties & Obama

Longtime readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall my April 2006 posting entitled, "Brain Fingerprinting and Civil Liberties." One mistake I made at the time was conflating the acronym FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) with the term brain fingerprinting. Perhaps the most accurate generic term is brain mapping.

At the time I came across numerous references with respect to how brain mapping technology is implemented within India's criminal justice system. Specifically, I noted how an article in the March 17th, 2006 edition of New Kerela reported that Javed Shukat Khurshid, one of seven convicted murderers escaped police custody after sentencing. It read like any other newspaper might over such an event except for this:
“The court had earlier awarded life imprisonment to Javed and six others, including Ismail Barafwala, Amjad Khan Pathan, Mehboob Khan Pathan, Sajid Khan alias Anna, Usman Gani alias bhola and Younis Sheikh for rioting and murdering a man on November 11, 2003.

The judge awarded the sentence after considering the results of the brain finger printing tests performed on the accused, among other facts in this case.”
As I learned two years ago, the integration of brain mapping technology with India's criminal justice system is common practice. Since then I've been concerned with how America reconciles sophisticated technology such as brain mapping and civil liberties. With respect to the federal judiciary, our body politic typically obsesses over cultural issues and neglects to ask what predisposition or ideology any justice a president nominates will bring to cases involving high technology. Instead we wage culture wars over reproductive rights, gay marriage, affirmative action and so forth. I fear America could integrate brain mapping technology into our criminal justice system without any debate or even notice it happening.

Two years ago I wrote:
"We know that polygraphs, commonly known, as lie detectors are unreliable. Whether FMRIs are reliable requires more empirical data. Perhaps such a device may prove effective in solving crimes or preventing terrorism. The potential to save lives certainly exists and can’t be casually dismissed.

However, it’s use means encroaching upon the province of an individual’s thoughts and what government on Earth can be entrusted with such power? What is the legal framework for deploying this technology? Suppose employers coerce employees into signing waivers for FMRI scans to be administered? What if whistle blowers are intimidated into silence because of FMRI scans? Do the potential lives saved from crime prevention justify the potential abuse?"
These are the sort of questions future justices nominated by President-Elect Barack Obama for the Supreme Court as well as lower courts will have to answer. Now two years later I've come across a September 16th article of Finding Dulcinea that reports India's courts are being criticized for using brain scans.

Specifically, Finding Dulcinea reports how an Indian student named Aditi Sharma was convicted earlier this year of murdering her ex-boyfriend Udit Bharati by giving him a “Prasad” laced with arsenic. Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (BEOS) profiling, a brain-scanning technique developed by Indian neuroscientist Champadi Raman Mukundan was a component of the government's case against Sharma.

As the article notes, Sharma underwent a BEOS test, which involves an electroencephalograph measuring the electrical activity in her brain:
"Wearing a cap with 32 electrodes connected to a computer, Sharma sat quietly as she was read a description of the crime in the first person. When she recognized an event, specific parts of her brain that contain 'experiential knowledge' lit up and were detected by the BEOS computer."
With respect to Sharma's case, a July 21st edition of The Times of India, also referenced by Finding Dulcinea, reported that,
"Aditi was found to have experiential knowledge for having a plan to murder Udit by giving him arsenic. Experiential knowledge was also found of her having gone to a temple to collect 'prasad', buying arsenic from a shop, calling up Udit and giving him the poison-laced 'prasad'.

Emotional experience of getting relieved and scared in connection with giving the arsenic laced 'prasad' to Udit was also found present on the BEOS test. Aditi also underwent a lie-detector test, which revealed deception on all relevant questions. The judgment copy dedicates about 10 pages on how the BEOS technique was conducted."
Ultimately, how technology is developed elsewhere has repercussions everywhere. Whatever you want to call it - FMRI scans, BEOS tests, brain mapping or brain fingerprinting - is technology scientists are actively pursuing worldwide and monitoring the innovations of their peers. The BEOS system was created from technology and theories devised by several American scientists, including Lawrence Farwell, Emanuel Donchin and J. Peter Rosenfeld. Farwell is known as the pioneer of brain fingerprinting and even used the technology to help free innocent convict Terry Harrington after he had been falsely convicted of murder.

