Friday, June 10, 2005

Five Steps to Save America

Perhaps there is a liberal bias in the news after all—at least over at UPI. I checked the online headlines this AM and found the usual garbage about Angelina and Brad, war in Iraq and terror suspects in Lodi (of all places). On the other hand, the lead story at UPI was a column by Martin Walker titled “Democrats Thinking at Last.” As I wrote on these pages a few months ago, the dems have finally begun taking their playbook from the republicans and funding big liberal think tanks in which to flesh out policy ideas and chart a comprehensive strategy for the entire party, much the same way the GOP does. It might not work, of course. It has been said (accurately) that conservativism is a movement while liberalism is a collection of causes. Getting environmentalists, globalists, unionists, farmers, doves, hawks, and free speech advocates (just to throw out a few constituencies) to work together is a tall order. But they’re trying.

Walker’s column details the biggest of the big picture projects likely to come out before the midterm elections of next year, a report title “Integrated Power” from the progressive think tank Center for American Progress. It reportedly lays out how foreign policy, foreign aid, military policy, and domestic policy can all be integrated toward achieving national security without the type of aggressive bullying and unilateral tactics employed by the Bush administration. A central theme appears to be getting contentious Washington bureaucracies to work together as a cohesive unit. Walker doesn’t say it, but what the report seems to amount to is a Marshal Plan for the post 9/11 world, something I’ve long advocated.

I haven’t read the report yet (I’ll get to that this after) but I want to propose my own five step plan for fixing America. Because I think all big ideas should, mine is based on core principles, not simply on wonkish policy ideas. These principles are that it is the primary duty of government in a just society to protect the well being of its people not just from violence but other threats such as poverty, ignorance, malady and oppression; that the only way to secure freedom is by respecting the dignity of people and their right to self determination; and that all our policies, foreign and domestic, should be based on Roosevelt’s four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Yes, I am well aware that President Bush can lay some claim to enforcing those ideals and has done so to justify his wars. And let’s give props where props are due: spreading democracy is not only a laudable goal, it is the most important component of our security, for democracies don’t go to war with one another. But we simply cannot spread democracy through military power. You can’t force people to be democratic, you have to teach them through example (and a very poor example we have made of late). To enforce your will at the point of a gun is the brigand’s way. It is Chairman Mao’s way and Stalin’s: let it not be ours.

By the way, this is not advocacy of appeasement or some touchy-feely peacenik strategy. Read Roosevelt’s speech: it is very aggressive, militaristic, it could have been made by G.W. Bush after 9/11. But there are a number of differences: FDR called for raising taxes to support freedom, and vowed that no one would be allowed to get rich off their defense efforts (take that, Halliburton). Most of all, he declared the primacy of human rights, a concept toward which the current administration is completely antagonistic. He advocated sacrifice, not a series of get rich quick schemes. As FDR preached, we must be strong—the difference is we must be strong and just, not a bunch of fascist bullies like Bush and his clowns.

Anyway, here’s the plan:

1) Outlaw oil. Do it right now. Forget about hybrid cars and hydrogen cars and all of that: we have the ability to fix the economy and most of the terrorist problem tomorrow if we just outlaw oil. It takes very little (some carburetor modifications, mostly) to rig internal combustion engines to run on either alcohol or (for diesel engines) vegetable oil. I read an article not long ago about a guy who runs his company truck off of waste oil from a deep fryer. To switch our infrastructure over will be fairly easy once we get production up and running, but the beautiful thing of this is that it will help the economy by giving a huge boost tot eh farm economy. As we begin to power our cars on soybeans and corn the Midwest will once again become the economic center of America. Yes, it will mean a return to nuclear power, but this fear of science is a hallmark of the conservatives and shouldn’t bother liberals like us.

2) Tax the Rich. I mean it. Tax them hard. A recent item in the New York Times reported that the very rich are now so rich they are leaving the mere millionaires behind. There is no real reason for the Trumps and Gateses of the world to be as spectacularly wealthy as they are. Under the Rove/Bush “starve the beast” plan, a cornerstone of conservative policy in which they are undoing all of FDR’s new deal reforms by simply cutting taxes and forcing programs to be scrapped, tax breaks for the upper-crust have made them wealthy like princes of the Middle Ages, while the burden of paying for basic services (forget about Pell grants and the NEA, I mean the army and the police) has fallen harder and harder upon the shrinking middle class. The only way to remedy this—in spite of the supply side gibberish spouted by the Right—is to create a more equitable and progressive tax system. In other words stop the giveaways to the super wealthy. End the party. Tax the rich.

3) Get the feds out of the business of running state programs. A little anti-federalism is not always a bad thing. While enforcing the law is a good thing, micromanaging policy is bad. Yes, I know this gives Kansas more power to teach bogus pseudo-science like “intelligent design,” but they have a big ally in the White House for teaching it now. While I know this pisses off education advocates, environmentalists, and many others, the States deserve and need more autonomy to run their own government. And find away to make the commerce clause make some real sense. As it’s interpreted now it gives the courts the ability to control anything the states do, and that’s just wrong.

4) Shift priorities on the national level. Get rid of the bogus war on Drugs and admit that the so-called war on terrorism is a law enforcement and foreign policy issue but not a military one. While we must provide for the common defense we need to spend more to support the general welfare at hand. This can be done in a lot of ways but three are absolutely essential: increase college financial aid in all its forms and direct it toward the financially needy (most people getting financial aid today are in the middle class); expand Medicare so it covers all Americans-- That’s right, real single-payer socialized medicine; finally, along with universal healthcare enact universal service: require every citizen of the united states to serve either two years in the military or five years in some form of social service (nurse, elementary school teacher, cop, fireman, etc.) by age 32. Those with great power have also great responsibility.

5) Fully fund the UN. America must be fully engaged with the international community. We cannot continue the destructive and wrong headed course of the conservatives in antagonizing the rest of the world. The UN is not a bogeyman: it is the only valid international body in which disputes between nations can be worked out. We do not have to give up any sovereignty to be part of the UN, but by disengaging from the UN we loose all moral and civic authority. We become a rogue state and other states will be able to justify banding against us. We chartered the UN for a purpose and it still serves that purpose, and we need to be part of it. The current administration has proved, tragically, that we cannot go it alone. By ignoring international treaties, using unilateral force and basically trying to bully the rest of the world into submission, the current administration has made the world a more dangerous place and made Americans the most hated people on earth. Don’t believe me? Go anywhere and hear what they are saying about us. We must be a part of the international community, not an antagonist toward it. I’m not talking about some stupid “global test.” I’m not talking about a world government. Those are meaningless catch phrases. I’m talking about being a citizen of the world not an outlaw.

Of course there’s more: gay rights, funding stemcell research, protecting affirmative action, maintaining a woman’s right to medical treatment including abortion, funding for the arts and humanities, a strong commitment to civil liberties and freedom of the press, and getting those bozos out of Washington. Most of all I believe in tearing down the Orwellian fascism being built up by the Bush administration. But the five steps above are where we start once that has been accomplished and Bush is off running Major League Baseball where he belongs.

For the UPI column check here:

The Center for American Progress can be found here:

For the text of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, read here:


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