Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Ponderings

This entire week I have endured the mother of all colds. Yet even in my Sudafed haze, I must comment on this week’s important developments:
  • This week Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner finally rolled out his public/private partnership plan with respect to “toxic assets.” His so-called plan has me thinking about the dangers of treating symptoms instead of the cause. A fever is the body’s way of sending us a message that we need to kill off an infection. Similarly, these “toxic assets” are sending the international community an unmistakable message; hyper-sized financial institutions are a parasitic infection eroding quality of life for wage earners across the globe.
  • Removing toxic assets is not treating the cause. And while more regulation is entirely justified and something we liberals have been insisting upon, that too will not treat the cause. Instead, citizens need to mobilize on behalf of bold anti-trust legislation that breaks up financial institutions such as CitiCorp and empower independent community banks. Do not be seduced by the gyrations of the stock market that some liberal bloggers chirped about this week. Unless the cause itself is treated our economic destiny will remain perilous. I fully support President Obama's ambitious budget and have nothing but contempt for the insipid Republican opposition as well as corporatist enablers such Indiana Senator Evan Bayh who stand in the way. Yet even the good intentions and overdue initiatives proposed in Obama's budget will not benefit our country as it should unless we boldly reshape our entire financial system.
  • President Barack Obama took complete ownership of the war in Afghanistan yesterday with his announcement of 17,000 more combat troops as well as an additional 4,000 non-combat advisers. One difference between Obama and his predecessor is the linkage between the fight against al Quaeda in neighboring Pakistan as well as their Taliban allies in Afghanistan. Another difference is how the Obama administration intends to combine military power with a surge in regional diplomacy and “experts” to help fight corruption and facilitate a civil society. Supposedly, the focus is entirely defeating al Quaeda and not nation building, but how the hell can we fight corruption in an ancient society we know precious little about?
  • Meanwhile, the administration promises to both lean on and support the Pakistani government in their struggle against terrorists. Frankly, aid to the Pakistani government at this point appears every bit as wasteful as giving billions to A.I.G. The civilian government uses terrorism as an excuse to oppress its population as elements of Pakistan’s intelligence service and military aid the Taliban in Afghanistan. How do we know that any aid we provide Pakistan isn’t being utilized to plan another attack against us or help the wrong people obtain access to their nuclear arsenal?
  • All this is further compounded by an ultra-nationalist government in India that would make American neo-cons blush with their belligerence. The sub-continent is the world’s most dangerous powder keg and America’s presence has intensified regional violence. Even so, I sympathize with President Obama’s conundrum. Twenty years ago, our careless withdrawal after the cold war’s end facilitated the blowback that resulted in 9/11 and gave al Quaeda its safe haven. Our careless withdrawal of course followed our ill conceived intervention on behalf of Aghanistan's Mullah's in the first place when we armed Bin Laden in his struggle against the Soviet Union. If we screw it up this time the consequences will be far more catastrophic.
  • I’ve long believed that the best strategic approach is cooperative containment with the international community as opposed to grandiose delusions about “dismantling” and “disabling” al Quaeda. This is an organic movement. You can take out one important leader after the other including Bin Laden himself and it will simply regenerate. We need instead to address the causes of terrorism and work diligently at draining the swamp that fosters it. Anything less is a waste of blood and treasure. Not to mention all the innocent people being killed in Afghanistan by our presence. Also, we should be on the side of democracy in Pakistan instead of nurturing more resentment among Pakistan's decent civillian majority.
  • Longtime readers of this blog know how vigorously opposed I am to our prison industrial complex. I have therefore been keeping an eye on Virginia Senator James Webb who since his election in 2006, has spoken coherently about the need to reform our prison system. With a sympathetic President finally in the White House, Senator Webb has opted to take the initiative and joined Republican Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter in that effort. Both senators proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel that would conduct an 18-month review and suggest recommendations of reform.
  • Specifically, Webb hopes to reform a system that incarcerates 2.4 million people and represents 25 percent of the world’s prison population even as America comprises only 5 percent of the entire planet. Mostly we have incarcerated people for petty drug offenses who need treatment instead of prison. This is an act of real political courage because any suggestion of reform usually results in accusations of being soft on crime.
  • Coincidentally, while Senators Webb and Specter plot prison reform in America, New York State’s dysfunctional leadership is finally addressing the arcane “Rockefeller Drug Laws” that have empowered my home state’s prison industrial complex for three decades. My favorite legislator, New York State Senator Liz Krueger, announced in a press release this week that,
“I am very proud to be a part of history today and finally see the Rockefeller Drug Laws reformed. The reforms announced today will restore judicial sentencing discretion and substantially expand alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.

It has been a long hard fight to reform these archaic drug laws and today is the culmination of decades of hard work and advocacy from countless people, all of whom deserve praise for helping to achieve these needed reforms."
  • Reforming our prisons and drug laws will do more to curb violence in Mexico than any increase in numbers of our border patrol. Legalization and treatment will address the causes of drug abuse far more effectively than mindlessly incarcerating people and creating blowback in neighboring Mexico.
The one theme that emerges from the above bullet points is America's need to think about the cause instead of always reacting to the symptoms of what ails us.

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