As I noted two years ago, the potential benefits of brain mapping technology should not be casually dismissed. Whether it's freeing an innocent person of a crime they didn't commit or preventing terrorism, the potential for good certainly exists. One could even argue that use of such technology completely obliterates the rationale for torture. How can the government justify water boarding when they have the ability to utilize a high-tech mind meld at their disposal?

But the technology remains unproven and right now the price for integrating it into our our justice system appears too high. India's experience with brain mapping technology is instructive and should give all of us pause.

As one of the aforementioned American scientists on the cutting edge of developing brain mapping technology, J. Peter Rosenfeld noted:
“Technologies which are neither seriously peer-reviewed nor independently replicated are not, in my opinion, credible. The fact that an advanced and sophisticated democratic society such as India would actually convict persons based on an unproven technology is even more incredible.”
Fallout from the Sharma case may result in India's criminal justice system no longer using brain mapping technology to administer justice. A six member committee led by India's director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences concluded that there is "sub-optimal scientific basis for them to be used as evidence in court of law.”

Yet the technology continues to go forward. Private security firms and scientists are actively soliciting America's federal government to utilize brain mapping technology in the "war on terror." What happens when the U.S. Supreme Court presides over cases in which brain mapping technology is a factor? How will the Supreme Court as well as lower courts rule if the technology is abused by the government or private corporations?

A decade ago President-Elect Obama taught constitutional law. Has he, I wonder pondered what the legal framework for brain mapping technology should be? Will President-Elect Obama or his Attorney General ask any prospective nominee to the federal judiciary their view of how to reconcile technology and civil liberties? He should. And it's our obligation in the progressive community to remind him.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Want Receipts!

Earlier today the Associated Press reported that,
“After receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending it. Some won't even talk about it.”
The AP actually contacted twenty-one banks that received at least $1 billion and none could specify how they had spent it and for what! Yet a single mother who suffers a medical calamity and is forced to declare bankruptcy will have to endure an excruciating accounting process. Indeed, it is banks who lobbied Washington to make it damn near possible for such a person to satisfactorily itemize their assets and liabilities in order to qualify for bankruptcy.

Yet our political culture which is conditioned to excoriate that single mom for not pulling herself up by her boot straps will likely give the banks a pass. Meanwhile, small business owners are struggling to make their payrolls, as banks remain tight fisted with credit and jobs disappear.

I want receipts from these people! If the TARP funds are not properly allocated to minimize job losses Americans are entitled to know. And if it turns out the banks are stealing then the Obama Justice Department should make an example of them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New York's New World

For my home state, Governor David Paterson's budget is a window into the future. Simply put, we are witnessing what happens when New York State ceases to be the financial capital of the world. At the moment the world doesn't really have one as the global economy sorts through massive wreckage. Truthfully, the era of financial centers concentrated in western port cities such as New York or London is a relic.

This had long been been predicted because information technology makes it possible to outsource back office functions remotely and utilize cheap labor. Why pay for New York City real estate and labor when a trader can just as easily play with other people's money from a computer in Dubai? However, until the recent economic catastrophe Wall Street stubbornly hung onto its symbolic trappings as the center of the universe.

As a result, Albany could count on revenues generated from Wall Street to finance union pensions, government services, medicaid spending, corporate welfare, our prison industrial complex and so forth. The financial services industry also generated millions of jobs in our region from stock brokers to janitors. Hence, Wall Street's titans were able to leverage their influence with power brokers such as New York State's senior Senator Charles Schumer.

As many of you know, the New York Times recently profiled the intimate relationship between Wall Street and Schumer. Liberals are justifiably outraged at Schumer's enthusiastic pandering to Wall Street's desire for excessive deregulation and lax oversight in exchange for campaign donations for himself and his party. Instead of a Democrat standing up for working people we elected an enabler of our economic meltdown.

In fairness to Schumer, any New York senator would have to some degree catered to this industry's interests just as Joe Biden championed the banks and credit card industry while representing Delaware. All politics is local as Tip O'Neill used to say and even Wall Street enemy Eliot Spitzer raked in contributions from the financial sector during his 2006 campaign for Governor. That's where the action was that created jobs for New Yorkers and filled the state's coffers.

However, Schumer's excessive pandering to Wall Street has facilitated a calamity for the working people in New York he claims to represent and helped wreck the global economy with it. Figures such as Clinton Treasury Secretary and Wall Street powerhouse Robert Rubin were never Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Today New York is confronted with a $1.7 billion 2008 shortfall and a projected 2009-10 deficit of $13.7 billion while Governor Paterson promotes an "obesity tax." Important government services such as healthcare, education and emergency first responders will take a hit. And New York's Mass Transit Authority ("MTA") with its chronic incompetence in good and bad times will impose painful rate hikes and service cuts in 2009 to make up for its own steep revenue shortfall. As always the working stiffs are hit the hardest.

The pain is no fun and hardships abound for New Yorkers as our manufacturing industry was sucking wind well before Lehman Brothers collapsed, AIG was bailed out and Bernard L. Madoff became a household name. Like all New Yorkers I'm feeling the pain too but thankfully still have a job.

Yet even during this challenging period an opportunity exists. Necessity is a mother to invention and New York needs to reinvent itself. Just as oil is a dangerous narcotic that has arrested the development of petro states the financial services sector and manufacturing industry have undermined New York's ability to retool for the 21st century. Such innovation requires leadership and vision.

Whatever critique one may have with the specifics of Paterson's hardship budget he is at least showing leadership by not ducking the tough choices. Personally though I am dismayed by Paterson's unwillingness to more fairly distribute the pain. He should worry less about taxing millionaires and instead embrace New York's Working Families Party approach of shared sacrifice.

My question though is what sort of people does Paterson listen to as the corporate private sector vies for his favor in New York's new world? Alas, Paterson's consideration of Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate because of her ability to raise millions from friends such as billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg is not encouraging.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Can Obama Be A Transformative President?

Listening to conservatives whine that America is a "center-right" country in spite of the recent election has me reflecting about Ronald Reagan as well as pondering what makes a transformative presidency. During the Reagan era, liberals like me frequently complained that America really wasn't that conservative. We cited polls that illustrated the American people really preferred the Democrat's policies on issues ranging from healthcare to nuclear weapons and only supported Reagan because of his "personality."

Yet Reagan got his way, America moved to the right and his presidency is regarded as transformative. Reagan was a transformative president because he laid the foundation in which America's center of political gravity remained to the right for a quarter century with respect to economic, social and foreign policy. Even two terms of a Democratic Bill Clinton presidency did not alter America's conservative course regarding de-regulation and raging privatization.

Transformative presidencies with broad popular support like Reagan's are rare. The Reagan model was to nurture an above partisanship veneer while aggressively waging partisan warfare and exploiting racial cultural subtexts. Presidents that successfully thread the needle between partisanship and statesmanship achieve an exceptional leadership nexus and transform the center of political gravity as Reagan did. In achieving this leadership nexus, Reagan was able to prosecute class warfare from the top and still enjoy popular support from America's middle class.

A more positive example of this transformative leadership model is liberal Franklin Roosevelt. Both Roosevelt and Reagan enjoyed the support of key core constituencies that strongly identified each with their respective parties. Yet both Roosevelt and Reagan were also perceived as being far above the body politic while their administrations ruthlessly engaged in partisan combat. As we liberals note with fondness and gratitude, Roosevelt shifted the center of political gravity in a manner that grew and nutured the middle class. Even two terms of a Republican Dwight Eisenhower presidency did not alter the body politic's support for Roosevelt's New Deal. Remarkably, both Roosevelt and Reagan retained the support of white working class blue collar voters.

From the earliest days of his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has assidiously laid the foundation to become a transformative figure. One who retains the enthusiasm of his core supporters while simultaenously appearing inclusive and respectful to the entire body politic. I must admit that following Bill Clinton's triangulation and George W. Bush's partisan reign of indecency, I saw little benefit to this approach.

Hence, my initial preference for John Edwards who adopted the Theodore Roosevelt model: progressive change by aggressively taking on the entrenched forces of America's kleptocracy. Before the Iowa caucuses (remember that?!?) the Edwards approach made far more sense to me than Obama's fight fire with water persona or rewarding Hillary Clinton's efforts to be the custodian of her husband's pro-corporatist/pro-war political machine. Ultimately, Edwards was unable to compete against the celebrity power of Clinton or Obama and as it turned out his personal failings would have doomed his candidacy anyway.

Nearly a year after Iowa, as I observe Obama during the transition I can envision the potential for a transformative presidency. Reagan appointed political figures that were reassuring to the establishment and upset his core supporters such as his Chief of Staff James Baker. Similarly, Obama has picked some figures for his inner circle that don't thrill me such as Rahm Emanuel, Timothy Geitner and ironically, Hillary Clinton.

Yet as we analyze the policy direction we're likely to see in the coming years, dramatic progressive domestic change will take place. Obama has signaled his committment to invest heavily in infrastructure and tackle global warming with his "green team." His nomination of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services also suggests a committment to healtchare reform as a component of a comprehensive economic recovery plan.

With respect to foreign policy, Obama's national security team of Hillary Clinton at the State Department, National Security Advisor James Jones and the retention of Robert Gates at the Pentagon concerns me greatly. Hopefully, this team will give Obama the political cover he needs to leverage Israel to the bargaining table and nuture a foreign policy that transitions America from its imperial ambitions of empire and instead forms sensible coalitions. If it turns out Clinton, Gates and Jones enable Obama to preside over a shift in our geopolitical paradigm then a liberal transformative presidency is not out of reach.

Sadly, the cascading global economic crisis, the ticking time bomb of global warming and weak national governments such as Israel, India and Pakistan that preside in powder keg regions means anything less than a transformative presidency will result in more calamity, destitution and turmoil. Of course greatness does not stem from times of tranquility.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Waste of Skin

The body politic was rocked by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's arrest yesterday. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described Blagojevich's activities as a "public crime spree." The wiretap transcripts are damning indeed. They reveal not only corruption but delusions of grandeur. By now you all know that the most serious allegation is Blagojevich's willful attempt to profit from appointing Barack Obama's successor to the U.S. Senate.

You will be hearing and reading all kinds of speculation with respect to Blagojevich in the coming days. This speculation will include which Illinois political figures engaged Blagojevich and his staff in a "pay to play" scheme for power. Although President-Elect Obama was not accussed of any wrong doing, his rise in the sesspool of Illinois corruption will certainly receive reknewed scrutiny.

My immediate reaction to the scandal is that it validates the cynicism of people who don't vote. As an activist the one sentiment that perturbs me the most is cynical apathy. This irks me far more than encountering citizens with a different or more conservative world view than my own. Even during this political season of heightened interest I encountered many people who regard voting as waste of time "because they're all crooks." Rod Blagojevich epitomizes that classic stereotype of politicians.

At least Blagojevich's corrupt predecessor, George Ryan, did something positive for human rights by putting a moratorium on the death penalty in his state. Alas, Blagojevich has proven to be a waste of skin. Hopefully, he will be compelled to resign forthwith. Most likely though Blagojevich will pitifully hang onto power and paralyze Illinois state government during the most perilous economic crisis since the 1930s.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Change I Can Believe In: Economist Jared Bernstein

Many liberal activists are disillusioned by President-Elect Obama's transition. Managing the American government is complicated business and Obama has opted for experience. Experience translates into insiders from the Clinton Administration. Conceptually, this has not surprised me and I expected it.

It's only natural Obama would staff his nascent administration with people from the Clinton era. The Carter Administration was over thirty years ago. And Obama certainly can't staff his White House with people who worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations during the 1960s. That said, I've found certain appointments jarring. Specifically, I disapprove of Hillary Clinton's nomination to be Secretary of State. Also, even though we both went to Sarah Lawrence College, I have mixed feelings about Obama tapping Rahm Emanuel to be his Chief of Staff.

My disenchantment with certain appointments aside, I ultimately believe that Obama's administration will move America in a more sensible direction while retaining broad popular support over time. Obama has spoken repeatedly about the necessity of nurturing a "working majority" and compromise with some appointments are part of that process.

Yeserday however liberals claimed an important victory with Jared Bernstein's appointment as the chief economic adviser to Vice-President Elect Joe Biden. Bernstein has worked as a longtime economist with the liberal think tank the Economic Policy Institue. I find it especially ironic that Bernstein will advise Joe Biden who as the Senator from Delaware was an advocate for the banking and financial services industry with respect to bankruptcy legislation.

As longtime readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall, I had the good fortune of interviewing Bernstein twice. The first time was in 2006 by email after the publication of his book, All Together Now: Common Sense For A Fair Economy. In April I conducted a podcast interview with Bernstein following the publication of his acclaimed book, Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Economic Mysteries).

Bernstein was ahead of the curve in diagnosing what ails the economy while conservative chuckle heads chortled that the Bush-Cheney Administration were not getting sufficient credit for our "prosperity." While other economists take pride in their intellectual detachment, Bernstein is a man who understands that the lives of every day people are impacted by those in power. Indeed, when reading Bernstein's books or reviewing the two interviews I had with him, one constant theme comes across: the super wealthy in America have benefitted at the expense of the middle class because of superior access to the levers of power. Hence, in Jared Bernstein, wage earners and small business entrepreneurs finally have an advocate with a seat at the table.

By itself Bernstein's appointment is not an elixir or cureall. Bernstein is but one voice in a Washington cultural nexis that has celebrated hyper-individualism and corporatist values as being "mainstream" and "centrist." As our job losses mount and the cost of economic recovery escalates, Bernstein will have to struggle against the forces of the status quo and corporate elites who will mount a vigorous defense against any encroachment.

Yet even people like Robert Rubin and Larry Summer's have moved closer to the policy positions of liberals such as Bernstein and former Clinton Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich. Joe Biden would have never agreed to serve as Barack Obama's running mate if he wasn't guaranteed an opportunity for heavy input in Obama's decision making process. And Bernstein will be in a position to influence how Joe Biden shapes the economic debate in the new administration. That is fantastic news.

The upshot is that Bernstein's appointment represents a real victory during these perilous times as job losses continue to mount. It's why I and others liked me worked so hard over the years to achieve a majority in congress and take the White House. Jared Bernstein represents change I can believe in.

Please refer to the flash media player below to listen to the podcast interview I had with Bernstein on April 6th. Our conversation lasted approximately forty-eight minutes and among the topics we discussed at the time were the housing and credit crisis, needed regulatory reform, health-care, globalization, Social Security, America’s investment deficit and free trade.

This interview can also be accessed for free by searching for “Intrepid Liberal Journal” at the Itunes store.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Memo To David Paterson: Liz Krueger For U.S. Senate

The jostling among New York State's political heavy weights is underway to replace Hillary Clinton. New York State governor David Paterson has opted not to select himself. Instead names ranging from Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Vasquez (my district) to Suffolk County Executive Thomas Suozzi are mentioned. There is also Westchester Congresswoman Nita Lowrey who stepped aside eight years ago to allow Hillary Clinton a clear path to the Senate.

Many understandably want Clinton replaced with another woman. Naturally, Patterson hopes to select someone who can prevail in a statewide race. However, one criteria I'm not reading or hearing enough about is that Hillary Clinton's replacement should be an unapologetic champion of working people, the poor, high quality education to all segments of society as well as universal healthcare. In other words I would like Hillary Clinton's replacement to be a genuine liberal. Hence, I'm hoping Governor Paterson will consider appointing New York State Senator Liz Krueger.

Krueger represents New York State's 26th district covering Manahattan. Many will object that Krueger is not electable beyond her Manhattan constituency. However, Krueger's tenure as Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) helped Democrats erode and finally overtake the Republican decades long majority. Indeed, to become a State Senator she defeated an icon of Albany's entrenched power in Roy Goodman.

Longtime readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall a podcast interview I had with Krueger early last year. Prior to her election Krueger was a longtime advocate for affordable housing. Upon her election Krueger has been a steadfast champion of reform and transparency inside Albany's corrupt culture. Given the challenging times we live in Krueger is the right person to replace Hillary Clinton. Liberal, feminist, intelligent and compassionate. Once in the U.S. Senate I have no doubt Krueger would reassure all New Yorkers that she is an effective advocate for working people in our state.

If you're a New York resident, please click here to email Governor Paterson's office and request that he consider appointing Liz Krueger to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate.
Update: As an anonymous commenter corrently pointed out, Krueger lost to Roy Goodman in her first race in 2000. There was a recount and Goodman prevailed. Which I actually noted in the introductory text to my podcast with Krueger early last year. But this time was not careful and I regret the error. Goodman was stunned by the defeat and joined the Bloomberg administration. After scaring an entrenched icon of the Albany establishment into retirement from the state senate, Krueger was able to prevail in a special election.